As you begin this journey, your first step might be to explore the different formats offered by business schools today – full-time, part-time, and executive. While I attended a part-time program myself, the Evening Program of the Goizueta Business School at Emory, I am now the director of admissions for the full-time program at the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia. For me, the decision was easy – my employer, Procter & Gamble, was willing to pay my tuition if I attended a part-time program. A much higher percentage of part-time and executive students are sponsored by their companies than full-time students. So, what is the difference? First, you need to decide if you are looking for an MBA degree or not. In general, most executive programs are targeted at senior executives and offer a shortened timeline and a different curriculum. As a result, they are not usually able to grant the same degree as a full or part-time program. And, not all part-time programs offer the same degree as the full-time program, although the ones at Goizueta and Darden do. You will need to investigate the programs you are actually considering to know for sure.
Once you have decided which sort of degree will be best for your career and life goals, you will need to consider the format. Most full-time programs in the United States are 21-month programs that start in the fall of one year, provide a summer break for an internship experience the next year, and graduate in May of the second year. Part-time and Executive programs vary widely, both in length and in format, as some might meet two nights a week, one weekend a month, or primarily online. Again, you will need to fully research your choices to know for sure and think seriously about how you work best.
The last big difference to me is in the type of support you will get in terms of career search and recruiting. Most part-time and executive programs expect you to stay in your current job or at least with your current company. As a result, the amount of career development programming is less than for full-time programs. If you are looking to make a change in industry, function, or both, I believe a full-time MBA program may be the better fit. In a full-time program, you have much more time for self-reflection, to determine which career is the best fit for your strengths, two recruiting cycles to meet companies, and the opportunity to explore a new career via the internship.
Whichever type of program you choose, an MBA should be transformational for you in your life and career – it has been for me.
Sara E. Neher, Director of MBA Admissions, Darden School of Business