One year MBA vs Two year MBA – A Detailed Comparison
It is an old argument. The one year MBA can be completed faster; the two year option is more comprehensive; the two year option is the ‘original MBA’; the one year option is part of a ‘rising trend’. We hear these arguments and many more like them every day. The one year MBA vs two year MBA debate is not new, but it rages on every year. Some applicants, without considering all the facts available to them, often decide to rule out programs of one type just because they do not understand all the facts around one year and two year MBA programs. This article is meant to help clarify some of the aspects on which one year MBA programs differ from two year programs. We feel that no format is better; the decision to pursue programs of one type vs those of another type hinges one the applicant’s preferences. Indeed, we have seen many successful applicants consider programs of both durations as well.
One year MBA vs Two year MBA – The debate Begins
The MBA originally began in a two-year format in 1908 (at Harvard Business School); only in 1957, when INSEAD began its MBA program did the one year MBA option surface. Since then, European programs have predominantly remained with the one year format, while most American schools have remained with the two year MBA option. Things are changing though, and as American schools begin offering the one year option, some European programs have started offering extensions to enable students to spend 16, 18, and 24 months in campus as well. We have covered the top one year MBA programs in the USA, Europe, and Asia separately in other articles.
The debate on choosing one year MBA vs two year MBA programs focuses on how comprehensive each one is, on the utility of each to enable networking beyond the curriculum, the acceptability in industry, and the costs involved. We examine each factor here.
The Curriculum, Internships, and Pace of Learning
Comparing one year and two year MBA programs, we often hear proponents of the latter claim that two year MBA programs are more comprehensive, and therefore offer a deeper learning opportunity. Another argument that is often advanced is that two year MBA programs provide more time for students from non-business backgrounds to be able to assimilate business concepts, especially as many of them are studying these concepts for the first time ever in the MBA program. A third argument that is put forward is that one year MBA programs lack internships, and therefore deny students an important opportunity to understand their future industries/companies; it is also claimed that they thus deny students the opportunity to convert internships to full-time offers later.
In our opinion, the depth of the program is really not a factor between one year and two year MBA programs. Most one year programs today have the same teaching hours as two year programs do, and even if there is a difference, it is slight. Further, one year MBA programs ensure that all students get the opportunity to go through an initial core/foundation phase followed by an elective phase (when one can choose one’s specialization/major or explore particular areas at greater depth.
The second argument, that two year MBA programs provide more opportunity for students to assimilate business concepts, is a half-truth. There is no advantage that two year MBA programs will provide in terms of learning or the actual instruction; however, the second year can often provide opportunities to delve deeper into particular areas through faculty research or industry projects. One year MBA programs are typically too fast-paced to allow too much of this.
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The third argument, that of internships, may have some merit, especially for those students who wish to switch careers. An internship can be an important opportunity to not just understand a new function/company/industry, but also demonstrate one’s capabilities to win a job offer from one’s internship employer. One year programs try to compensate for the lack of internships through live projects done together with the curriculum. While these still provide excellent learning (at par with many internships), they are typically shorter and do not provide a direct avenue for securing future jobs.
MBA Networking – Is More Time necessarily Better?
Many potential applicants look at two year MBA programs as more attractive because these programs offer better opportunities to network with one’s classmates (due to the longer duration of the programs). We believe, both through our own experience and that of several hundred clients, that this claim holds little water. One will build networks and relationships based on one’s zeal to interact, ability to form and hold relationships, and one’s own personality traits. If these are present, 12 months is more than enough time to build these relationships.
ROI of the MBA – Less (time) is More (money)
This part may have a clear winner. One year MBA programs, by virtue of the lower opportunity cost of attending (comparing programs of similar stature and ranking), can significantly reduce the cost of one’s education. In dollar terms, the difference may range from as little as $30,000 to as much as $120,000 (one year is cheaper). This difference, of course, emanates not because one year programs are cheaper (per year attendance costs are roughly similar; in many cases one year programs are more expensive), but because they allow students to earn back a substantial part of what they spend by working in the second year, even as two year MBA students are still studying and paying tuition.
Job Searches and Industry Acceptability
Lets tackle the second part first. In terms of industry acceptability, there is no difference at all – recruiters don’t really care about the duration of your MBA program, as long as you graduated from a full-time, prestigious program. Some one year programs (such as the 1 year full-time MBA programs for experienced executives offered by the Indian Institutes of Management in India) may be less sought after than regular 2-year programs offered by the same schools, but that is because of the nature of the programs and how they are positioned than because of the duration of the programs involved.
In terms of job searches, the two year MBA does provide a longer duration of time to look at a longer list of options in case the early ones don’t work out. That, though, doesn’t mean that the best opportunities will necessarily wait. In practice, as recruiting season rolls in, the top jobs are filled up pretty quickly. With a two year MBA program, you have the opportunity to aim for backup options while still secure in a campus environment. In a one year program, if you miss the bus, you find yourself back in the real world very quickly (after graduating) and must thereafter look for roles fairly independently, with little school support (may vary for some schools).
Conclusion – Which One will it be?
In true MBA style, let us sign off by saying that ‘it depends’. However, many of the points we have highlighted in this article will hopefully help you to be more informed before you make the choice. Our recommendation? Don’t look at duration as a deal-breaker. Go for the best programs you can make it to. Period.