Fulltime MBA, Part-time MBA, Executive MBA - Overview

By Thomas Graf

MBA programs are attractive. They promise career advantages such as higher salary or promotion, new career options within the current employer and outside options with respect to potential future employers. Career pages of newspaper and online advertisements are filled with advertisements on the Master of Business Administration suggesting that the respective program is the one that fulfills all career dreams. And eventually they all offer a deal that can be put in the nutshell: Pay our tuition fees and we will help you get it back soon – and even more in the future.

Program structure and target groups of MBA programs

Not all MBA programs are the same, however, and not all deliver what they promise. Besides differences in content, quality, reputation, network, or success rates, key distinction factors among MBA programs are program structure and target groups.

A basic distinction: fulltime and part-time

In general, all MBA programs can be distinguished between programs that can NOT be studied besides the job and programs that can be studied while working. MBA programs that require all your time and physical presence are called fulltime MBA programs. All other MBA programs could be called part-time MBA programs. Funnily, and maybe to confuse potential future MBA students, those part-time MBA programs are not always called “part-time MBA” programs. Instead, they can be further put into subgroups such as Part-Time MBAs, Executive MBAs (EMBA), Online-MBAs, Distance MBAs, and Blended MBAs.

Part-time MBA programs

Those programs that are officially – this means: on the website of the schools, in the advertisements and in the program brochures – called Part-Time MBAs are MBA programs that are open for any professional with some years of professional experience and can be studied besides the job. The structure can be modular, that is students learn individually and come together every five or six weeks or two months to meet for a week together with professors – so-called residential periods of face-to-face sessions. The structure can also be weekly when students have to come on the campus on a weekly or bi-weekly base. This allows to complete the MBA over two or three years and – again – the target group are all professionals, independent if they have leadership experience or not.

Online or Distance MBA programs

Online or distance MBA programs are also “part-time” MBA programs because they can be studied while working in a company at the same time. Often times they are not called “part-time” MBA, however, because they follow a different structure. In Online MBAs the contact with professors and fellow students is primarily through a web application, an intranet that offers forums for discussions, upload opportunity for team and individual assignments, and contact opportunities. The advantages of this program type that you save the time and travel costs for the residential periods that are required in Part-Time MBAs. In Distance MBAs you receive your readers (for example case studies) via snail mail and are only required to attend a residential period for an exam or for a kick-off meeting.

Blended MBA programs

Sometimes MBA programs are also called blended programs. They emphasize in their name that they combine residential periods with online applications. Usually they have less residential periods included – instead of 10 face-to-face sessions, for instance, they may require only three. In order to compensate for that, they offer an online platform where students can interact with each other. Again: Blended MBA programs are part-time programs that can be studied besides the job – but they are not called “Part-Time MBAs” because the official Part-Time MBAs follow a weekly, bi-weekly or modular study structure. 

Executive MBA programs (EMBA)

Finally, there is something called Executive MBA or EMBA. This program type is also an MBA and hence covers the same core courses as a Fulltime MBA or Part-Time MBA. It is also a part-time MBA as it can be studied besides the job. However, EMBA programs require some years of leadership experience. Because of that, EMBA students are often older than fulltime MBA students, more expensive, and network-oriented.