In these tough times, lots of workers are stuck in a bind: They need an M.B.A. to boost their career, but they can’t afford the cost or the time out of the work force.
The solution? Many are turning to programs that let them earn a degree in half the time, often at a fraction of the cost.
Consider Marco AndrÃ©. He knew if he wanted to achieve his dream of managing companies and working in different countries, he’d need to get an M.B.A. But taking two years away from his career for a traditional program was too big a sacrifice. So, Mr. AndrÃ©, a product-management director for a technology company in Portugal, opted for ESADE’s one-year program in Barcelona.
His M.B.A. brought him the change he wanted: After graduating last April, he landed a job as a market-planning manager for Procter & Gamble Co. in Madrid. “At a certain point, the extra length just doesn’t add value,” says Mr. AndrÃ©. “You can learn everything perfectly well in a shorter time span. Nowadays, the opportunity cost of two years is just too high.”
Accelerated M.B.A. programs, which take between 10 and 15 months to complete, have been around for decades and are the norm in Europe. Although these programs are much less common in the U.S., they’re growing increasingly attractiveâespecially among older students, who are becoming less willing to spend two years out of the work force.
These programs have rarely been evaluated by outsiders, in part because they’re still less ubiquitous than their two-year counterparts. About 90 accredited schools world-wide offer the accelerated M.B.A., and many of them only recently added the option.
But the degree’s growing popularity and reach led The Wall Street Journal to take its first close look at accelerated M.B.A. programs. To measure these programs’ quality, and student and alumni satisfaction with them, the Journal, with the help of research firm Management Research Group and survey technicians Critical Insights, surveyed the current graduating classes and alumni who graduated two years earlier at 48 schools. We looked only at schools that have graduated four or more classes with 12 or more students. We eliminated schools where students had little or no work experience. Responses came in from 1,361 recent grads and 735 alumni. We asked students about everything from the programs’ flexibility to career services. And we pressed alumni on issues like the usefulness of the training in their careers and whether their degree protected them in the recession. (See the full methodology.)
The result is the Journal’s first-ever ranking of accelerated M.B.A. programs. The ranking comprises nine European schools, five in the U.S. and one in Latin America. Some smaller, lesser-known schoolsâalong with bigger schools that haven’t been offering a fast-track degree long enoughâmight be noticeably absent for now. But as the degree gains ground, more entrants are sure to be evaluated.
At the top of the list are three European schools with a strong tradition of delivering respected degree programs. At No. 1: IE Business School in Madrid, praised by students and alumni for the diversity of its student body and networking opportunities. From Switzerland, IMD’s rigorous leadership-oriented 11-month program came in at No. 2. The U.K.’s Cranfield School of Management, with its teamwork-focused atmosphere, is No. 3. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Babson College’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Businessâboth in the U.S.âround out the top five.
These schools stood out by delivering a strong curriculum and cramming in a healthy dose of international exposure. The best schools also cultivate relationships with local and global companies, giving students the chance to work on real-world projects.
At IE, students and alumni say the program’s intensity lent itself to constant engagement in their course work, as well as close bonds with their classmates. They say they benefited from IE’s additional programs, such as the Venture Lab, a competition that awards student entrepreneurs capital to launch a business. At IMD, the course work had the rhythm of a real job, students saidâreal, that is, if 100-hour workweeks are the norm.
Spanning the Globe
The driving factor for pursuing a fast-track M.B.A. among those surveyed was the ability to re-enter the work force fasterâmore than 82% of students put that at the top of their list. When it came to choosing a school, students and alumni cited reputation (92% said it was critical and 43% called it the most important consideration) and an international focus (74% said it was critical and 15% said it was at the top of their list) as the biggest criteria.
Indeed, almost all the schools offer plenty of chances to stretch internationally. At IMD, students recently traveled to South Africa for 12 days to meet with 20 companies to help get new ventures off the ground. Eighty percent of INSEAD’s students spend time at the school’s two campusesâone in Fontainebleau, France, the other in Singapore. Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, requires its students to spend five weeks abroad doing mini-internships. Other schools, like IE, offer international seminars and exchange programs from Latin America to China.
The ranked schools also prepared graduates to land higher-paying jobs and excel in a global business environment, according to students and alumni. And most survey respondents say recruiters and managers view their fast-track degree in the same light as a two-year degree.
There was one big divide among the schools: Students and alumni thought programs outside the U.S. offered a much stronger international exposure. Eighty-six percent of students at non-U.S. programs identified their program’s international focus as critical to their choice. Only 36% of those at U.S. schools said the same.
Why the divide? Non-U.S. programs often take great care to choose students from a host of countries and industry backgrounds. In addition, students at many European schools are often required to learn another language, and some schools require that students be bilingual before setting foot on campus.
Albany, N.Y., native Ian Rogan, a December 2008 graduate of Switzerland’s IMD, says the school was his only choice for an M.B.A. program. For Mr. Rogan, who had been working as an assistant director of the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics at Boston College, studying abroad was the best way to test his leadership style.
“In my study group, there was never any one nationality represented twice,” says Mr. Rogan. “We were put under pressure to deliver solutions, and when you have different personalities at play, you have to navigate the cultural differences and find a way to come to a consensus.” Mr. Rogan returned to Boston College, but in what he calls a “significantly heightened role,” as a director of operations and finance at the school’s Center for Corporate Citizenship.
There are other distinctions between U.S. schools and their European counterparts. For one, few U.S. schools offer the shorter M.B.A. option. Those that do still focus the bulk of their attentionâlike career services and recruitmentâon their two-year offerings. Non-U.S. schools tend to have larger graduating classes and older studentsâan average of 30 years old vs. 28 at U.S. schools. Programs outside the U.S. are slightly shorter as wellâwith most averaging just under 12 months.
Still, U.S. programs have their own strengths. Partway through the one-year programs, some accelerated M.B.A. students at Kellogg and Cornell, for example, start taking classes with two-year MBA students, offering an influx of new study partners and work experiences to incorporate in their personal networks. And U.S. schools tend to have more womenâ35% vs. 23%.
American schools also tend to excel in softer skills, like teamwork, building relationships and managing across functions. According to alumni, Kellogg outperformed all other schools in negotiation training, for example. (The one European school that stood out in this area was IMD, which focuses heavily on leadership training.)
What’s Not to Like?
Of course, these programs aren’t for everyone. If you’re expecting hand-holding or significant help changing careers, an accelerated M.B.A. might not be for you.
Many students complained that their career-service departments didn’t do enough to help them build contacts or make inroads to a new career. In addition, there’s sometimes not enough time to squeeze in an internship or consulting projectsâwhich means no chance to build contacts at a new company. And some students said the alumni networks weren’t well developed, unlike the strong networks at two-year programs.
Still, for people looking for a boost in their current careerâor a way to wrangle the skills they have into a new industryâthe fast-track M.B.A. can produce a boost in title and salary. On average, alumni survey respondents reported pre-M.B.A. base pay of $55,050. At their first job after graduation, that figure increased to $95,000. And two years later, the same alumni earn just over $110,000.
What’s more, many alumni said they felt the degree protected their careers in the economic downturn. “I have friends who’ve been laid off who were at the same level as me [prior to graduation],” says Justin Rose, who graduated from Kellogg’s one-year program in June. “When they interviewed for [new] jobs, they were told the firms would only hire M.B.A.s.”
Mr. Rose says the degree also helped him land a promotion: Before the program, Mr. Rose was a project leader at Boston Consulting Group; now he is a principal with the firm. Overall, alumni of the top 15 programs largely gave their schools high marks for making a lasting impact on their careers. “I can lead and participate in conversations around any functional area of business and feel well prepared to make decisions quickly,” wrote one Babson graduate.
All of this comes with a heavy commitment to studies. While IMD is famous for its six-day, 100-hour weeks, most of the programs in our ranking also have rigorous course work. Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said they spent more than 15 hours each week on schoolwork outside the classroom.
Some students said they wish they had more time to absorb case studies. Others said that the fast-paced curriculum was exhausting, leaving little time for extracurricular activities, like clubs or business-plan competitions.
It’s all true, administrators say. “These students want to be taught, and then they want to move on,” says Sean Rickard, director of Cranfield’s M.B.A. program, adding that students have no time to do anything but study. “They never stop. It’s five days of intensive lecturing and projects, week after weekâexcept for Christmas. They begin to realize they can handle any problem you throw at them.”
Corrections & Amplifications
Miami University (Ohio) requires its student to spend five weeks abroad doing mini-internships. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Miami required two weeks of mini-internships.
–Ms. Middleton is a management-education reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.