How to choose the MBA that fits you best
The key criteria to consider when deciding between a traditional, executive or online MBA program.
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When discussing the different types of MBA programs offered at Canadian universities, the standard analogy is often applied: no matter which “route” you take, you’ll still wind up with the same degree in the end. The MBA program you choose should be the one that best suits your needs, goals and lifestyle—and that depends on a variety of factors, from your debt-load tolerance and the school’s admission requirements, to your schedule, availability, and professional aspirations.
There are three primary types of MBAs—the traditional two-year MBA, the accelerated executive MBA, and the online MBA—each with its own unique demands, and each tailored to a different type of student.
Ideal for: professionals with the time and finances available to take part in a longer program
This is the traditional format for earning an MBA, and it is less intensive than shorter MBA programs and affords students the opportunity to earn their degree without having to put their lives on hold. “Our two-year MBAs are designed for full-time working mid-career professionals, who are ready to develop their knowledge and skills, and enhance their marketability,” says Rima Vasudevan, director of recruitment and admissions at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. “Students attend night classes part-time and apply what they learn immediately in their jobs in a transformative experience that starts pushing their careers forward from day one.”
Two-year MBAs tend to be more flexible in terms of their admission requirements, often attracting applicants who don’t come from a traditional business background, and they spread learning out over a longer period of time, allowing students more opportunities to expand their network, apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge to their jobs, and strengthen their expertise. “[Ours] is an experiential business school so, in many of their courses, students apply their learning to projects with local businesses and start-ups,” says Liz Lemon-Mitchell, director of advancement and operations at the University of New Brunswick’s Faculty of Management. “They’re able to start building a professional network and participate in the regional business ecosystem.” Many programs also include opportunities for internship placements between terms, which can help students explore their chosen specialty—or discover they’d rather choose another.
On the flip side, two-year MBA programs typically cost more than their shorter counterparts, and may require participants to spend more time away from their careers. “A two-year MBA is suited toward students who want to gain a practical approach to management while applying academic knowledge to real-world experiences,” says Narongsak Thongpapanl, the associate dean of research and graduate programs at Brock University’s Goodman School of Business in St. Catharines, Ont. “[It] allows students to connect with their cohort, participate in business competitions and gain valuable work experience.”
Ideal for: established professionals seeking a shorter, but more intensive, path to an MBA
Executive MBAs (EMBAs) are “fast-track” programs specifically designed to meet the needs of working professionals, and are uniquely designed to accommodate the demands of an already-busy schedule. “[Our] executive MBA is best suited to advanced career professionals looking to solidify their credentials, and enhance their leadership and business skills,” says Dr. Sheri McKillop, vice-president of academics at the University of Fredericton. “On average, our EMBA students bring 17 years of total professional experience and 10 years of total management experience. They’re able to learn, network and build connections with senior-level managers and executives at their level, who understand the unique pressures of their positions.”
EMBAs focus on career development, helping participants refine and expand their existing skill sets to gain a competitive edge, and offering the flexibility to continue working while completing their degree. This, in turn, helps them become stronger, better-informed employees, who can immediately apply what they’re learning to their jobs—and, sometimes, boost their earning potential in the process. That said, admission to an EMBA program is much more competitive, with more work experience required, and tuition can be quite costly. In addition, the condensed program length requires students to invest a significant amount of time to coursework. As such, anyone considering an EMBA should carefully evaluate their return on investment before applying to make sure the end justifies the means.
Ideal for: busy and/or budget-conscious professionals interested in flexible remote learning
More and more Canadian universities are offering virtual or online MBA programs, which provide the same curriculum, skills development and professional benefits as a traditional MBA program, but in a more flexible, more accessible and more affordable format. “[An online MBA] is an excellent option for those with busy personal and professional lives,” McKillop says, “but also the ambition to continue moving their education and careers forward.”
Online MBAs may provide synchronous (live) or asynchronous (recorded) classes, both of which allow participants to learn at their own pace, as their schedules permit. “Our students are professionals across industries and across Canada who either cannot or choose not to attend an on-campus program,” McKillop says. “Studying online allows them the ability to maintain a better degree of work-life balance. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of our students advancing their careers before their program is complete.”
Since online MBA classes aren’t tied to a physical campus or classroom, overhead costs for the school are typically lower, which translates to lower tuition. Program participants can also listen to lectures when and where it’s most convenient, and can easily take their learning on the go—to the library, to a coffee shop, to the park—using their device of choice. “[Our] online MBA program offers a unique, customizable learning experience tailored to students’ lifestyle and time commitments,” says Farid Noordin, manager of strategic recruitment and enrolment at Alberta’s Athabasca University. “Learning online allows students to complete coursework from home, work, or even while travelling.”
An added bonus, which has become even more relevant over the past couple of years? The technology, and virtual learning, collaborating and communicating that participating in an online MBA program demands, will set graduates up to thrive in the ever-growing remote-work business environment of today and tomorrow.