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The One-Year MBA Explained

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The traditional full-time MBA comes in a two-year format, but you can fast-track your business education by enrolling in a one-year MBA.

Top schools around the world—including INSEAD, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and CUHK Business School—offer one-year MBA programs, allowing you to speed up the learning process without compromising the quality of teaching.

The degree is more common in Europe, but more recently schools in North America have been breaking from the traditional two-year MBA to offer programs in as little as 12 months.

One-year MBA in the US vs one-year MBA in Europe

One-year MBA programs are typically what you’ll get from a business school in Europe. INSEAD’s 10-month MBA has been ranked in the top five in the world by the Financial Times for seven consecutive years, even climbing to first place in 2021.

While the one-year MBA is the most popular option in Europe, the two-year MBA remains the most sought-after program in the US. But demand for one-year programs is rising.

Nearly 70 percent of full-time one-year MBA programs in the US reported growth in applications according to the 2020 Application Trends Survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

Emory University’s Goizueta Business School is among a handful of US business schools offering a one-year MBA. Others include USC Marshall Business School, Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management, and Kellogg School of Management. However, most top schools in the US only offer two-year programs.

One bonus of the two-year MBA programs in the US is that you undertake a summer internship in between years one and two—a right of passage for MBA students. This allows you to work over the summer in a function or industry that aligns with your career plans, and sets you up to potentially land a full-time job out of your internship after you graduate.

In Europe and Asia, schools are more likely to offer a one-year MBA. HKUST Business School offers an accelerated 12-month MBA. One-year MBA programs are also available at The University of Hong Kong, China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), and London Business School—all schools in the top 30 of the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking.

One-year MBA programs also sometimes include residencies abroad, offering condensed yet valuable international experiences. For instance, Nanyang University in Singapore is partnered up with University of California, Berkeley, and Tsinghua University, while Hong Kong University offers students the opportunity to study at the London Business School or Columbia Business School in New York.

Who is a one-year MBA for?

Without a summer internship, the one-year MBA doesn't offer the same kind of stable path to a job and therefore is more for career advancers than switchers. That’s one of the main differences between a one-year and a two-year MBA.

In the US, one-year MBAs tend to target more experienced students who are not looking to make a dramatic career shift, but rather advance within the field they’re already in. A business background will stand you in good stead.

Compared to a less experienced cohort in two-year programs, one-year MBA applicants have clear professional goals, wish to progress within their own industry, and don’t want to stay out of the workplace for too long.

“The people who do the one-year program are very focused on their career and where they’re going,” says Pedro Garcia, a 2020 graduate of the one-year program at Goizueta Business School.

What will you study during a one-year MBA?

The one-year MBA curriculum is very similar to that of a two-year program, with a common set of core courses and a wide array of electives.

The core MBA syllabus typically covers:

  • General management
  • Accounting
  • Strategy
  • Finance
  • Leadership
  • Marketing
  • Data analytics

Electives allow you to explore more specific interests, such as entrepreneurship, sustainability, or even artificial intelligence.

“The programs share a common set of core courses because the fundamental tools that people are coming to business school to learn don’t change,” says Brian Mitchell, associate dean for full-time MBA programs at Emory’s Goizueta Business School.

In both the one-year and two-year programs at Goizueta, students can choose from 20 specializations and 90 elective courses.

One-year MBA jobs and salary prospects

The top three careers post-MBA are the same for one-year and two-year programs: finance, tech, and consulting.

In the tech world, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are known to be important MBA employers. The Big Three management consulting firms—Bain, BCG, and McKinsey—as well as other big names like Accenture, Deloitte, and EY recruit a lot of MBA grads.

After her one-year program at Cornell University, Karthika Nair secured a strategy job at Deloitte, that sponsored her MBA. “In terms of content and outcomes, it’s a full-time MBA and you get exactly the same benefits as you would on a two-year program,” she says. 

In finance, MBAs can turn towards investment banking at some of the world’s most powerful financial institutions, from Bank of America to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

But finance, tech, and consulting are not the only three paths available to one-year MBA grads. For example, Anirudh Singhania was an accountant in India before he enrolled in the one-year MBA program at Hong Kong University, which helped him kickstart a career in enterprise and risk compliance in the US.

“An MBA program not only teaches the finance and strategy tricks, but also teaches you to be humble and self-aware, making you understand how exactly you want to shape up your post-MBA career,” he says.

Graduates from one-year MBA programs can also expect post-graduation salary increases. Graduates from Cambridge Judge will benefit from a 87 percent salary increase, achieving an average salary of US$167,610 within three years of their degree, while graduates of the one-year MBA from SDA Bocconi, the top-ranked program in Italy, achieve a 126 percent salary increase and earn an average of US$155,475 three years after graduating.

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In the US, the one-year MBA class of 2020 from both Cornell Samuel Curtis Johnson School of Business and Emory Goizueta received an average base salary of around US$126,000.  

Is a one-year MBA worth it?

A one-year MBA will have lower tuition fees than a two-year program, which is one of the major selling points of the program. Although take into account that the lower tuition is down to the shorter course length.

Total estimated tuition for the two-year MBA at MIT Sloan is nearly $158,000 and at Stanford nearly US$150,000, according to the BusinessBecause Cost of MBA report 2021.

The one-year program at Cornell costs just over US$114,000, and Emory’s one-year has a tuition cost of just over US$102,000, still expensive considering that’s without factoring in living costs.

In Europe and Asia one-year MBA programs tend to be cheaper than the US. Emlyon business school’s one-year MBA costs just over US$45,000, Warwick Business School’s one-year program is an investment of US$63,000, and the one-year MBA program at HKUST Business School has a tuition fee of nearly US$77,000. 

Of course, it’s still a significant expenditure, but there are also plenty of scholarships. For example, applicants to EDHEC Business School with an outstanding GMAT score, an excellent GPA, or impressive experience and extracurricular activities can have their tuition fees automatically reduced by 20 to 50 percent.

Something else to consider is the quick return on investment, as your salary prospects will grow significantly while you’ll only spend a year out of the workplace.

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A one-year MBA also allows students to develop a strong and long-lasting network, as they get to know their peers quickly through an immersive, intense learning experience. 

“The intensity of the program, the sense of urgency in an accelerated time frame, and the jam-packed schedule of a one-year MBA quickened the pace of the relationship-forming stage and lit a fire under students to reach out to each other proactively in ways they never would have if they had an entire year more to get to know each other,” says Andrea Coulis, graduate of the one-year MBA from the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School

A one-year MBA is worth it if you’re an experienced professional and have a clear vision of where you want to take your career. With a short time out of the workforce and enhanced career opportunities after graduation, a one-year MBA could be what you need to pivot in a new direction.

If you’re unsure of your direction and want to try new things and gain experience in a new area before committing, then a two-year or 16-month MBA could be a better choice.