How Long Does It Take to Get an MBA?

TL;DR- The traditional full-time MBA path takes 22 months on average including a 3-month summer internship. Part-time and Executive MBAs take 36 months on average. There are all kinds of different options- from full-time one year MBAs to go-your-own pace part-time MBAs that can take up to five years.

This will depend on the type of MBA you decide to do. In general, there are three categories of MBA:

‘Traditional’ Full-Time MBA: At the top 100 programs, this is for people who have 3-8ish years of work experience out of undergrad. Median age in these programs is between 25-33 or a bit older for military veterans. I matriculated into my full-time MBA at Dartmouth when I was 30.

Part-Time MBA: generally this is where you keep your job and get your MBA on the side, with some or all of it paid for by your employer if you’re lucky. Median age is still relatively young with early career profressionals, around 28-36.

Executive MBA: Same as the part-time MBA, but with people who are mid to late career. Age in these programs have a much wider distribution- 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s.

What’s an MBA again?

The degree proper stands for Master of Business Administration. Per Google, ‘Business Administration’ means the process of running a business. It’s ironic, because most people that get MBAs DON’T go out to start businesses when they graduate. That can be a pretty big umbrella though. What the MBA is is a broad exposure to ALL the important disciplines to running a business. This usually includes marketing, accounting, capital markets, leading organizations, managerial economics, and a lot of other courses I took but have already forgotten.
Here’s what it really is, though. It’s a way to accelerate your earning, sharpen your communications skills, think ‘bigger picture’, and get a black belt in dealing, communicating with, and working with other people. These skills will never not be applicable in almost any job. An MBA makes you a lot more hirable.

Couldn’t I just learn this stuff on my own?

For the coursework- yes, I guess you could. I once read this article saying you should ‘read these books instead of getting an MBA’. It was written by someone who didn’t have an MBA and pissed me off a little. Spitefully, I read all of the books on the list, AND got an MBA. The books were amazing but still don’t compare to the experience. As Einstein said- “real knowledge only comes through experience.” Getting an internship at Google or McKinsey or Goldman does a whole lot more for you than a book does 99% of the time.

Unfortunately, American Corporations, the greatest creators of wealth in the world for individuals, fetishize degrees from universities. This is because they’re lazy and want a fool-proof way to make sure their new hires aren’t ‘wild cards’. It sucks, and I hate it too. There are so many people who at 18 or 27 were unremarkable and couldn’t gain admission to a top school who now are incredible. JK Rowling was homeless at 30, Harrison Ford was a carpenter with no acting experience at 31- you know all the stories of success later in life. But it’s probably safe to assume that you’re not that. You should do everything you can to get ahead.

This is the world we’ve inherited, and it pays to be real and face the music.

How long does it take to get an MBA?

For full-time traditional MBA programs, this is around 22 months. For example- you matriculate in August 2022, are in school for all 2023 and including a 3-month internship over the summer, and then graduate in May 2024.
Some full-time MBA programs, especially in Europe, are 12-15 months and have no internship. A lot of people prefer this. There’s less time to network and less coursework, but these programs deliver excellent outcomes.
Part time and executive MBAs are where there’s a bigger variance in timelines. Most of these are between 30 and 42 months, and require either 20 hours of class and coursework on nights or weekends or both.
Many part-time MBA programs allow their students to pace themselves and take up to five years to complete. In that case, the choice would be yours- how fast do you want to rip that band-aid off?

How I know a little bit about this

I graduated from a decent public university in the southern US, worked for 6 years, and then attended a solid full time MBA program.

If I could go back to my pre-MBA self and have a talk, I would calmly say “don’t worry, it will pay off, do the MBA.” I’m a huge advocate for the degree and what it’s done for me. I could go on for hours about the benefits a good MBA program can deliver. The short of it is that I make a shit ton more money, am a good communicator, and am confident I can provide value to whoever I’m working for. And that includes working for myself :). That probably sounds arrogant AF, but it’s my reality.

Is an MBA degree really worth it?

For about 70% of the people I hear from and their situations, I’d say yes- so not always. People also have different criteria for ‘worth it’, including:

  • The 5-year investment/payoff period
  • The 25-year investment/payoff period
  • The impact it will have on relationships with friends and family
  • The experience and memories they will create and have
  • The relationships and connections they will develop
  • The knowledge and experience they gain and how that will impact their job performance
  • The ability to switch careers and get into a field they’ve always wanted to work in

You’ve got to go through these criteria and weigh what’s important to you and think about the costs. No one can do this but you.

Is getting an MBA hard?

For most people, the answer here is no. One of the more important things you should know is that during your MBA, grades generally do not matter. Obviously you can’t go in and flunk everything, but you don’t need to be landing straight A’s either.

There are some exceptions. I think students from China, Latin America, and elsewhere who may have learned English a bit later in life could face challenges with the language barrier. In-classroom discussion is a vital part of the experience, and if you have trouble expressing thoughts that’s fine but you won’t gain quite as much oratory skill.
Many of my classmates from China, Russia, and elsewhere were quiet unless they were cold called for answers. It’s not an ‘introvert vs. extrovert’ thing, it’s an effort thing. You’re expected to contribute to discussion- so be ready to do that if you’re going to make the MBA jump.

The only ‘hard’ parts of the MBA for me were non-scholastic. The mere volume of commitments made to people and family, the grueling process of recruiting for a job in a new industry, or having to navigate social circles. It’s much more a problem of having too much to do versus any one individual item being too difficult.
I imagine this is much the same case for people who choose to do the part-time and executive MBA options while continuing to work. While I was working full time in the first 3 years of my career, I did a masters in aerospace engineering part-time, so I know the hell of working a 9-5 and then having to go home and study for four hours and on weekends. I think the level of effort and mental burden qualified that experience as ‘hard’.

A few years isn’t that long

When I was younger, I thought the MBA timeline was forever. But after breathing air on this earth for 34 years and going through the MBA experience, it was a flash. 2-3 years is a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of your career. It’s your move.

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