Question: What is a Flexible MBA Program?

Answer: A flexible MBA program is a program designed to accommodate students who intend to continue working while earning their degree and those who have other significant commitments outside of school. These programs typically offer all or most of their courses online, although some flexible MBA programs give students the option of attending on-campus classes in the evenings and on weekends. In addition, flexible MBA programs generally provide a part-time enrollment option that allows students to take just one or two courses per term.

Traditional vs. Flexible Master of Business Administration (MBA) Programs

The primary areas of differentiation between a traditional MBA program and a flexible MBA program have to do with a program’s structure rather than its curriculum. Traditional MBA programs are designed to be completed in two years of full-time enrollment by students who are available to attend campus-based classes during the workday. Students in a traditional MBA program may have the option of taking some evening or weekend classes, but in general these programs are meant for students who are not working full time and who are able to commit to being on campus for classes on weekdays during normal business hours.

Flexible MBA programs are designed to accommodate non-traditional students who have full-time jobs, family commitments, and other demands on their time that preclude attending regularly scheduled classes during typical school hours. These programs can provide flexibility in several ways. Some programs use distance-learning technologies to offer all or most of their courses online. Often, online courses are delivered asynchronously, which means that students can access lectures and complete other course activities and assignments at any time of the day. Some online coursework may be delivered synchronously, which requires students to be logged on to a program’s learning management system (LMS) at designated times. However, flexible programs typically schedule synchronous instructional sessions in the evenings, on weekends, and at other times that are less likely to cause scheduling conflicts.

There are also flexible MBA programs that give students the choice of enrolling in on-campus courses that meet in the evenings and/or on weekends, or taking those courses online. And some flexible programs are delivered in a hybrid or blended format, which means that some courses must be taken on campus, while other can be taken online.

The other structural component that distinguishes a flexible MBA program from a traditional MBA program concerns the number of credits or classes a student is expected to complete per term. Traditional full-time enrollment often means taking four or five courses at a time for four semesters. Flexible MBA programs are designed for part-time enrollment, which allows students to take just one or two courses per semester, and self-pacing is often a feature of these programs (e.g., students may vary the number of courses they take per term). It is also not uncommon for flexible MBA programs to utilize an alternative to the traditional academic calendar, offering courses in shorter, five or eight-week terms five or six times a year. This allows students to enroll in and focus on one course per term while still completing five or six courses per year.

Completion Time for Flexible MBA Programs

One important consideration for those considering a flexible MBA program is the time it will take to complete the program. Students typically graduate from a traditional MBA program in two years or less, depending on whether they attend a summer session. Flexible MBA programs generally take longer to complete because students take fewer courses per semester or term and the time to graduation is dependent on the number of credits earned per session. A student who takes two or three courses per semester or the equivalent may be able to graduate from a flexible MBA program in as few as five or six semesters, or two-and-a-half to three years. A student who enrolls in just one course per term may take three or more years to complete the program requirements.

Side-by-Side Comparison of Flexible vs. Traditional MBA Programs

The table below offers an overview of the key differences between flexible and traditional MBA programs. It is important to note that “flexible” and “traditional” are not formally standardized designations for MBA programs; schools that describe their MBA programs as “flexible” may or may not adhere to all of the components that contribute to a program’s overall flexibility. For example, some flexible MBA programs are fully campus-based, while others offer 100% of their coursework online. There are also flexible MBA programs that offer most of their coursework online, but that require students to attend a limited number of on-campus instructional sessions.

Curriculum ComponentFlexible MBA ProgramsTraditional MBA Programs
Enrollment optionsPart-timeFull-time
Courses Per TermOne to threeFour or five
Time to GraduationTwo-and-a-half to four yearsTwo years
Instruction MethodsOnline, on-campus, and hybridOn campus, online, and hybrid

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