Thirty years ago, if you wanted to earn your MBA, your options were much more limited then they are today. Typically, MBA applicants in the ’80s had a business undergraduate degree and several years of work experience. There were a few hundred MBA programs to choose from, almost all of which required students to take two years off from work and enroll in a full-time program.

Today, the one-size-fits-all approach to MBA education has gone the way of acid-washed jeans, big hair and the moonwalk. At last count, there are more than 15,000 business schools across the globe. New MBA programs now attract students from different academic and professional backgrounds, career stages and learning preferences.

More choices can lead to greater confusion. Many students I work with are overwhelmed by the number of MBA program options they have. Below is a quick rundown of the major MBA formats and their pros and cons, as well as thoughts on which types of students are the best fit for each format.

Full-Time MBA

Description: MBA program in which students attend class full time, during the day. Students typically take 4-5 classes per semester/term and complete the degree in 18-21 months.

Also Known As: 2-year MBA, 18- to 21-month MBA, On-campus MBA

Advantages:

  • More time to study/absorb class material
  • Additional time for extracurricular activities (ex: study abroad) and job search
  • Format promotes the completion of an internship between the first and second years in the program
  • Greatest opportunities for networking with classmates, faculty and alumni
  • Students can take full advantage of career services/placement office
  • Greatest scholarship opportunities

Disadvantages: 

  • More time out of the workforce
  • Some coursework may be redundant for those with a business undergraduate degree
  • Students must pay living expenses in addition to tuition

Best For: Younger professionals with less work experience seeking full-time employment in a new field/industry and looking for the most immersive MBA experience possible.

Part-Time MBA

Description: MBA program in which students attend class during the evenings and/or on weekends.

Also Known As: Evening MBA, Weekend MBA, MBA for Working Professionals

Advantages: 

  • Students can work full-time while earning their MBA
  • Many companies offer tuition assistance to offset the cost of the degree
  • Typically, same professors and curriculum as the full-time program
  • Students can immediately apply knowledge learned in the MBA program directly to their job
  • Opportunities to network with classmates and faculty

Disadvantages: 

  • Some programs may be inflexible to family or work commitments during class time
  • May be difficult for part-time students to interact with full-time students and career services/placement staff
  • Longer time to completion (typically 2-3 years) than a full-time or accelerated program

Best For: Early- to mid-career professionals seeking a rigorous MBA experience while working full-time.

Executive MBA

Description: MBA program designed for mid-senior career professionals seeking top management or executive leadership roles.

Also Known As: MBA for Executives

Advantages:

  • Excellent professional networking opportunities
  • Typically, students receive high levels of service (meals, lodging, books, etc.) as part of the Executive MBA experience
  • Some programs include perks like executive coaching and/or an international trip
  • Typically taught by senior/tenured faculty

Disadvantages: 

  • Usually among the more expensive options
  • Extensive work experience (5+ years) typically required for admission
  • Some programs may be inflexible to family or work commitments during class time

Best For: Experienced professionals looking for a high-touch MBA experience with ample opportunities for professional networking.

Online MBA

Description: MBA program in which all learning and coursework is completed online.

Also Known As: Distance MBA

Advantages: 

  • Students have flexibility to study at a time/place most convenient to them
  • No travel time/expense to get to class
  • Students to not have to work/live near the university where they are studying online
  • Can be less expensive than other MBA formats
  • Entry requirements can be less stringent than other MBA formats
  • Work experience typically not required

Disadvantages:

  • Not all online MBA programs offer the same degree of academic rigor compared to competing full- and part-time programs
  • Not all employers value online MBA degrees as much as full- or part-time programs
  • Minimal in-person interaction with faculty and classmates
  • Qualifications for teaching in some online programs can be less rigorous than for other formats.

Best For: Professionals looking for the MBA option with the most flexibility. Students should be very comfortable with self-paced learning and possess excellent time-management skills.

Online/Hybrid MBA

Description: MBA program in which the majority of coursework is completed online, with a few in-class sessions per course.

Also Known As: Hybrid MBA, blended MBA

Advantages:

  • Format is flexible yet allows for face-to-face interactions with faculty and classmates
  • Typically taught by senior/tenured faculty

Disadvantages:

  • Students have to work/live close enough to attend mandatory in-person class sessions

Best For: Professionals looking for the flexibility of an online program coupled with networking opportunities and face-to-face interactions with faculty and classmates.

Accelerated MBA 

Description: MBA program for those with an extensive business background. Curriculum typically assumes student has taken business coursework and/or has hands-on experience. Can be full-time or part-time.

Also Known As: 1-year MBA, MBA for Business Professionals

Advantages:

  • Less time/cost to complete degree than full-time or part-time options
  • Coursework and projects tend to focus on more advanced aspects of business
  • Graduates typically receive the same degree as those in the full-time MBA program

Disadvantages: 

  • Compressed format may not work well for those without extensive business knowledge and/or demanding work schedules
  • More difficult entry requirements than other formats
  • Many programs require “pre-work” (ex: completion of an online math course) prior to the start of coursework
  • Format may not allow student to complete an internship

Best For: Professionals with extensive business experience seeking a fast-paced, academically rigorous program.