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Understanding the Different MBA Formats

21 Aug

While an MBA may seem like a one-size-fits-all degree, there are actually a significant number of different MBA formats that provide unique experiences for ambitious prospective business students. If you’re considering pursuing a graduate business degree to give yourself a leg up on your career journey, it’s definitely worth taking the time to understand the types of MBAs out there so you can make an informed decision about which one is right for you.

In some cases, the differences between these MBA formats are made obvious right in the programs’ names, but other subtler differences exist between seemingly similar programs as well. Read about some of the major differences between MBA formats, and learn where to look to identify the nuances that can help you determine where to pursue your degree.

Who Is It For?

Your first step in selecting the right MBA program for you is to take a look at yourself and think about where you are in your career and where you’re hoping to go. There exist a number of MBA formats that are geared toward specific levels of professional experience, and a program that might have one individual’s goals in mind may be a poor fit for someone else.

Some business schools offer early-career MBA programs, often called “bridge” programs, designed for students with little to no professional experience. These programs are often only one year in length and are intended to introduce students who did not study business as undergraduates to some of the key concepts in the business world in preparation for their first professional role. At the other end of the spectrum are executive MBA programs, which are intended to teach established professionals the skills and mindset of successful executives.

The majority of MBA programs across the country fall somewhere between these two extremes. Most are two years in length, and they are typically designed to help motivated professionals take a step up in their careers, either into management or from a junior or middle management role on a trajectory toward more senior leadership. It should not take too much self-reflection to decide which of these general buckets your ideal program fits in, but once you select one, there are still important decisions to be made.

How Is It Delivered?

The next major factor that distinguishes types of MBA programs from one another is how and where exactly you will do your learning. While the majority of MBA students nationwide continue to be enrolled on traditional on-campus programs, enrollment in online and hybrid programs has risen steadily in recent years.1 This trend has been accelerated further by the COVID-19 pandemic in 20202, which has made clearer than ever the importance of an innovative, user-friendly online MBA program .

On-campus MBA options can be further divided by their typical schedules and time demands. There are full-time and part-time programs, residential programs that anticipate that you’ll live on or near campus, and evening or weekend programs for commuting students who intend to keep their full-time jobs.

Even before their demand skyrocketed, online MBA programs were known to be the most flexible programs of all. The most thoughtfully composed online MBA programs feature coursework that can be completed whenever your schedule allows, from wherever you happen to be. If fitting your studies around your existing personal and professional responsibilities is a primary concern for you, the online format could be your ideal avenue to a successful MBA experience.

Can You Concentrate?

Another key difference between MBA formats is whether you will be able to select a concentration as part of your studies. Many MBA programs offer multiple concentrations to allow their students to focus on areas of the business world in which they would like to excel. Some popular contemporary concentrations include data science, marketing, finance, and entrepreneurship, but you might find many other options out there during the course of your business school search.

This is not to say that programs with concentrations are the best option for every student, though. You might prefer a more streamlined path focusing on managerial skills and strategies that can be applied in a number of different business contexts. It’s also possible that you may consider a well-rounded but fixed MBA curriculum to give you more career options once you complete your degree. There’s no right or wrong answer as to which of these two MBA formats is the most effective, it is purely a matter of your goals and the route you choose to pursue to help you reach them.

What Classes Will You Take?

Beyond the option to concentrate, another level at which you’ll want to evaluate different types of MBA programs against one another is the number of credits they reserve for elective courses during their curriculum. As you research MBA programs, you’ll find a wide spectrum of differing approaches on this point. Some programs will offer no elective courses at all, others may allow you to fill more than a third of your schedule with electives, and others still will fall somewhere in between.

Decide whether you think you are the best curator of your own MBA experience or whether you’d like to let your program faculty chart your course for you. One additional aspect of elective courses to consider, though, is that programs that feature a large number of them may be more open to developments and innovations within the world of business. When business programs allow new courses to be developed that meet the shifting skills and knowledge demands across the professional world, they often demonstrate that they are focused more seriously on their students’ futures than just their present.

For a Flexible, Forward-Looking Online MBA Format, Choose SCU

The Online MBA program from Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business is as flexible and innovative as they come, rooted in the dynamic industries and organizations of Silicon Valley and designed to accommodate any professional schedule.

For an example of the business foresight, you’ll encounter in the Online MBA curriculum, check out our blog post on security protocols for distributed teams.