Executive Education

Executive MBA: Does Program Length Matter?

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It seems like a simple choice: if you can complete an Executive MBA program in 12 months, why follow a course of study that takes 22 months?

There are the obvious considerations: more time, more money—both in the form of tuition and time spent away from your desk at your actual, day job. But the considerations are, in fact, a bit less clear when weighed.

Top Tier

First and foremost, if you’re looking to crack the top-tier business schools for your Executive MBA program, note that none of them offer anything less than a 19-month long course of study in a traditional nights and weekends format. The fact that the top schools by-and-large do not support a shorter course of study hints that a speedy EMBA might very well not be the shortest path to longer term success.

Chicago’s Booth school’s Executive MBA program clocks in at 21 months. Wharton’s program can be competed in 24 months and includes the same number of class hours (700+) as a full time MBA. Kellogg gives students the option of studying in monthly or bi-monthly course intervals in either Evanston or Miami—either way, it’ll be two years to finish your Executive MBA. Columbia’s weekend Executive MBA program also runs 24 months.

The Fuqua School at Duke gives EMBA applicants some options for program length. If you participate in the Global Executive MBA—which includes both online learning and international travel—you can earn your degree in a mere 15 months. But it’ll cost you: the program runs upwards of $166,000—so shorter is not necessarily cheaper. The school’s more traditionally structured weekend EMBA program clocks in at 19 months in duration but costs substantially less at $122,500.

Perhaps the top-ranked and shortest Executive MBA program is that of the MIT Sloan Fellows. However, this is not an option for executives trying to balance a shorter program with their day job—it’s a full-time, 12-month program that’s intended for “executives who want an opportunity to step away from their working lives and immerse themselves in an intense, transformative experience,” according to the MIT website. For those who cannot take a year off from their current positions, MIT offers a more traditionally-structured EMBA in 20-months.

Trading brand recognition for time 

If time frame is a non-negotiable factor for selecting an Executive MBA program, note well that you may have to trade off some brand recognition given that the top programs will not offer such a compressed degree.

“There’s a prestige transference,” says Gayle Rigione, Director of Strategic Development for IvyExec. “Would you rather drive a Maserati or a Fiat? Most people will want the Maserati. But you can drive the Fiat. It’ll get you to your destination but it won’t necessarily have people racing to open a door for you.” 

If you don’t feel that having access to the first class education, alumni connections and brand name recognition of a top-ranked school are as important as completing your program expediently, there are several schools that will cater to your need for speed.

The Executive MBA program at Kansas City’s Benedictine College was one of the first to create a one-year trajectory for students on the fast track. The University of Toledo’s business school also has a 12-month track that meets on campus for only one weekend a month and even includes an international trip despite its compressed time frame.

The Harvard Exception 

Harvard Business School has a different tactic—one that bestows prestige if you’re in a hurry and can get accepted into the program. The school calls the Program for Leadership Development (PLD) an alternative to the Executive MBA or a “rapid-fire MBA”. Each program has a specific focus—ranging from topics in health care management to leading and transforming family businesses in China—and range in length from a few weeks to seven months.

“Unlike an eMBA, PLD is tailored to your unique needs and leadership challenges,” the program’s website says. “One-on-one coaching, living groups, personal strategy projects, practical application, and a faculty composed of full-time HBS professors are hallmarks of this intensive program.”

Of course, you’ll walk away from the program with the Harvard name attached to your resume—although you will not receive an EMBA degree. Then again, you’ll also have access to one of the world’s most respected alumni networks which might prove to be more valuable than any degree.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.