In our previous post in this series, we began to explore in a general sense how an MBA can give your career a huge boost – if you make the most of it and are in it for the right reasons. MBAs give you a toolbox of new skills, enable you to make important contacts, provide access to the school’s brand and help you develop your personal bandwidth. They also can let you gain real-life experience through placements, develop personally as well as professionally, and, of course, specialise.
It’s this specialisation and personalisation that an MBA offers which we’re going to be focusing on today. Of course, choosing the right school is important. Small schools can be tightly-knit communities, inclusive, and cohesive – and may offer unique specialisations. However, they won’t offer as many electives or as much customisation as a larger school, and you may find your thinking will be less challenged at a smaller school. In contrast, larger schools give you a broad choice of electives and tend to have much larger alumni networks – although it can come at a cost, with such schools sporting, for some, daunting student population sizes. Thanks to specialised cohorts, however, the size or location of school isn’t nearly as important as programme length and structure.
When it comes to selecting an MBA, you have a wide range of choices and options in terms of course structure, length, and teaching style. We can classify MBAs into three different types: part-time, full-time, and executive. Selecting between them is one of the first major decisions you’ll have to make before applying for an MBA.
Often pursued for their lower financial cost, part-time MBAs are great for people looking to boost their careers without necessarily overhauling or changing things too much – they’re often referred to as career enhancers, rather than career changers. These courses last at least 2 years and you will often be taught during the evenings or weekends.
A part-time course allows you to continue working, which inevitably makes the course less of a financial burden and should put you on a good track to promotion at your current workplace. Some employers will even pay the tuition fees for such a programme in part or in full – but beware, it is likely that you will not have the same access to fellowships or other funding from the business school.
However, the part-time nature of these programmes means you are not exposed to the same intensive learning environment as in a full-time MBA, as we will explore. Whereas you are placed in a tough, immersive environment on a full-time course, typically your central focus in a part-time programme will still be on your day job. You will not be as exposed in your thinking to radical new ideas. This is why many argue that a part-time MBA is not so much a career changer as it is an enhancer – but if you’re concerned about the cost of tuition, or if you’re set on pursuing promotions in your current job or industry, a part-time MBA could be the right choice for you.
The full-time MBA tends to be the mainstay of most business schools, and with good reason. These are frequently billed as the ‘career changers’ – an opportunity for you to take a complete break from work for up to 24 months and re-evaluate your personal approach, skills set, and mindset towards management. Of course, as we discussed in the last post, an MBA is what you make it, but a full-time programme is particularly special thanks to the immersive environment it offers.
MBAs attract an incredibly diverse range of people, from a huge variety of personal and professional backgrounds. Like in a real business environment, you will be working with people you may not normally come across in your personal life.
Your interpersonal skills aren’t the only thing that will be tested on a full-time programme. Exposed to new disciplines and what might be entirely new ways of thinking, learning quickly is one of the most important skills you’ll develop thanks to a full-time MBA. The internship opportunities that come as a result of this will open up even wider career opportunities in finance, investment banking, consulting, start-ups, NGOs, and more. In this way, it is not just a career changer, but a potential life-changer.
Full-time programmes aren’t without their issues, of course. There’s the financial element as we’ve already discussed. There’s also a possibility of ‘group think’ developing as a result of working so closely with the same people in such an intense environment. Heterogenity of views can be lost in the process of working together towards common project goals – leading to a lot of people pursuing the same career path after an MBA, such as in consultancy or finance. It’s important to remember that a full-time MBA opens a lot of doors for you, and carving out your own path using the skills and knowledge you acquire is a major benefit of MBA study.
An executive MBA is much like a part-time MBA. They’re designed for people who are still working, with flexible timetabling and attendance in recognition of this. They’re designed to be completed in two years or less. The main difference is who they’re designed for: experienced managers, executives, and other entrepreneurs around halfway through their career.
For this reason, the knowledge and skills developed on an executive MBA programme are rarely transformative – instead, an executive MBA is about updating your existing knowledge and skills as well as increasing the number of career options. Again, they are a career-enhancer.
You will usually be encouraged to pursue an EMBA by your company’s executives, who want to fast-track you ahead in the company hierarchy. While EMBAs do tend to be more expensive than the regular MBA programme, they are usually sponsored by the company – so financial considerations are less significant.
Your career ambitions and tolerance to risk and financial outlay will determine which type of MBA will help you achieve your goals. Once you know the type of MBA you want, you can decide which type of business school will enable you to flourish and make the most of the MBA experience.
Read part 1: Will an MBA really make a difference to my career?
You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.