Getting an MBA requires a major commitment – both educationally and professionally. While programs run the gamut in terms of length and mode, most come down to one question – part time or full time?

According to Steve Ash, assistant dean and director of graduate programs at the University of Akron in Akron; Elad Granot, dean at Ashland University’s Dauch College of Business and Economics in Ashland; and Gregory Jonas, senior associate dean of academics and graduate programs at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, MBA hopefuls should first consider how much time they have to commit to graduate school.

“A full-time program is very intense and is truly a full-time experience, so students who enroll in that want to focus on their education and typically aren’t employed,” Jonas said. “It is intense and rigorous, and (at CWRU), they can complete the program in two years. The full-time aspect gets students regularly on campus, so it is easier to form relationships and network. For part-timers, it is structured where it can all be done in the evenings and the course load is lighter as it is designed for people who want to work while going to school.”

Ash said the key issue for applicants is determining what they want to do and what they would be willing to give up to get there. If a student wants to study full time, chances are they would have to leave their job.

“You’re sacrificing the income and current work life, and dedicating yourself to the MBA program,” he said. “Choosing one or the other would put you in a different sort of cohort as there is special bonding within these programs. But, the end outcome is what is going to matter.”

If you’re putting in full time, you’re probably looking for a major career change, Ash added.

For part timers, it might also be a career change, but more often they’re looking to move into a higher-level management position at their company or out of a specialized area into a managerial position.

While any student could likely make either type of program work, Granot said one should factor some areas in their decision.

“You can’t avoid looking at your financial situation, first and foremost,” he stated. “Can you take two years off of your life and become a full-time student? This means less time for family, no time for work and no income as you pay tuition. If the answer is yes, then you can look at full-time programs and the benefits they may offer. That is the first set of questions you should ask yourself. And as you rate them, if one of those answers is ‘no,’ you shouldn’t do a full-time program.”

Jonas said, “It’s an individual decision process, but in general, if a prospect wants to continue working while getting their degree, full time is not an option for them. Those who can study full time could go part time, but they also tend to be the people who want that deeper immersion and appreciate the extra credit hours and electives.”

If you find yourself in a program that no longer fits your needs, the educators said students have the option to change from a part time to a full-time program and vice versa. It is typically discouraged though as MBA students learn alongside a cohort that they network and bond with. Switching to another program may make it harder to mesh with an already established cohort. But, students do have options when they have unavoidable life changes and should contact their university in that case.

As MBA hopefuls consider their options, there are a few other aspects to the program options they should keep in mind.

“The most important decision is knowing whether or not you want an MBA, if it is going to serve your needs best,” Ash explained. “There are other graduate degrees out there. The MBA is the most popular graduate degree and it is for good reason. But it is not for everyone and their goals. Once you know you want an MBA for the resources, it’s about determining your time commitments.”

Granot said MBA hopefuls also consider ROI, or return on investment.

“The assumption is that it is very high,” he said. “Getting an MBA pays off, there is no question about that. There is a surge across the nation in MBA applications and there is a good reason for that in an economic slowdown. People re-evaluate and pivot in what they want to do with their careers. That is where students need to decide to see if now is a good opportunity for them to embark on an MBA journey.”

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