Should one consider a part-time MBA?

A full-time MBA program at a Top 50 school remains the gold standard of MBA education, but for some it is an impractical choice. If you are reasonably happy in your current job, a part-time MBA program might make sense. You avoid the biggest cost of pursuing an MBA full-time—the opportunity cost of two years of forgone salary, which can come to $100, 000 or more. If you are lucky enough and your employer picks up some or all of the cost of your tuition, you could end up with the best possible scenario—no student debt at all!

A recent AACSB survey found that while 44% of MBA students were attending full-time, an impressive 56% were enrolled in part-time MBA programs. Moreover, while enrollments in domestic full-time MBA programs have slowed since 2002, in 2011 part-time MBA enrollments were up 18% over 2002 and part-time Executive MBA enrollments were up 60%. There is enough evidence that more and more people are doing part-time MBAs.

Even after investing hundreds of hours over a three-to-four year period to earn the degree, some warn that you could end up in the same old job at the same old pay. However, research on MBA salaries shows that, on average, part-time MBA programs do pay off. According to data collected for a 2010 peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Education for Business, it was found that part-time MBA graduates achieved a median post-MBA pay raise at graduation of 41% over their pre-MBA pay, and by the fifth year post-MBA their pay had gone up another 56%. In the same study, part-time Executive MBA students—who are older and have higher pre-MBA salaries—reported a median pay increase at graduation of 29%, and another 43% gain by the end of five years post-MBA. There are several other studies that have been done and all of them show that part-timers have achieved pay gains of around 35-40% at graduation, and strong salary growth in the years following graduation.

What are some of the other benefits of a part-time MBA –

  1. Career acceleration. A part-time program makes sense if you currently have a job in a field you enjoy. It is an excellent way to accelerate your career progression in your chosen field.
  2. Maintain family responsibilities. A part-time program is your best choice if your family responsibilities make it impractical to drop out of the job market for two years to go full-time.
  3. Less expensive. Going part-time is less expensive. You continue to make a salary while you are in school. The biggest cost of a full-time MBA is not the tuition—it’s the salary you give up for the two years you are in school. This is a major cost of getting an MBA that you can avoid.
  4. Tuition reimbursement. For many students, the employer will pick up part or all of the tuition cost. In return, employers often ask students to sign a contract agreeing that they will not leave for two or three years after graduation. If they do leave within this period, the student is obligated to repay part or all of the tuition.
  5. No need to relocate. Most part-time students attend a local business school, so there is no need to move. You avoid the cost and disruption of having to live somewhere else for two years while getting an MBA.
  6.  Apply new knowledge at work. Part-timers have the opportunity to apply what they learn in their evening classes at work the next day. The work environment becomes like a lab for the coursework and provides context to what is being taught in class, making the courses more relevant.
  7.  Easier to get into. GMAT score requirements for a part-time program are typically 5%-7% lower than a full time MBA.

Having said all of the above, consider the following as well before turning to part-time MBA program:

  1. Stress and sacrifice. Carrying a couple of evening graduate courses while working full-time requires commitment and good time management skills, as well as a high level of energy and the ability to handle stress. It means nights and weekends spent in class, doing homework, working on team projects, and studying for exams. Both the student and the family have to make sacrifices.
  2. No summer internship for career changers. For those pursuing an MBA as part of a career switching strategy—say, from engineering to finance—the part-time program has no built-in summer internship to try out the new field with a prospective employer on a limited commitment basis.
  3. Less opportunities to network. As a full time MBA student you are breathing in the program constantly. Hence, opportunities to get to know your classmates well and network are abundant. In a part time program, such opportunities are rare, given that you are likely attending evening classes, and you have to take that extra effort to network with people over weekends etc.
  4. Less academic involvement. Part-timers may miss the advantages of total immersion in the academic environment of a full-time program, free from the distraction of simultaneously holding a full-time job.
  5. Getting recognized by your company. It may be difficult to get your boss to recognize the value of your new capabilities and you may have to change jobs or even change companies to earn promotions and greater responsibilities.
  6. Beware of low-quality part-time programs. Prospective part-time MBA students should beware of low-quality part-time programs, the worst of which are diploma mills that take your money and grant degrees that have little or no value. If possible, enroll in an MBA program that is accredited by the AACSB, the most selective of the organizations that accredit business schools. The AACSB offers a checklist for recognizing the telltale signs of a diploma mill. You will spend a lot of time and money earning your MBA, and you want to get your money’s worth.
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