The development of technology and the demand for more flexible business degrees have brought about changes in the MBA landscape. The classic two-year full-time degree and the “European” one-year full-time degree have indeed faced strong competition from online and part-time business programmes. However, it would be a serious mistake to assume the classical MBA forms are anywhere near to being eclipsed or dethroned. 

Part-time, online and flexible MBAs may seem more suitable for candidates above a certain age and working experience. And, of course, there is no great divide between the different MBA degrees – the content of part-time and full-time degrees may overlap. There are, however, some specifics that equip the full-time option with the best tools for acquiring management skills and competences.

Check out: The Diversity of Part-Time MBA Formats

The advantages of total immersion in the study curriculum of a good school during a full-time programme can hardly be beaten by the advantages of flexible degrees. Education forms a certain way of thinking and discipline. This effect can be lessened when combined with something else that requires serious attention, such as working, be it part-time or otherwise.

The full-time format provides the most rounded learning experience (for candidates whose circumstances allow it), compared to the part-time and online alternatives. The MBA will also have distinct assets depending on the whereabouts of the school. Business education should provide a global perspective but the experience itself is coloured by its location.

The European MBA is considered to be the most culturally diverse, the quickest (most often lasting for one year,) and most effective. Schools on the Old Continent are the most internationalised and often surpass their US and Asian peers in this regard. The American MBA is traditionally a two-year programme characterised by academic depth and hands-on immersion in the discipline of management. It also gives good opportunities for students to find internships that will help them kick-start their post-MBA careers. However, it is worth mentioning that some American employers may still prefer US MBA degrees to comparable European ones. Finally, Asia is alluring and not just for its booming economic opportunities. In some Asian countries with more conservative management styles, it is easier to find a job if your diploma hails from a “local” institution.   

What do the numbers say?

The preferences of students attest to who holds the crown in the MBA family – the full-time or the part-time degrees. In 2015, most of the two-year full-time MBA programmes (57%) worldwide reported receiving more applications than in the previous year. The long-term picture, as shown in the surveys of the Graduate Management Admission Council, confirms a steady upward trend of interest in full-time programmes - 60% of the two-year degrees received higher application volumes in 2015 than in 2005.

The one-year full-time programmes repeat this pattern. In 2015, 51% of these obtained more applications than in the previous year. And 53% also saw an increase in the number of applications compared with 10 years ago. More candidates in both the United States and Europe wish to study an MBA, according to the available data. The most impressive percentage growth was experienced by European schools for their one-year full-time programme - 67% of them reported a boost.

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The long-term prospects for part-time MBAs remain strong, even if things may not look that rosy at the moment. In comparison to 2005, 54% of part-time lockstep MBA programmes received fewer applications, as well as 39% of part-time self-paced MBA programmes. Still, 2015 presented positive news, with 55% of part-time lockstep MBA programmes and 37% of part-time self-paced MBA programmes witnessing an increase in application volumes on a yearly basis.

Statistics tell us what is already intuitively known - it is generally easier for candidates to enrol on a part-time programme than on a full-time course. The two-year degree remains the most competitive worldwide, with a median of 4.5 applications sent per place. For the one-year full-time MBA, this number is 2.7, while the part-time lockstep MBA programme received 1.1 applications per place and the part-time self-paced MBA 1.3.

The part-time MBA programmes usually last two to three years in Europe and three to four years in the US. Their biggest advantage - the possibility to combine study and work - in some cases could turn out to be a drawback. It is important not to overestimate one’s ability to juggle and have it all - work, study and a personal life. Ambitious candidates have to keep in mind that, at certain times, balancing may be tough, and they may have to choose between priorities.

Popularity of the various MBA study options

A recent GMAC poll confirmed that most prospective business school students prefer the full-time MBA to its alternatives. Nearly 60% of them go for it. The two-year full-time MBA is the MBA programme favoured by the majority of candidates worldwide (32%). Not surprisingly, the second most popular choice is the one-year full-time MBA (27%). These two options are followed by the part-time MBA (15%), flexible MBA (7%), online MBA (6%), executive MBA (6%), and the joint degree programme with MBA (3%).

Check out: One-Year or Two-Year MBA?

A very interesting generational GMAC survey shows that, paradoxical as it may seem at first glance, younger people, who are supposedly more technologically advanced, prefer the traditional full-time MBA variant. The one and two-year full-time courses are considered most frequently by millennials (41% for each of them) and generation X (27% for the one-year full-time MBA and 30% for the two-year full-time degree). This is understandable due to the level of their experience, age and family obligations. So, it is hardly a surprise that the largest share of the older generation - the baby boomers - favour part-time MBAs (42%) and online MBAs (40%). By comparison, just 15% and 20% of them, respectively, consider the one and the two-year full-time options. 

Geographically speaking

A detailed geographical study into candidates’ preferences discloses that the two-year full-time option is most popular in Central and South Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the United States (in that order). The regions that most favour the one-year full-time option are Central and South Asia, Latin America, Canada and the Middle East (also in that order). The places with the highest preferences for part-time MBAs differ. This is the biggest priority for candidates from the US, Canada, Africa and the Middle East.

Longstanding American traditions in business education and the appeal of the US are also important factors for applicants. Of all the prospective students polled in 2014, 66% said that the United States was their preferred destination. This represented a decrease of 7% compared to 2010, but the country’s leadership is still undisputed. The other most favoured destinations are the UK, Canada, France, India, Hong Kong, Germany, Singapore, the Netherlands and Australia.

Internships are a great way of landing a job as employers worldwide look for suitable MBA students or graduates. A different GMAC survey of 179 employers from 31 regions/countries shows that more than four fifths (82%) of the companies polled offer internship opportunities. Among them, 73% offer work placements to MBAs. And they do value the degree - 66% intend to maintain the quantity of internships, while 26% plan to increase them in 2016.

The survey reveals that the favourite industries for part-time/flexible MBA students are products/services (26%), consulting (17%), finance/accounting (14%) and technology (14%). Surprisingly, healthcare (13%) is also a preferred field for them, unlike for the full-time MBAs. The top three industries for full-time students cover the same areas in a different order. For students of the one-year course, these are finance/accounting (26%), products/services (23%) and consulting (19%). And the interest of the two-year full-time students focuses on finance/accounting (24%), consulting (22%) and products/services (19%).

Both part-time and full-time MBA programmes enhance employment prospects. According to the GMAC 2015 Global Management Education Graduate Survey, however, they were higher for the part-time/flexible jobseekers from the Class of 2015. An impressive 68% of them received an offer from an employer before graduation.  The figure for the two-year full-time students was comparable - 63%, while the one-year full-time programme lagged behind at 36%.