If you’re weighing whether to get a graduate degree like the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, how long it will take to see the results of your hard work is a big part of the decision. Some business students get their MBA within a year, while for others, it can take several years. While it is tempting to decide that you want to get your degree as quickly as possible, it is important to consider the big picture and have realistic expectations. An MBA may be a big help when working toward career advancement, but factors like your work experience and performance and your professional certifications matter, as well. Rushing through your MBA degree at the expense of grades or your real-world work experience won’t do your career any favors in the long run.
A Traditional MBA Curriculum
The conventional MBA program takes two years of full-time study. Students take a well-rounded core of graduate-level courses in subjects that draw from operations management, finance, marketing, business analytics, economics, supply chain management and more. Most MBA programs allow students to narrow the focus of their business education by choosing an area of specialization, but you can also choose a general management or general business emphasis.
The biggest factor that affects how long it will take you to complete your MBA is whether you study full-time or part-time. Only about 41 percent of MBA students are studying full-time, and the majority of MBA candidates are part-time students. After all, traditional MBA degrees are for experienced business professionals, not recent college graduates. Many MBA students don’t want to (and can’t afford to) leave the workforce after only a few years of work in order to focus on their education. Even if taking a leave of absence was financially feasible, these students would be missing out on a great deal of valuable real-world work experience that could counteract all the positive momentum of earning their degree. A full-time work schedule plus full-time graduate-level studies add up to a demanding workload that many students find simply unsustainable.
If you have to study part-time, you’re far from alone. Not only do more than 58 percent of all MBA students take classes part-time, but colleges offer programs tailored specifically for part-time students. You might take online courses, go to weekend or evening classes or take fewer classes at a time on a modified term schedule. Even part-time students can usually complete their MBA within four years.
The number of credits needed to earn your MBA varies widely from one school to another. Some business schools require as little as 15.5 credits for an MBA, while others require as many as 60 credits to graduate.
Accelerated MBA Options
If you’re sure that you want to get your degree faster, in spite of the obstacles, then an accelerated MBA might be perfect for you. These intense full-time programs allow you to get your degree in as little as 12 months. Although they are quick, these degree programs are far from easy. They often start off with a full load of summer courses during a time when other college students are off on break or casually taking a class here or there. You will study full-time during the fall and spring semester. You might have an erratic or unusual schedule. There are daytime one-year MBA programs, for students who are taking the year off from the workforce or working hours outside of a normal business schedule, as well as evening one-year MBA programs.
Some one-year MBA programs include weekend class schedules. This can allow you to plan your course schedule around your work schedule, but it can also leave you feeling burned-out.
5-Year Business Degree Programs
If you haven’t yet finished your bachelor’s degree, some might say that you’re getting ahead of yourself by worrying about an MBA. However, at certain business schools, your early planning could prove to be worthwhile. Some business schools offer an accelerated “4+1” dual degree program that allows undergraduates to begin working toward their MBA while completing their bachelor’s degree. Naturally, these programs don’t require the years of experience that a conventional MBA program would require.
Approaching your education this way allows you to keep the momentum you have already built up as an undergraduate student going, rather than having to get back into the swing of scholarship once you have been out in the workforce for years. It also cuts an entire year off of the total length of your education, if you had completed your bachelor’s degree in four years and then gone for a traditional two-year master’s degree.
This 4+1 degree model typically works by allowing undergraduate students in their senior year to take some graduate business coursework that will count toward both the undergraduate and graduate degrees, reducing the total number of credits you must take.
Graduate Business Degrees Beyond the MBA
The MBA is the most well-known business master’s degree, but it isn’t the only graduate option you can consider. Today, many colleges and universities offer specialized business degrees like the Master of Finance, Master of Accounting and Master of Organizational Leadership degree. Though they lack the breadth and versatility of the MBA, these programs are ideal for students who want to develop more specialized skills, and employers in certain fields are beginning to give preference to job candidates with these targeted degrees, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Specialized master’s degree programs in business often take one to two years of study.