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Guide to MBA Program Types

You might be overwhelmed now that you've decided to enroll in graduate business school. But before you even get to the MBA application, or which schools are good matches, you'll need to research the various types of MBA programs which are available. At first, the biggest choice you'll have to make is whether you want to pursue a full-time or part-time MBA program. Lucky for you, this guide offers an outline of each.

Full-Time Two-Year MBA Program

The full-time, two-year MBA program is the most immersive of your choices. It, after all, requires you to quit working and spend two years as a full-time student. On the bright side, you may have the opportunity to take on a summer internship between your first and second years of school. You'll also be able to network with fellow classmates in a way that other MBA students can't. When you spend two years getting to know each other while working on group projects, going on career treks to look for jobs, participating in student clubs, and attending panel discussions and other events, you often find lifetime friends.

Most MBA programs feature core courses that cover the basics of subjects any senior executive would have to comprehend, including finance and operations management. Then, you will most likely choose a major or concentration, and your options will vary depending on the school. Marketing, sustainable business, entrepreneurship, and big data are among concentrations you might find. Clearly, the range of subjects runs from the traditional to the trendy, and you'll have to check out each school's options before applying. Usually, students are required to take a certain number of electives related to their major in their second year. The one difference you'll find at a two-year program is that you might have more chances for hands-on assignments. For example, marketing majors might get the chance to offer advice on an advertising campaign to a real company.

Best Match: Those who want to change function or industry should seriously consider a full-time, two-year MBA program. They often have the chance to intern, possibly in their desired new field, and to network with many more people. In addition, most top business schools provide full-time students with a tremendous amount of help when it comes to changing careers and finding jobs. They help with mock interviews, resume editing, organizing on- and off-campus recruiting events, and making connections with potential employers.

Biggest Downside: You have to leave your job -- and salary -- for two whole years. A full-time program is expensive, and you'll be footing the bill. Usually, this means taking on loans and loading up on debt. Granted, if you earn the typical MBA salary post graduation, you'll get a decent return on investment in no time.

Full-Time One-Year Program

Similar to the two-year program, this one has students giving up their careers to go to school full time. The difference between the two is that students earn their degree in just one year. Traditionally, students at full-time programs (both one and two year) have skewed younger than those in part-time programs. Top business schools still expect applicants to have a few years of work experience under their belt, but students tend to be in their mid- to late 20s. In recent years, some one-year programs in the United States have catered to an even younger crowd, while the original one-year programs in Europe have recruited slightly older students in their early 30s.

Washington State University's Carson College of Business offers a one-year program that begins immediately following graduation from an undergraduate program. "It is designed for students who demonstrate leadership through their engagement as undergraduate students, typically as leaders in student organizations including government, Greek life, other philanthropic work and in many instances through their roles as student employees at the institution or in the surrounding community," says Cheryl Oliver, assistant dean of Online and Graduate Programs at Carson. "Most have just completed their undergraduate degree and are prepared to take the next step in their education, dedicating their time toward earning their MBA before seeking a full-time job."

The curriculum is the same, but you won't have as much time to dwell on concepts and theories. Professors will cover things at a quicker pace, and you'll have to keep up. There will probably be fewer group projects and hands-on assignments, but you'll still have them. And you'll still have time to network and participate in student clubs, but relationships will have to develop quicker.

Best Match: Someone slightly older with a bit more work experience, who can keep up with the faster pace in class. Those who want to switch industry or function might have a hard time at a one-year program because there is no summer internship and less time for developing a network of contacts. In other words, someone looking to move up in an already established career might fare better in a one-year program. But you'll still get support from career services at most schools.

Biggest Downside: You have less time for everything, including bonding with classmates, networking, and the job search. Then again, you're only paying one year of tuition.

Part-Time MBA Programs

Students enrolled in part-time MBA programs attend classes in the evenings or on weekends. Sometimes, they might even participate in online courses, which allow them flexibility to work from home or the office. Most of these students are maintaining a full-time job while they pursue their MBA. Therefore, they take longer -- usually at least three years -- to complete the program. On the bright side, they stay close to home, don't give up their salaries, and often get their employers to foot at least part of the bill, if not all of it.

These guys are all business. This means that they go to class, do what they have to do, and get out. There isn't a lot of meandering in the hallways or participating in extracurricular activities. Networking is not as much a part of the program. Virtually no one is participating in internships or other job hunt activities. After all, many of the sponsored students are contractually obligated to stick with their current employer for a certain amount of time during the program and after earning the degree. What's great about working while going to school is having the ability to immediately apply what you're learning in class.

You should note that times are changing somewhat. For a while now, students in part-time programs have been financing their own education. Many of them have asked schools to allow them to participate in on-campus recruiting activities and to provide them with more career support. At most top business schools, debate rages on about how much help to give part-time students. So, if you plan to pay your own way and take on a part-time program, realize that you might not get as much help when you want to move on from your current job.

Best Match: Those who need an MBA degree to get promoted in their current company or industry, as well as those who already have families and don't want to move out of state to attend school. A certain level of dedication and discipline is also required. After all, you will be juggling family, work, and school.

Biggest Downside: Part-time programs usually take longer to complete than full-time ones, which may result in more money spent on tuition over the long term. Also, if you want to use the degree to switch careers or find another job, you'll be doing most -- if not all -- the job hunt work on your own.

The bottom line is that you have to be honest about what you want to get out of the MBA experience. "There are opportunities for everyone in full-time, part-time, EMBA, and even some hybrid programs where they mix the classroom experience with online learning," says Eric Allen, founder and president of the admissions consultancy Admit Advantage in Washington, D.C. "The information is the same, but the MBA experiences are quite different, so candidates need to spend meaningful time thinking through the pluses and minuses of each potential MBA type and coming up with a game plan that meets their needs." After all, the experience will only give you a good ROI if it's valuable to you.