What’s the Difference Between a Part-Time vs. Full-Time MBA?

by Genevieve Carlton
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Today's top-ranked business schools offer full-time, part-time, online, fast-track, and executive MBA programs. But what's the difference between enrolling full-time or part-time in business school?

An MBA degree trains students in data analytics, strategic decision-making, and leadership. The best part-time and weekend MBA programs prepare graduates for supervisory and executive positions in diverse business settings.

Earning an MBA pays off in several ways. This degree helps professionals increase their responsibilities, advance into management roles, and earn more money. In 2019, the average MBA salary reached nearly $135,000 per year, making the degree a smart investment.

Applicants may feel lost when browsing full-time and part-time MBA rankings and trying to sort out the best program for their needs. This guide offers information on the various types of MBAs, along with the pros and cons of each.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying to Full-Time or Part-Time MBA Programs

An MBA program helps professionals launch their careers or advance into leadership roles. If you're left wondering whether to choose a full-time or part-time program, the ideal pathway depends on your unique circumstances and needs. When choosing an MBA program, consider the following questions to identify the enrollment option that fits your circumstances and career goals.

  • What is my ultimate reason for pursuing an MBA?
  • Am I looking to change career paths?
  • Do I want to specialize within the business industry?
  • How many years can I devote to pursuing an MBA?
  • Am I looking to work full-time, part-time, or freelance while pursuing my MBA?
  • Would I be able to put my best foot forward in a full-time MBA while also balancing a job, my family, or other commitments?
  • What MBA programs can I afford, and how much debt am I willing to take on?

Full-Time MBA Programs vs. Part-Time MBA Programs

Even with the same courses, full-time and part-time MBA programs differ in key ways. Prospective applicants must carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of both options, including costs and methods of instruction.


Cost

MBAs can cost as little as $40,000 or over $100,000. Most MBA programs charge a per-credit tuition rate. As a result, some full-time and part-time MBA degrees can cost the same amount. In addition to tuition, prospective applicants must consider other related costs. Part-time students may end up paying more in fees, while full-time students may rely more on loans since they often do not work while in school.

Many professional organizations and institutions offer MBA scholarships, but these opportunities may only fund full-time students. Part-time students will likely benefit from employer tuition remission or sponsorship programs to cover MBA costs.


Program Length

Full-time MBA programs typically take two years. In the first year, MBA students complete core business courses, while the second year comprises specialized courses and electives. MBA students often pursue summer internships. Some business schools also feature accelerated one-year MBA degrees.

A part-time program typically takes around three years, depending on course load. In addition to in-person options, many business schools also offer part-time online MBA programs.


Lifestyle Flexibility

A part-time program offers more flexibility than a full-time program. In a full-time MBA, particularly a one-year accelerated program, students devote most of their time to classes, studying, and networking. Full-time students earn their degrees in less time.

Part-time MBA programs, particularly online options, allow degree-seekers to balance their coursework requirements with employment and other commitments. Many part-time MBA programs also offer weekend classes.

TBS Asks:

Why did you choose the degree path (part-time or full-time) that you did?

MBA Graduate Daniel Feiman Answers:

I chose the part-time route because I had a family to support and was working full time — plus I was starting another company on the side.


Professional Goal Alignment

A full-time MBA program prepares graduates for management careers in the shortest amount of time. Recent college graduates and individuals looking to enter the business world may prefer full-time pathways.

In contrast, a part-time program appeals to working professionals seeking career advancement or a career change. The option also appeals to those with a shorter work history who want to move up the career ladder. Professionals with over ten years of work experience may prefer an executive MBA program.

TBS Asks:

What advice do you have for someone considering pursuing an MBA?

MBA Graduate Daniel Feiman Answers:

  1. Decide why you want it.
  2. Determine if you are willing to commit the time and energy to do it right.
  3. Ask if it is going to pay you dividends in the future.


Academic Rigor

Full-time and part-time MBA programs often feature the same rigorous curriculum and challenging assignments. However, students in part-time programs typically take fewer courses per term, allowing them to focus their resources on fewer assignments.

Students balancing school with full-time employment or personal responsibilities may find it difficult to succeed in full-time programs. A part-time option makes it easier to balance an MBA with outside commitments.


Course Scheduling and Structure

Scheduling options differ among programs. Full-time and part-time programs both offer classes on synchronous and asynchronous models. In a synchronous program, learners attend live classes at set times, while asynchronous courses operate with no required meeting times.

Course load also varies depending on the program. A full-time MBA student may take 2-3 courses per term, while a part-time learner often enrolls in 1-2 courses.


Options for Electives and Concentrations

Full-time programs encourage degree-seekers to select an MBA specialization. They also offer electives in international business, logistics, financial management, and sustainability. Part-time students may have fewer specialization and elective options. Some part-time programs use a set curriculum with little opportunity to customize the degree.


Competition to Get Into Programs

With more applications, full-time programs can be more selective with their incoming class, and full-time MBA programs often report the highest competition for admission. Part-time programs typically admit fewer students but also receive fewer applications, potentially increasing chances for admission.

However, the competitiveness of an MBA program depends on the program and the business school.


Networking Opportunities

Full-time and part-time programs prioritize networking and experiential learning through internships. During a full-time program, learners often complete summer-long internships between their first and second years. These internships connect degree-seekers with potential employers and expand their professional networks.

Part-time programs may offer more networking opportunities due to their longer timelines.

TBS Asks:

If you could go back to when you were pursuing your MBA, what would you have done differently?

MBA Graduate Daniel Feiman Answers:

I would have done two things differently:

  1. Really enjoyed the experience by being more present in the moment.
  2. I would have tried to be more engaged with some of my colleagues.
  3. It was intense, enlightening, educational, and worth it.

Pros and Cons of Full-Time and Part-Time MBA Programs

Should you choose a full-time or part-time MBA program? Here are some pros and cons for each.

Full-Time MBA

Pros

Degree-seekers complete their programs in less time, allowing them to enter the workforce and quickly benefit from increased earning potential. Full-time programs encourage students to focus on their studies instead of dividing their attention between work and school. Many MBA scholarships require full-time enrollment.

Cons

Full-time students leave the workforce to earn their degrees, creating a gap in their work history and cutting into their short-term earning potential. Working professionals may struggle to balance their careers with full-time degrees. A full-time program may offer less time for networking or internships.

Part-Time MBA

Pros

Added flexibility makes it easier for working adults to pursue an MBA without taking a break from work. Employers may offer tuition remission programs or other incentives to help cover the cost of an MBA degree. At some business schools, full-time programs receive more applications, making part-time programs less competitive.

Cons

Part-time MBA students spend more time earning their degrees, keeping them from quickly increasing their earning potential. A part-time program may cost more in tuition and fees, depending on the school. Part-time students may not qualify for as many scholarship opportunities.

Professional Organizations

AMA offers educational resources and certifications for business professionals. The association emphasizes experiential learning and designs customized training programs for organizations. AMA also offers the certified professional in management credential.

MBA CSEA connects employers with graduate business career services offices and employers. This collaborative alliance offers innovative tools to help MBA graduates move into the workforce. MBA CSEA hosts conferences, regional meet-ups, and webinars.

The BBPA advocates for equity and opportunities for Black business professionals. The association encourages entrepreneurship through its resources, networking opportunities, and professional development tools. The BBPA also hosts a national awards event and grants an annual scholarship.

BCWN offers professional development and mentorship opportunities for Black women. The network hosts workshops, provides coaching and mentorship services, and offers career tools, online courses, podcasts, and guides.

ABWA represents women in diverse business fields. The association offers leadership development resources, educational tools, and networking support to help women advance personally and professionally.

Meet an MBA Graduate

Daniel Feiman, MBA, CMC® is the founder and managing director of Build It Backwards, a consulting and training firm based in Redondo Beach, California. He consults in three areas: strategy: planning and implementation; S.T.E.P.(SM): succession, transition, and exit planning; and leadership: development and coaching.

Feiman has consulted and trained firms in 30 countries from many industries and has taught at the university level. He also has over 18 years of commercial banking experience. His third book in the Build It Backwards series was nominated for a Thought Leader of the Year award by the Alliance of Merger & Acquisition Advisors.

Frequently Asked Questions

true Is the GMAT Required for Part-Time MBA Programs?

GMAT scores are typically required by part-time and weekend MBA programs. However, some MBA programs waive GMAT requirements for applicants who have high GPAs or possess a certain amount of work experience.

true Is a Part-Time MBA Easier Than Full-Time?

Admission to part-time programs may be less competitive than full-time programs. However, many of the best part-time MBA programs feature the same curriculum, assignments, and graduation requirements as full-time programs.

true How Long Does a Part-Time MBA Take?

It typically takes around three years to earn a part-time MBA, compared to two years for a full-time MBA. Some schools offer accelerated one-year MBA programs.

true Does a Part-Time MBA Have Value?

Yes. A part-time MBA from an accredited business school meets the same rigorous standards as a full-time MBA. With a part-time MBA, graduates can find work in management and leadership roles.

true Can You Work While Getting Your MBA?

Part-time online MBA programs often accept working professionals, while some full-time MBA programs discourage students from working while pursuing their degrees.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

Header Image Credit: Cavan Images | Getty Images

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