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5 Alternative MBA Programs Meeting Learner Needs

Is the traditional MBA format still relevant today? Some schools are innovating their programs to accommodate the shifting demands of learners and the workforce.

Attracting students is a challenge for business schools like never before.

While in the past, a select few business schools handpicked their favorite candidates, now the 290,000-plus candidates who apply for graduate business programs each year have thousands of options to choose from.

One way schools can stand out from the crowd is by adapting their MBA programs to fit students’ busy lifestyles and differing motivations. Full-time MBAs are often accompanied by part-time, executive, and fully online MBAs, and, increasingly, schools are coming up with exciting new MBA formats.

Here are five alternative MBA programs that reflect the needs of today’s learners:

1. Deferred MBA

Deferred MBA programs are a way to attract less-experienced candidates, at the undergraduate or master’s level, to commit to future study. They are usually the same as normal MBA programs but grant pre-admission to undergraduate students.

In the Wharton Moelis Advance Access Program, for example, college undergraduates apply in their senior year and then defer for two-to-four years of work experience before joining the two-year, full-time MBA with the rest of the cohort. Wharton’s program is only open to University of Pennsylvania undergrads.

Deferred programs that are open to undergraduates from any school include Harvard’s 2+2 Program—where two years of professional work experience are followed by two years in the MBA program—and Yale SOM’s Silver Scholars program, where candidates spend their first year at Yale, complete a full-time internship in their second year, and then return for a third year to complete the MBA program.

2. Super-Accelerated MBA

Some people just don’t have the time or money to take two years, or even one year, out of work to complete an MBA. That’s where executive, online, and part-time programs become attractive. But, even then, some of these programs take years to complete.

NEOMA Business School in France decided to replace its standalone EMBA and MBA programs with one Global EMBA program, delivered in either 15 months, 10 months, or a “Full & Flex” seven-month format.

On the Full & Flex track, learners can complete 90 percent of the program in just seven months. Starting in July, students work full time for two months covering core courses, before selecting one of seven mini-specialization tracks over the next five months. The remaining 10 percent of the program comprises two International Learning Experiences (ILEs). The program is aimed at candidates with five years of work experience.

3. Upside-Down MBA

In most MBA programs, students will complete their core management courses first before tailoring their experience to their own preferred career path with a choice of elective courses. This is a long-held, standard practice for MBA programs around the world.

But not so at The College of New Jersey, which has just launched its new “T-Style” MBA. In the T-Style MBA, students start by pursuing specialist tracks in data analytics, strategy, innovation, or leadership, before diving into the core MBA content.

The part-time program is for working professionals with a minimum of two years’ experience. The school says their students are often familiar with the core MBA curriculum—in finance, accounting, and marketing—and while building on this knowledge is important, covering specialized topics first offers students something new that can be immediately applied in the workplace.

4. The Alternative MBA

The MBA is still the most sought-after graduate management degree. Yet a trend away from MBA programs has seen at least one institution reject the MBA name completely.

London School of Economics (LSE), which sees itself as a social sciences university rather than a business school, offers an Executive Global Master’s in Management (EGMiM), dubbed by the school as the alternative to a traditional MBA.

The more theoretical EGMiM takes the theory that an MBA teaches and has students dig deeper into it; students don’t just learn the theory but question it and ask “why?” The part-time program is more like an alternative to an EMBA, aimed at experienced professionals and consisting of seven one-to-two-week modules spread over 17 months.

5. Specialized MBA

At its core, the MBA is about giving professionals generalist management knowledge that is applicable across functions and industries.

But schools are not only offering specialized tracks in the MBA; many are now jumping on the “MBA” name to launch standalone specialized MBA programs in areas like healthcare management, finance, and technology, similar to specialized master’s programs.

I recently spoke to NYU Stern’s dean, Raghu Sundaram, about the school’s new Tech MBA for an episode of the Business School Question podcast. While the admission requirements are similar to the standard two-year MBA, students on the one-year Tech MBA tend to be more experienced. The Tech MBA appeals to people focused on the tech industry in a way that a standard MBA—even one with a technology specialization—does not.

Still, it does beg the question: if an MBA is specialized, is it really an MBA? One thing is for certain: with rising demands for different kinds of programs, the nature of the MBA as a degree is constantly shifting.


Marco De Novellis is the editor of BusinessBecause, an online publisher dedicated to graduate management education, and is the creator and host of the podcast, The Business School Question. Follow him on Twitter @marcodn_bb.