People often ask me whether they should attend business school full-time or part-time. The allure of a part-time (PT) program is inevitable- not having to forgo an income is absolutely tempting, yet I’d argue that picking part-time over full-time (FT) could be a terrible choice depending on your needs.
Before I jump into my perspective, let’s get a few things straight- Like most things in life, the answer depends on what you’re looking to get out of an MBA program. The answer may also depend on your economic realities, and where you’re deciding to go to school. My limited perspective is coming from attending the FT program at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, but finishing up mostly in evening classes as I was working on startups.
Every program may be different, but there are some inevitable differences you may only see from within:
Pros of Full Time:
1) Full timers maximize their experience- If you’re forgoing at least two years of income, moving to a new city, and looking to switch careers, you best believe you will take advantage of every opportunity offered. So much so that first year full timers often experience FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s not uncommon for them to join just about every single club on campus (and pay hefty fees) just because they heard Japan Club or Wine Club throws a great party.
They also have a mentality that this is a break from real life, so while they may be limited in what they can do with a demanding career, all bets are off in business school. This means traveling as much as humanly possible, in part accruing even more debt (hey why not!) just to have the memories years later. Opportunity costs are high!
2) Full timers socialize much more- Part of the value of a top FT MBA program is the network you’re going to build. This is hammered into your brain from day one. “They are your classmates today, but who knows, in the next 30 years these will be the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies” blah blah. Socializing is a job in business school! With a class of about 600 people at Booth, it is absolutely possible to get to know (at least on some level) just about every person in your class.
3) Diversity- FT programs benefit from all types of diversity. I met people with the most amazing backgrounds- working in traditional sectors like finance and consulting, but also musicians, athletes, non-profit workers who had worked for NGOs in Africa…you name it. My class was comprised of close to 40% international students. Not only are these diverse people your classmates with whom you write papers and hold discussions, you also go to social activities and recruiting events. There becomes a big sense of community as a result of this closeness that just doesn’t exist in the PT context.
4) Full timers are career switchers- Most FT students are in MBA programs to make career transitions. They may be sponsored by a consulting firm, but more likely than not, they come with an idea of what they want to do. They then get peer pressured into considering what is popular at the time (in my year, it was entrepreneurship and consulting) and attend on campus recruiting. After an internship at Google or Bain, they figure out what they really want to do, and they pursue that with gusto Hey- they’ve got serious loans to pay off.
Cons of FT Program:
1) More than $100k in debt without 2 years of income.
2) Sometimes it can feel like regressing back to college. While many people are married or in serious relationships, a lot can change in two years. A friend once told me that “MBA” could stand for “Married, But Available.” This could also tie into petty classroom rivalries or annoying popularity contests.
3) It’s all consuming- While also a pro, it can be easy to get sucked into the MBA experience and lose perspective on what is going on outside of crop circles and midterms.
4) Debt- Over $100k of debt will follow you around for years to come.
Pros of PT Program:
1) Income- You do not have to give up 2 years of income to get the same degree as a FT student.
2) Job gives you perspective– Often, PT students can tailor their curriculum to best reflect the skills they want to pick up at work. Classroom discussions are even more relevant when they can be applied the next day at work. This makes the MBA program feel much more tangibly valuable than ambiguously strategic.
3) Flexibility- You can take as many classes as you want over a longer time period. Lots of family stuff this quarter? Take fewer classes and take more in the winter when the weather is terrible.
4) Same curriculum– PT programs are taught by the same professors and follow the same syllabi. In fact, sometimes FT students will take evening classes with PT students if it makes sense for scheduling that quarter. You get all the same academia without all of the costs of a FT program.
Cons of PT Program:
1) Exhaustion- Having to attend a 3 hour lecture on “Introduction to Finance” is hard as is, but when you have to attend after a full day’s work- it’s even more challenging. It’s hard to concentrate and the whole classroom has this feeling like nobody wants to be there. Multiply this exhaustion over 3 years (the average time to finish a part-time program) and it feels never ending. You forget about the joy and the privilege and you just despair at yet another 3 hour lecture.
2) Lack of community- Partly due to other commitments, PT students generally don’t get together to have lively discussions around papers or projects the way FT students do (they have nothing else to do remember, they’re there just for the MBA). Most group work happens over phone calls, Google doc revisions and Trello. While the projects get done, it’s much harder to build friendships or even a network within that framework.
3) Lack of diversity- PT students are geographically identical, and often are in business school for the same few reasons. They want to get a promotion at work, or they want to consider alternatives after getting an MBA, but that’s really it.
So there you have it. If you want a dynamic yet expensive, super social yet potentially regressing MBA experience, choose FT. Overall, I think the FT program has more benefits long term when it comes to the strength of relationships and overall memory of business school. However, if you want a promotion at work, are extremely patient, and somewhat risk averse- PT is the way to go for you. The PT program offers the same academic and credential benefits as FT, for lower monetary cost.
I got the best of both worlds, and the worst. As an MBA student and entrepreneur, my #1 priority was to my startup. I only dabbled in the camaraderie the FT program builds, like the one time my Commercializing Innovation group spent 3 days building a financial model for commercial wind farms in Texas. When I finished the last year mostly part time, I enjoyed the efficiency of PT students who focused on getting things done. So whichever you choose, make sure to do what works best for you, and don’t start caving into FOMO until you absolutely have to.