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How to Select an In-Residence MBA Program

by Ryan Guina

This is Part 2 in a series, Researching MBA Options. Part 1 covered the topic, Do You Need an MBA? I have decided that an MBA is pretty much necessary for my chosen career path, so now I want to investigate program types. The way I see it, there are two main categories, in-residence and distance education. Once you decide between the two, you then have several other options to consider: full-time, part-time, or executive. This post will only cover in-residence MBA programs and their pros and cons. The next post in the series covers distance education.

In-residence MBA programs

Advantages: For most people, taking an MBA course in-residence is the preferred method. Many people learn better in a classroom environment versus only reading and/or internet contact. Many MBA programs rely heavily on case studies and team projects, and classroom environments encourage discussion and interaction among the students and professors in a way that an Internet bulletin board cannot duplicate. The classroom environment also more closely replicates a normal work environment which makes for a smoother transition to the workforce upon graduation.

Disadvantages: Unless you are willing to uproot your life and move to the university of your choice, you are limited to the schools which are nearby. Some local schools may not have the academic specialty or reputation you desire, may require prerequisites, or may be prohibitively expensive.

In-Residence, 3 types: Full-time, Part-time, and Executive Programs

1. Full-Time: Full-time programs give students a structured and focused learning experience. Programs typically run 2 years, and are essentially a full-time job. Many programs focus on team building and networking, both of which are highly valued skills. Many full-time programs also offer a wider variety of focus areas for your MBA than do part time programs. Internships are very common during the break between year one and two, and many people are able to turn these into a full-time job upon graduation. A full-time MBA is also a great way to go if you are considering a change in your career field.

As great as a full-time MBA program is, there are distinct disadvantages as well. The biggest disadvantage is cost. Due to the large workload, it is nearly impossible to maintain a meaningful level of work. Most people have to forgo the paycheck they were earning prior to their MBA program and need to take on large loans to afford school. Not only do you pay a lot, but you don’t earn anything either! For some, the intense level of study is another disadvantage.

Advantages:

  • Ability to focus 100% on studies.
  • Structured learning environment.
  • Best method for networking.
  • Possibility of turning internship into full-time position.
  • Best method for changing careers.

Disadvantages:

  • Cost of program.
  • Forgone salary.
  • Little opportunity to take time off.

2. Part-time: Part-time programs often cover the exact same material as the full-time programs, the difference is usually in the delivery and pacing of the coursework. Most people who participate in part-time MBA programs do so to continue working full-time while they get their education. This way they maintain their current income while they get their education. Many students also receive tuition assistance from their employers which makes the deal even better for them. Many part-time programs also allow students to take time off between classes if their schedule is too busy. Part-time programs are great if you plan on continuing your current career path.

Part-time programs often take longer to complete. Two years is average for a full-time student, but three or more years is then norm for part-timers. Part-timers may also have a more difficult time getting to know their classmates and learning to network as well. Still, the added benefits of maintaining a steady paycheck and completing the degree at their desired pace appeal to many students – especially those with a family to support.

Advantages:

  • Maintain salary.
  • Possible employer tuition assistance or sponsorship.
  • Complete courses at a more convenient pace.
  • Best for those looking to continue their current career path.

Disadvantages:

  • Time. Part-time courses may take a year or more longer to complete.
  • Work/life distractions.
  • Not as beneficial for those planning career changes because most people continue to work in the field they desire to leave.

3. Executive Programs: Executive MBA programs are geared toward executives and high level managers, and most executive MBA programs require 10-15 years of work experience to be eligible for the program. Many executive programs only meet once or twice a month on weekends, or with an occasional Friday thrown in. This allows these high level execs to continue their valuable work with their company while getting the education that will hopefully set them apart from their peers and give them the knowledge to climb higher on the corporate ladder.

Executive MBA programs are usually filled with people with similar levels of work experience and similar goals. The curriculum in these programs is geared toward the issues workers at this level face. Corporate sponsorships are very common for these programs, with many students receiving full tuition from their company. Some companies even fly their managers to and from their weekend courses. At the executive level, networking among peers is a very important skill. You never know when you might need to reach out to someone for a work related matter. Knowing several mid to high ranking individuals across several industries is an extremely valuable asset in the business world.

However, unless you have a corporate sponsorship, the cost is often prohibitive. Tuition for the typical executive MBA program is up to 1.5 times the amount of the normal MBA program. These programs also tend to be very compressed and executives are often very busy to begin with. It may be difficult to balance the workload.

Advantages:

  • Maintain current high level position.
  • Often corporately sponsored.
  • Content geared toward executive level.

Disadvantages:

  • The cost, if you do not have a corporate sponsor.
  • Work/life balance.

My Preference: Given a choice, I would prefer to attend a full-time, in-residence MBA program. This is the direction I am currently leaning toward, because for me it looks like it is the option that will give me the most valuable experience. I prefer learning in a classroom environment and I know I would gain a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience going through the MBA experience. There are many other factors involved before I make my final decision, and the rest of the series will cover more options and their pros and cons.

Stay tuned for the next installment, Part 3: Program Types, Distance Learning.

Here is the rest of my series on selecting an MBA program:

Note: Right now I am still in the process of deciding my goals. I know getting an MBA is the direction I plan on going, so wish me luck, and as mentioned before, feel free to leave comments, ask questions, or share your experiences! ;)


Published or updated February 24, 2010.
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