Alternative MBA Options: Part 1

MBA AdmissionsOne of things we are often asked to do is identify new trends and themes that emerge in the MBA admissions process. One theme we are starting to feel pretty sure about this year is that the notion b-schools are “skewing young” is legitimate. Not every MBA program is shifting as rapidly and aggressively as HBS, where over half the class enters business school less than three years after graduating from college, but the ideal age range seems to be either holding rigid or even shrinking.

For applicants on the plus side of 30, this is a cause for concern. And that’s before we get into GMAT scores that fall below the 20th-to-80th percentile range, or a lingering GPA that dipped under 3.0, or any number of flaws that are more often than not fatal for a candidate applying to elite business schools.

So what should candidates do when they are presented with these kinds of obstacles? It all starts with taking a realistic look at the available options. For starters, is the MBA really the right degree? More often than not, candidates have thought enough about this that they are committed to the degree. Okay, if the MBA is a must, how about looking lower in the rankings? This is often a smart option (and we plan to run posts in the future indicating strong “lower tier” options in various specialties) for students suffering from a mediocre GMAT score or a rocky GPA, but what about the candidate who is “too old” for a full-time program? In some cases, it doesn’t matter how far down the U.S. News list you go, if you fall outside the age range, there might not be a seat at the table.

That’s when it is time to explore alternative programs; specifically, part-time and EMBA programs. With that in mind, we are running a two-part series on alternative options for students who desire an MBA, but might not fit the full-time profile. Today, for Part I, we will focus on the best major cities in which to pursue part-time programs. Part II will focus on the rest of the options: other part-time gems, EMBA programs, and even online degree paths.

Part-time programs are always a great place to start any exploration of alternative MBA options, because this is the path that most closely resembles what a client desires from a full-time program. The structure obviously differs and it can take longer to achieve the goal, but part-time programs aren’t always a massive departure from their full-time counterparts. For a candidate who wishes to retain his or her job during business school, the part-time program is perfect, obviously. However, even if an applicant does not fit that archetype, part-time programs might still present a great opportunity to get into a fantastic b-school, to build a network, and to gain access to critical on-campus recruiters.

Perhaps the easiest way to get a quick handle on the part-time landscape is to look at it geographically. There are basically five cities that offer nearly all of the best options in this space:

  1. Chicago. There is probably no better city in which to pursue both a career and an MBA than Chicago. In addition to boasting plenty of industry and many nationally headquartered companies, the city is teaming with quality part-time options. Chicago Booth, housed in the state-of-the-art Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago, is famous for offering a part-time program that closely approximates the full-time course work – even blending the classes and mixing and matching professors. Kellogg is among the most innovative business schools in the world and the part-time program is no exception, as the school offers both a traditional evening and weekend program as well as a unique “Saturday only” option that was built purely as a response to student demand. In addition to the two big guns, Chicago also offers high-quality programs at more accessible schools such as DePaul and Loyola. If you are having a tough time cracking the code at full-time programs and you can take your career to Chicago, go there as fast as you can.
  2. Los Angeles. L.A. is best known for UCLA Anderson’s fully employed MBA program (“FEMBA”) and for good reason, as it is one of the truly elite part-time options available, but candidates can also find attractive options at USC (high level coursework that is reflective of the full-time program and a distinctive study abroad option), Loyola Marymount (top-notch entrepreneurship program and very diverse student body), and Pepperdine (good ties with the entertainment community). UCLA Anderson is the crown jewel though and it offers one of the closest approximations to a full-time program anywhere in the part-time space, complete with quarterly course requirements, dedicated career services counselors, a cohort system, and a truly unique international field study program. For candidates with elite credentials but a little more work experience than full-time MBA programs want to see, UCLA Anderson’s FEMBA program is a great place to start a search, as is the city of Los Angeles.
  3. The Bay Area. Okay, we are cheating a little here since “The Bay Area” isn’t technically a city, but there are enough program options here that candidates should think seriously about Northern California. Between San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, there is enough industry to support a career move and with two great programs of varying prestige – Haas and Santa Clara – there are attractive options for a large number of part-time candidates. Haas is well known for its part-time program, but with an average GMAT score of 689, it isn’t exactly easy to get into. Enter Santa Clara. The underrated private school is often overlooked in MBA circles, but it has a great reputation with companies in the area and a strong track record for producing quality graduates.
  4. Atlanta. This might come as a surprise on this list, but Atlanta offers two terrific part-time options. As a city blessed with plenty of industry and home to several massive companies, Atlanta is a good place to maintain a career while earning an MBA. Emory (great classes, evening office hours, on-campus recruitment, the works) is the most notable program here, but Georgia State is an underrated option. This is especially true if the candidate is seeking knowledge more than networking or recruiting options. The quality of the overall class at Georgia State won’t measure up to Emory or most of the other schools in this blog, but the quality of the faculty is quite good, the style of instruction is extremely practical, and the location (in the relatively new Aderhold Learning Center in downtown Atlanta) is convenient. Plus, as a rule of thumb, there is always opportunity when you can find quality without the brand attached, because it tends to cut down on the competition.
  5. New York. NYU Stern offers a competitive program with top faculty members and solid recruiting options … alas, it might be getting too competitive as getting into Stern’s part-time program is proving to be nearly as difficult as the full-time option. That, coupled with the relative lack of attractive secondary options, knocks New York down this list a ways. That said, for would-be MBA students with portable careers, Manhattan presents a massive amount of industry and at least one elite option for part-time study.

Also consider: Boston (Boston College and Boston University), Philadelphia (Villanova and Drexel), and Dallas (SMU). For “one-hit wonder” locations, consider Ross (Michigan), Nebraska in Lincoln, Elon in North Carolina, and Carnegie Mellon in

For more insight into part-time programs or MBA admissions, give us a call at (800) 925-7737. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!