One Year or Two, What’s Right for You?

Earlier this week, Financial Times reporter Neil Courtis offered up an enlightening examination of the pros and cons of one-year and two-year MBA programs. While there’s no denying that business school is intense, there are definite differences in the degree of intensity in each course. The fact that most American programs take two years and European counterparts typically take one to complete makes little difference in the area of rankings, employer preference or even syllabuses. So what are the differences, and how do you know which pace is right for you?

Compressed programs, such as the one-year MBA pioneered by INSEAD 50 years ago, leave little chance to catch up if you fall behind. Classes start at 8:30 a.m. and finish at 7 p.m., even on public holidays. As FT points out, in this format, core courses are largely dispatched in a four-month sprint at the start of the year. Engineers and business graduates certainly have the upper hand with subjects such as statistics or accounting; those without either a quantitative background or business education will have a tough row to hoe.

When it comes to class composition, one-year courses may have more sponsored students who may be older and have more workplace experience. These seasoned students may find discussions of leadership frustrating in classes where few have ever managed other workers.

In terms of what happens in the classroom, the differences are clear, says FT. A one-year program might squeeze a course of 10 three-hour sessions into 16 90-minute slots. Two-year MBAs, such as that at IESE Business School in Spain, thus have time to stick to the Harvard model where every class revolves around a discussion of a business case. This means shorter MBAs do not waste time rehearsing material students can find in textbooks.

According to FT, the critical difference between the two modes of study is off campus. At the heart of the two-year program, in the long summer break between first and second years, is an internship. This summer job on steroids allows students to subsidize their study and try a different career for 12 weeks.

Ask yourself, how crystalized are your professional goals? This can help the decision-making process, as those with a definite goal may appreciate the efficacy of a one-year progam. Conversely, anyone still contemplating several career avenues would probably enjoy the flexibility of a two-year program and the increased opportunities internships provide.

The indecisive might consider the latest intermediate options. London Business School has offered students a 15-month course since 2005. FT points out that this option is popular for would-be entrepreneurs who have found a promising project. Columbia Business School offers a 16-month variation, whereby those who do not want an internship can begin the course in January and study through the summer, beginning the second year in sync with the September intake.

So which program is best? No one can say for sure as nobody takes both paths. However, if you’re looking for Fridays off and a semblance of work-life balance, definitely steer clear of Europe.

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