The Growth in One-Year MBA Programs in America

One recurring theme in graduate management education these days is the growing popularity of one-year MBA programs, especially in the United States, where two-year programs have traditionally ruled. While it used to be that one could count American one-year and accelerated programs on one hand, every other month it seems that a new school announces such a program, or at least signals its intent to launch one.

While these schools are responding to market demand, these moves invite questions about whether or not companies will be as interested in the graduates they produce. While one-year programs tend to attract applicants with more full-time work experience and/or significant business training, as these programs become more common, some wonder if they will start to attract less experienced applicants who ultimately will have a hard time finding the types of high-paying jobs they want to pursue post-MBA.

For years only a handful of top-ranked American business schools have offered accelerated MBA programs, including Kellogg, Columbia, Cornell (Johnson), and Emory (Goizueta). These programs continue to be successful, so much so that some schools are doubling down on their one-year programs, including Kellogg. We expect to see more and more schools follow suit in the next several years. The market for graduate management education is a market, after all, with the sellers (schools) always thinking about how to evolve and meet the needs of the buyers (applicants). Even in education, the sellers need to innovate or risk falling behind.

Two obstacles that schools face as they try to launch compressed programs are the challenges that grads face in finding full-time work (for those who are not returning to their same jobs), and finding a way to make sure the program covers everything that an MBA grad needs to know. Perhaps the most common reason we try to talk clients out of applying to one-year programs is that they frequently underestimate how much work they’ll need to put into landing full-time jobs after they graduate. It’s easy to think that potential employers view all grads at a business school in the same way, and that simply having a degree from the school puts you on even footing with all of your classmates. But, you will be judged for all of the experience you gained before entering business school.

Employers know that you won’t learn everything in business school — even in a two-year program — and they expect that they will need to train you a great deal once you’re hired, anyway. So, they’re as interested in your professional experience and your working style as they are in what you know from your studies. If you only have a couple of years of experience, then compounding that with less classroom training may make you even less marketable as a potential hire. So, while we love the innovation we see in today’s business schools, be wary of pursuing a one-year MBA simply because it seems like a shortcut to a high-paying job. The less full-time work experience you have, the more we urge you to stick with a two-year program, no matter where you plan on pursuing your degree.

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