Stay on top of the latest

Advice, tips and insights from the
admissions dream team.

Table of Contents

MBA Types: Which Program is Right For You?

For those seeking to supercharge their careers, business schools now offer a dazzling array of MBA formats and graduate degrees. Options range from full-time two year programs, to accelerated one-year programs, to part-time and Executive MBAs, online options, and topical specializations. Which format is the best for you? 

The traditional full-time, two-year MBA, which is the norm at top US schools, remains popular and valuable as a well-recognized pathway for professionals seeking to advance their careers in business. However, as the business landscape evolved and demand for specialized skill sets and strategic acumen continued to grow, business schools have diversified their programs with alternatives to meet students’ shifting needs and ambitions, with formats, schedules, and specializations catering to students in different career phases and life circumstances. 

When you look at all the options your target schools offer, it may be a bit overwhelming. And if you don’t look, and default to applying for the traditional full-time two year MBA program, you may miss an option that is even better for you. 

Choosing the most suitable program from all the MBA types depends on your individual interests, situation, and career objectives. As a Fortuna coach with decades of experience admitting students to Chicago Booth’s Executive MBA program, as well as experience on the Stanford GSB admissions committee, I’m familiar with the different formats and options available, so read on for an extensive overview of the landscape.


Full-Time MBA Programs

Traditional full-time MBA programs are characterized by immersive, on-campus experiences with internship opportunities between the academic years. Designed for students with an average of three to five years of work experience, these programs offer a comprehensive curriculum covering core business disciplines such as finance, marketing, operations, and strategy. The full-time MBA is ideal for someone who is looking to make a career switch, increase their salary, and gain access to an important professional network. Full-time MBA candidates must be prepared to leave the workforce for up to two years.

Full-time MBA programs give you the “complete” MBA experience: robust classroom discussions and peer-to-peer interactions, access to faculty and alumni experts, networking opportunities, and experiential learning through case studies and projects. Some programs may offer electives that allow you to customize your program and build skills in the areas that interest you most. One of the key benefits of traditional full-time MBA programs is the intensive focus on personal and professional development, equipping students with leadership skills, critical thinking abilities, and a global perspective. 

Access to well-developed corporate recruiting relationships and support services make these programs a great option if you are seeking to enter a particular sector or industry. Another benefit is the rich array of extracurricular activities and student groups that enrich your experience and personal growth. MBA candidates often make friends and forge relationships that last a lifetime. On the other hand, you will likely find yourself juggling intensive studies, a job search, extracurricular activities, social life, and perhaps family obligations — and getting the balance right can be challenging for many. 

Harvard Business School lays claim to the first MBA program; it debuted in 1908, responding to the growing need for advanced management education in the rapidly industrializing United States, using the distinctive case study method that still sets HBS apart today. The Wharton School, established 27 years earlier as the first business school in the US, launched its MBA in 1921. The schools now known as Chicago Booth, Stanford GSB, and Kellogg quickly followed. Today there are more than 1,000 MBA programs in the US alone; many offer distinctive curriculum or specializations tailored to student interests.

One-Year/Accelerated MBA Programs

One-year MBA programs, also known as accelerated MBA programs, compress the traditional two-year curriculum into an intensive, immersive experience spanning between 12 and 18 months, depending on the school. These programs are designed for individuals with solid work experience (typically five years on average) and a clear career trajectory who want to maximize their return on investment in higher education while minimizing time away from the workforce.

The one-year MBA format was pioneered by INSEAD, a school founded in Fontainebleau, France, in 1957; many other European schools followed suit, and one-year programs have been growing in the US as a more affordable option. Top U.S. schools like Kellogg, Duke Fuqua, and NYU Stern all offer accelerated programs. Some emphasize a rigorous blend of core business concepts, specialized electives, and hands-on experiential learning opportunities, delivered through an accelerated pace and condensed schedule. Others are more specialized; for example, S.C. Johnson Cornell’s accelerated option is a one-year, STEM-designated tech MBA.

There are also one-year, full-time programs designed for mid-career professionals. Wharton’s Sloan Fellows MBA, the LBS Sloan Master’s in Leadership and Strategy, and Stanford GSB’s MSx offer the benefits of an executive MBA program in an intensive, one-year residential format with rich opportunities for personal transformation and growth. These are a great option for seasoned executives who wish to take a year off from their careers and dedicate themselves to personal and professional growth.

During the pandemic, accelerated programs went online and many remain online or hybrid. The accelerated program launched at Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business in 2023 trims five to nine months off the traditional MBA schedule partly by requiring applicants to have previously taken the core courses of accounting, finance, marketing, microeconomics, and operations. (Tepper’s online hybrid version is actually longer, at 24 months but allows schedule flexibility).

The streamlined nature of these programs enables students to expedite their career progression, capitalize on emerging opportunities, and quickly apply newly acquired skills and knowledge in real-world settings. A major part of their appeal is that most cost less than a full-time two-year program. However, these programs may allow less time for self-discovery, career exploration, and network building.

Part-Time MBA Programs

Part-time MBA programs cater to working professionals seeking to enhance their credentials without interrupting their careers. These programs offer evening or weekend classes and can be offered online or in a hybrid format. Importantly, they allow students to maintain full-time employment and income while gaining knowledge and skills to advance within their current company or industry. The curriculum usually  mirrors those of full-time programs, providing a comprehensive foundation in business fundamentals and specialized electives. 

In part-time MBA programs, students can apply classroom concepts immediately to real-world challenges in their jobs. This creates a seamless integration of theory and practice, helping students absorb, remember, and reinforce classroom lessons.

Part-time students have some flexibility to pace their courses to fit into busy and demanding lives, but as a result, in some cases it may take a few years to complete the degree. Historically, part-time programs have offered less access to recruiting opportunities, because they cater more to students advancing within their own company or sector, and students may receive tuition support from their employers. However, in recent years, there has been a noticeable trend among business schools with part-time MBA programs towards enhancing career services and job hunting support for their part-time MBA students. The integration of digital tools and platforms has also played a significant role in making career support more accessible to part-time students, for example through virtual careers fairs. 

Berkeley Haas, Chicago Booth’s Evening and Weekend MBA programs, and Northwestern Kellogg are all strong examples of well-established, high-quality part-time MBA options.

Applicants should keep in mind that part-time programs are typically less diverse than full-time MBA programs, because they draw candidates from a more limited geographical zone. Also, when considering part-time programs, it’s important to make sure that the curriculum, faculty, and diploma granted are truly equivalent to the school’s full-time offerings

Executive MBA (EMBA) Programs

Designed for professionals with significant work experience (typically 10 years or more), Executive MBA programs offer a flexible format tailored to the schedules of busy working managers. Schedules vary by school: some EMBA programs feature weekend or evening classes, and some have a modular format where students convene on campus once per month. EMBA programs typically run over two years; the curriculum emphasizes advanced management concepts, executive leadership, and strategic decision-making tailored to the complexities of senior-level roles.

 As with part-time programs, EMBA students can reinforce their new skills by putting them to work immediately on the job. The cohort-based structure of EMBA programs facilitates networking among peers from diverse industries and sometimes from all over the world. This allows for rich discussions and lasting connections to peers with complementary expertise. The primary benefits of this MBA program type lie in its ability to accelerate career progression and build a robust network of seasoned professionals.

Chicago Booth pioneered the Executive MBA in 1943; today, among M7 schools, schools, Wharton, Columbia, MIT, and Kellogg also offer EMBA programs.Chicago Booth also pioneered the global exchange formation, with cohorts in Chicago, Hong Kong, and London meeting for joint sessions on each campus, and other US schools have incorporated global opportunities in their programs. INSEAD offers a highly respected Global Executive MBA (GEMBA), running out of France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi; other international options include London Business School’s EMBA, and the TRIUM program which runs as a partnership between NYU Stern, HEC Paris and the London School of Economics.

Again, to ensure the value of your EMBA, take care to choose a program that offers the same degree and courses as the school’s flagship full-time MBA program, taught by the school’s full-time faculty.

International MBA Programs 

Some leading US business schools offer an international concentration or specialization within their full-time MBA. However, if you are interested in gaining deep knowledge of international business and pursuing a global career, some European and Asian schools offer outstanding programs, with more internationally focused curriculum and student bodies drawing from all around the world. For example, Oxford Said School of Business admitted a class that was 97% international in 2023, with 63 nations represented. 

Most international MBA programs outside the US have adopted the one year format, with a few notable exceptions such as London Business School’s flagship full-time MBA program (with options to graduate in 15, 18, or 21 months) and IESE’s two year program in Barcelona.

Online MBA Programs

In response to the growing demand for flexible and accessible education, fully online MBA programs have gained prominence in recent years. Online MBA programs leverage digital platforms to deliver coursework asynchronously, enabling students to engage with course materials at their own pace and convenience. The curriculum encompasses a blend of interactive lectures, virtual simulations, and collaborative projects, facilitated through online forums and video conferencing tools.

An innovator in this area is the University of Illinois Gies School of Business, which reimagined and launched its iMBA as a fully online, optimized e-learning experience in 2016. Today it’s the only MBA Gies offers. Because it claims to be so different from other programs, Gies does not participate in rankings and conducts its own evaluations, claiming a 96% student satisfaction rate. 

The key benefits of MBA types like online MBA programs are their ability to offer access to career-advancing education regardless of geography and to allow individuals to learn at their own pace and in their own style while balancing personal and professional responsibilities. Along with that flexibility, online programs may come with an attractive price tag; Gies and Boston University both offer a full online MBA for just $24,000, which yields a speedy return on investment. However, because not all online programs are created equal, they may lack the recognition and credibility of more established programs. US News & World Report ranks these programs; Indiana University-Bloomington’s Kelley School of Business is often a very high performer in this ranking. 

One drawback to online learning is that it’s harder to find a sense of community, which may contribute to a relatively high dropout rate. If considering an online MBA, be sure to check the completion rate and student satisfaction ratings of programs you consider.

Specialized MBA Programs

Over the last decade, b-schools have launched dozens of specialized MBA programs to match growth areas and student interests. Examples include programs focused on healthcare management, technology, or the fashion or hospitality industry. Many schools, from HBS to Babson and Washington University Olin, highlight concentrations in entrepreneurship. Other schools offer degrees or concentrations in sustainable business practices and socially conscious leadership or  nonprofit management. And some MBA programs, like MIT Sloan’s or CMU Tepper’s have earned STEM designation, based on their analytical rigor and data-driven approach.

These specialized MBAs may be full-time, accelerated,  online, or hybrid programs. They feature tailored curricula, industry-specific faculty, and experiential learning opportunities focused on emerging trends and market demands. These programs equip you with specialized knowledge, skills, and contacts, positioning you for success in competitive and evolving industries.

Specialized Master’s Programs

Specialized master’s degree programs at business schools are designed to provide a focused and in-depth education in specific areas of business, often targeting individuals who seek to enhance their expertise in a particular field or industry. They have been gaining popularity in recent years due to their focused curriculum, shorter duration, and strong alignment with industry demands. Many employers value candidates with specialized expertise in addition to general business knowledge.

Compared to traditional MBA programs, which often last two years, specialized master’s programs are often shorter, typically ranging from nine months to two years. Common offerings include master’s of science degrees in finance, marketing, supply chain management, business analytics, entrepreneurial leadership, and many more. Almost all top business schools offer at least a few of these master’s degree programs in addition to their traditional MBA program.

 These programs attract candidates working professionals seeking to deepen their knowledge and skills in a specific area without committing to a full-time MBA program.

One specialized master’s program that is increasingly popular particularly in Europe is the Masters in Management (MiM), designed for recent graduates or early-career professionals intending to jumpstart their careers and develop foundational business acumen. Highly regarded MiM programs are offered at London Business School, HEC Paris, and INSEAD.

Dual Degree Programs

If you are passionate about multiple disciplines, pursuing a dual degree can broaden your horizons even further. Dual degree programs admit students to pursue two separate professional or graduate degrees in a combined format, within a condensed time frame. They are an ideal, if challenging, option for those who know they want business skills to complement their career in law, medicine, engineering, public policy, or a wide range of other fields. 

Dual degree programs typically combine an MBA degree with another professional or graduate degree, in fields ranging from medicine, dentistry, law, or nursing to public administration, public health, engineering, international affairs, social work, education, or government. Recently, dual degrees in biology or environmental sciences have emerged as well. The options are as varied as your interests; Wharton, Columbia Business School, and Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business all offer a dozen or more dual or interdisciplinary degrees, for example. Wharton’s Lauder program, combining an MBA with an MS in international studies, is a great option for those with a global focus. 

The most popular dual degrees are the MBA/JD (Juris Doctor), MBA/MD (Doctor of Medicine), and the MBA/MPA or MPP (Master of Public Policy or Public Administration). Each dual degree program has a customized curriculum that integrates coursework from both sponsoring schools. Students often have the flexibility to tailor their course selections to their specific interests and career goals. These programs provide students with complementary expertise in multiple disciplines and enhance their career prospects.

Corporate MBA Programs

Corporate MBA programs, also known as in-house MBA programs, are initiatives established and managed directly by corporations or organizations to provide advanced business education to their employees. For example, UnitedHealth Group sponsors their own healthcare MBA (HCMBA) program with the University of St. Thomas; Cigna partners with the University of Hartford Barney School of Business to offer a customized, accelerated MBA for 75 employees a year. Unlike traditional MBA programs offered by universities and business schools, corporate MBA programs are tailored specifically to the needs and objectives of the sponsoring company.

Microcredentials and Certificates

Another way to gain business skills that you might otherwise gain on an MBA is by pursuing a series of microcredential courses. Microcredential and certificate programs from business schools offer targeted and flexible approaches to professional development, allowing individuals to acquire specific knowledge, skills, and competency in areas like accounting, marketing, data analytics, or strategic leadership and management. In some cases, such as Gies’ online courses, microcredentials and certificates can be stacked or combined to earn larger credentials such as graduate certificates or even credit towards a master’s degree or MBA. 

Compared to traditional degree programs, microcredentials and certificates are shorter in duration, typically ranging from a few weeks to several months. They offer flexible, focused, and timely learning. Microcredential and certificate programs are often designed in collaboration with industry experts to ensure that the curriculum provides students with the most up-to-date knowledge and skills relevant to the current business landscape. Some corporations like Google and Microsoft partner with business schools to offer these programs.  They often include practical, hands-on learning experiences and case studies drawn from real-world business scenarios.

For students who want to learn while working and aren’t ready to commit to the time and cost of a full MBA program, these shorter programs offer a way to ramp up your knowledge at your own pace. And in a rapidly evolving business environment that calls for lifelong learning, they can be a way to go back and acquire new skills post-MBA. 

However, these offerings vary widely and they don’t always add up to a well-established and globally recognized credential. They are often online, which means that it takes more effort to build relationships with classmates and you may be less connected to the sponsoring university’s alumni network and career advancement resources.

Choosing the Right MBA

Among all these options, which is the right fit for you? It’s a matter of clearly defining your MBA vision and goals and the learning experience you seek. If you could use help focusing your vision or reviewing your options, book a free 30-minute consultation with Fortuna’s experts. We will be happy to discuss your individual situation and share advice on your path forward. 

Share this article on social media

Sign up now for a free 30-minute discovery session to get personalized feedback on your profile and learn how Fortuna can help you secure admission to your dream school!

Free Consultation