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Question: How Long Does it Take To Complete an MBA Program?

Answer: A traditional MBA program that adheres to a two-semester-per-year academic calendar can be completed in two years of full-time enrollment, which generally equates to three courses per semester for four semesters. Students who enroll part-time in an MBA program take one or two courses per semester, which may extend the time to completion by a year or more. In addition to the number of courses taken per term, there are structural factors that can lengthen or shorten the time it takes to earn an MBA. For example, many programs operate on a trimester system (fall, spring, and summer), which allows full-time students to finish their degree in 16 months of year-round enrollment and part-time students to graduate in two years. There are also programs that hold shorter terms, five or six times a year. These terms typically run for eight or ten weeks, allowing full-time students to graduate in 12 to 15 months. Finally, there are one-year MBA programs that allow qualified students to bypass one or more introductory business administration classes and graduate in one calendar year of full-time enrollment.

Factors That Determine the Time To Completion for an MBA Program

There are several structural factors that determine the amount of time it takes to complete an MBA program: how many sessions or terms the program holds per year; whether the program is designed for part-time or full-time enrollment; and the number of courses or credit hours required for graduation. While there are variations in how programs allot credits, a typical MBA program requires students to earn 36 credits by taking 12 three-credit courses over four academic semesters. Taking three courses per 15-week semester for four consecutive semesters generally constitutes full-time enrollment in these programs.

MBA programs that offer courses twice a year, during a fall and a spring semester, generally require a commitment of two years of full-time enrollment. In programs that hold a summer session, full-time students can complete four semesters of coursework in 16 months. However, there are MBA programs that break the school year down into five or six terms that last eight or ten weeks. Many online MBA programs utilize this format. Full-time students in a program with this type of structure may be able to graduate in six terms, or 12 to 15 months, by taking two courses per term.

The tables below offers an overview of the time to completion for full-time and part-time students in MBA programs with differing structures.

Full-Time Enrollment in 36-Credit MBA Programs

Terms Per YearTerm LengthFull-Time EnrollmentTime to Completion
2 semesters15 weeks3 courses per semester2 years
3 semesters15 weeks3 courses per semester16 months
6 terms8 weeks2 courses per term12 to 15 months

Part-Time Enrollment in 36-Credit MBA Programs

Terms Per YearTerm LengthPart-Time EnrollmentTime to Completion
2 semesters15 weeks2 courses per semester3 years
3 semesters15 weeks2 courses per semester2 years
6 terms8 weeks1 course per term24 to 30 months

Choosing an MBA Program

Prospective applicants to MBA programs who are concerned about the amount of time they can commit to their studies should consider two important factors when weighing the relative benefits of the various types of programs: how many courses they can take per term, and how quickly they would like to complete the program. If earning an MBA in two years or less is a priority, a program that supports full-time enrollment is likely to be the better option. However, students in a full-time MBA program may find it difficult to work or attend to other commitments outside of school while earning their degree. For those who intend to continue working while earning an MBA, a part-time program is generally a better option.

It is important to note that some MBA programs are only offered full-time, while others are only offered part-time. There are also programs that have flexible enrollment, which allows students to vary the number of courses they take per term and choose between full-time and part-time enrollment options.

Professional MBA (PMBA), Executive MBA (EMBA), and One-Year MBA Programs

Programs designated as Professional MBA (PMBA) programs are generally designed to accommodate students who have embarked on a business career and who will continue working while earning their degree. These programs may offer courses online, in the evenings, and on weekends and are typically structured for part-time enrollment. Many of these programs are offered online or in a hybrid format that includes some campus-based and some online coursework. For business professionals who have significant experience in management and administrative roles there are Executive MBA (EMBA) programs that restrict admissions to applicants who have spent five or more years in leadership positions. Like PMBA programs, EMBA programs are designed to accommodate working professionals by offering courses at times that are less likely to conflict with students’ work schedules.

In contrast to PMBA and EMBA programs, which are typically offered part-time and take two to two-and-a-half years to complete, one-year programs provide an accelerated route to earning an MBA for students who have some prior business training. In order to complete a one-year MBA program on schedule, students generally must commit to twelve months of full-time enrollment.


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