A standard MBA program requires 2 years of full-time study. For many people, that represents an unacceptably long time away from the world of work. Some people find it difficult to forego 2 years’ salary. Others worry about missing out on developments in fast-growing industries, or about losing touch with key contacts and professional networks.

Four of the top U.S. business schools offer accelerated MBA programs that can make it easier for people with these concerns to commit to a b-school education. But while these programs are an excellent option for the right kind of applicant, the decision to apply to one should only be made after careful research. Accelerated programs differ from 2-year programs in ways that may work to the disadvantage of many b-school applicants.

The four top U.S. b-schools that offer an accelerated MBA option are:

  • The Columbia Business School – J-Term Option (18 months, starting in January)
  • The Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University) – The One-Year MBA Program (12 months, starting in June)
  • The Johnson School (Cornell University) – One-Year MBA program (12 months, starting in May)
  • The Goizueta Business School (Emory University) – The Full-Time MBA, One-Year Experience (12 months, starting in May)

There are 4 key issues that applicants should consider in deciding whether to apply to an accelerated MBA program:

Your preparation for graduate-level business study: Most of the accelerated MBA programs condense a semester’s worth of core business courses into a few weeks. Students need to enter the program with a certain level of pre-existing business knowledge to be able to keep up with that pace of study. These programs require applicants to either hold a previous degree in business or a related field or to have completed certain prerequisite courses in economics, statistics, finance, and other business topics. (See individual program descriptions for details. Columbia’s 16-month Accelerated MBA Program has more flexible entry requirements than the other programs do.)

Cost: Don’t assume that attending a one-year MBA program would cut your b-school expenses in half. A one-year program will save you some money on tuition – in very general terms, you’ll spend about 75 per cent of what you would for a 2-year program – but you’ll also miss out on the salary you could earn as an intern between your first and second years. If you think that can’t be much of a loss, think again: the median monthly salary for Stanford MBA students who served internships in the summer of 2006 was $6,700.

Career exploration: An accelerated MBA program does not offer the same opportunities for career exploration that a 2-year program does. This makes them a poor option for anyone who is seeking an MBA as part of a career change. The accelerated programs are best suited for applicants who are already happily established in a specific career track and industry, and who know exactly how and where they will put their newly-learned management skills to work after graduation.

Internships: A major difference between accelerated MBA programs and 2-year programs is that accelerated programs do not include internships. For most applicants, this is also the main disadvantage of a one-year program. For most students, internships are a key component of an MBA education. They help students assimilate what they have learned in the first year of their program and often lead to full-time post-MBA employment offers. An MBA program that does not include an internship is only advisable for people who are certain they would not need an internship to achieve their post-MBA career goals.

The bottom line on accelerated MBA programs is that they can be a good choice for professionals who are already well-established in their career tracks and networks and who will benefit from being able to return to work quickly. They can also be a good choice for entrepreneurs and for people taking on positions of responsibility in a family business. Applicants who want to change careers or industries, or who are looking for entry-level management positions, will generally be better served by a traditional 2-year MBA program.

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