In today’s world, nearly no one goes to business school directly after obtaining their undergraduate degree. Top programs demand some professional experience, meaning students need to quit their jobs when they decide to go get their MBA. Or, as another option, they can continue working and go back to school part-time.
It’s a difficult decision on two levels. A full-time MBA program offers a different educational experience that can be life-changing with the people you’ll meet and interact with. That said, going back to school full-time can flip your personal world on its head. No income, big loans and constant networking can take a toll on any of us.
So what’s the right decision? Frankly, it’s all about your personal situation and your career goals.
When Part-Time is Right Call
If the numbers don’t add up: If the thought of self-imposed “unemployment” for the next two years makes your heart race, then the part-time MBA option may be right for you, said Dan Bauer, CEO and founder of business school admissions consulting firm The MBA Exchange.
Going to school full-time, particularly at a top school, is a full-time commitment. You simply won’t have the time to earn income on the side. Even with a paid internship between years the overall cost for most programs is close to $150,000, said Charles Moldenhauer, founder of New York-based Executive Transitioning, a career coaching firm.
Part-time programs are typically much less expensive and you can continue working. Plus, many companies offer tuition assistance as you’ll likely be able to offer them more as an MBA.
If you don’t want to change tracks: Part-Time MBA programs are best for those who wish to continue with their current employer or who wish to remain in the same industry, said Wendy Flynn, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm, MBA Admissions Coach.
Typically, companies that offer tuition assistance expect you to remain with the firm for the short-term. And perhaps more importantly, part-time programs tend not to enable you to break into new industries simply due to the fact that summer internships are not available, said Bauer. “And the formal corporate recruiting process with on-campus presentations and interviews that full-timers seek is less accessible,” he said.
If you are satisfied with your current path but desire the career advancement provided by an MBA, a part-time program may fit well. But if you want to change something about your career, like your function or even your industry, a full-time program is a better option, said Flynn.
If networking is not mission-critical: If you ask an MBA about the unique advantage of a full-time program, they’ll likely mention the networking opportunities. “Most major business schools have global events arranged by either the alumni groups or career offices,” said Moldenhauer. “The weekly events by Columbia Business School are so recognized they are usually sold out.”
Full-time programs also include a higher percentage of international students said Flynn. “And being in class with a wide variety of international students can really benefit the MBA classroom,” she said.
But if knowledge and a degree is all you need to reach your career goals, a part-time program suffices.
If you have a hectic family life: The immersion – intellectual, social and emotional – required by full-time programs can be all-consuming, said Bauer. “For many individuals, having a spouse, children and/or other dependents makes earning an MBA degree part-time more realistic and far less stressful,” he said. “So, if cocktail receptions, club meetings and intramural sports are not major attractions for you, then a part-time MBA could be the right ticket.” And you'll find yourself in the company of classmates who share your priorities.
If you aren’t the strongest candidate: In general, business schools lower the bar when considering applicants for admission to their part-time programs,” said Bauer. “Consequently, your chances for admission are probably greater than if you apply to the full-time program."
However, research is paramount when considering part-time programs, experts agree. Stay away from lower quality programs, said Moldenhauer. “The degree from a diploma mill as almost worthless.”