There are now many different types of MBA programs, as well as different means of delivering a given type of program. Thus, a business school applicant is spoilt for choices and can decide between full-time, part-time, modular, and distance learning (i.e., by television, video, Internet, and mail) programs. Rather than discuss all of the many different possibilities, however, this section focuses on the major program types: traditional full-time programs (both American and European versions), part-time programs, and executive programs.

The Classical Full-Time Stereotypical Two-Year American MBA Program

Harvard Business School devised the American MBA in the year 1908. The mandate given to the American MBA was to provide training for someone without prior business study, so it was made a two-year degree, with the first year providing an introduction to business fundamentals. Although there have been innumerable changes in the typical program, it retains certain core characteristics. It is still, almost without exception, a two-year program. It has a set of core courses that are required for all or most students. Most students are still relatively young, with the typical age upon entrance currently being 25 to 28. Many schools once accepted a majority of their students straight from undergraduate studies, but now schools require two or more years of experience from most of their students. In the last few years, however, the top schools have once again opened their doors to a modest number of applicants lacking substantial experience in the belief that true “stars” should be found and nurtured very early in their careers. Now Harvard Business School offers a 2+2 Program which students can join during their graduation and can join the famed MBA program in fall after graduation.
American schools have always been the intellectual leaders in business education and they remain, collectively, a citadel of serious research. The leading European schools have closed this gap, and a few of them are now truly serious research institutions. American professors at the leading schools therefore tend to be at the forefront of their fields. This is especially true now that American schools have emphasized developing closer links with industry, so most leading professors spend part of their time consulting to industry in addition to teaching and doing research. In fact, the three activities are closely related.

American schools have dramatically changed their programs to integrate the core subjects, incorporate soft skills, and internationalize their focus. These changes are continuing. Different schools have approached the need for change in different ways, as the contrast between the programs at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business illustrates.


Kellogg School of Management (“Stern”) provides an example of a traditional MBA program structure. Two-Year students entering Kellogg in the fall complete the following curriculum:

First Year – Spring Quarter – Operations Management or Finance 1 or Marketing Management Electives (3)

First Year
Pre-Term Leadership in Organizations
(Required) Accounting for Decision Making
Mathematical Methods for Management Decisions
Fall Quarter Business Strategy
Finance I or Marketing Management
Statistical Methods for Management Decisions
Winter Quarter Microeconomic Analysis
Finance I or Marketing Management or Operations Management or Elective
Second Year
Pre-Term Values and Crisis Decision Makin
Fall Quarter Electives
Winter Quarter Electives
Spring Quarter Electives

The core curriculum for the Two-Year Program consists of 9 courses in fundamental areas, including accounting; management and organizations; marketing; finance; managerial economics; decision sciences; operations; and management and strategy.

In addition, during the Pre-Term orientation sequence of their second year, students are required to complete a half-credit course, Values & Crisis Decision Making, that encompasses much of the knowledge from the first-year core.

These core classes account for nine of the 25 minimum courses required for graduation:
Accounting for Decision Making Business Analytics I
Business Strategy Business Analytics II
Finance I Operations Management
Marketing Management Leadership in Organizations
Micro-economic Analysis

A similar structure is evident in other programs—with most required courses completed in the first year and the second year largely devoted to electives—although many schools have a three rather than two-term structure.

University of Chicago Booth School of Business - At the other end of the spectrum, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (“Booth “) has created a curriculum that offers dramatic freedom of choice to students. Only one course—an introductory leadership-soft skills course- Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD)—must be taken by everyone. Students must take courses in a variety of fields to meet a distribution requirement, but the specific courses are to be chosen by each student. This structure is highly flexible; only one course out of 21 is mandated, and the rest to be chosen to fit a student’s own needs.

Four major components make up the flexible curriculum. You take what you choose and when – based on your experience, education, and goals.

  • Foundation courses focus on developing analytical tools and knowledge that supports the rest of the curriculum.
  • Functions, Management, and Business Environment courses cover basic business functions (finance, marketing, and operations); management (decisions, people, and strategy); as well as the business environment in which firms operate.
  • Electives cover 14 concentrations, offering students the chance to explore a topic more deeply.
  • Leadership training is so critical, it’s the only required class. All students must take Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD), where they’ll work on key management skills such as negotiation, team-building, and giving feedback.


Overview of Program

The Full-Time Chicago Booth MBA Program consists of 20 classes plus Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD). Courses are distributed as follows.

1. Foundations FundamentalCoursesAdvanced Alternatives

Foundation Courses (3 courses)
Choose one course from each category.
Financial Accounting Financial Accounting Accounting & Financial Analysis I; Accounting & Financial Analysis II; Financial Statement Analysis
Microeconomics Microeconomics; Advanced Microeconomic Analysis The Employment Relationship; Topics in Microeconomic Theory; Economic Analysis of Major Policy Issues
Statistics Business Statistics; Applied Regression Analysis Analysis of Financial Time Series; Financial Econometrics; Statistical Insight into Marketing, Consulting & Entrepreneurship; Data Mining
2. Functions, Management, and Business Environment (6 courses)
Choose six courses from the seven categories
Functions Fundamental Courses Approved Substitutes
Finance Introductory Finance; Investments; Corporation Finance Portfolio Management; Advanced Investments; Theory of Financial Decisions I; Theory of Financial Decisions II; Asset Pricing; Financial Instruments; Fixed Income Asset Pricing; Cases in Financial Management; Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity
Marketing Marketing Strategy Consumer Behavior; Quantitative Marketing Research Methods; Data-Driven Marketing; Marketing Research; Developing New Products and Services; Pricing Strategies; Advanced Marketing Strategy
Operations Operations Management Supply Chain Strategy & Practice; Operations Strategy & Performance Analysis; Revenue Management; Managing Service Operations
Decisions Managerial Decision Making; Managerial Accounting; Managerial Decision Modeling No Substitutes
People Managing in Organizations; Network Structures of Effective Management; Power and Influence in Organizations; Managing the Workplace No Substitutes
Strategy Competitive Strategy; Strategy and Structure; Markets and Organizations; Business Policy No Substitutes
Business Environment Macroeconomics; Global Institutions & Political Economy The Legal Infrastructure of Business; Law, Economics, & Business; Money and Banking; Understanding Central Banks; International Commercial Policy; International Financial Policy
Electives (11 courses) You define what areas of study you would like to pursue, or even take some classes from other University of Chicago departments.
LEAD (1 course) All students take Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD) to initiate their leadership development journey at Booth.
Concentrations The 14 concentrations build off these fundamentals and allow you to develop frameworks that enhance or complement your experience and fit your career goals. While concentrations are not required, students typically fulfill one to three from the list below to signal deeper knowledge and assemble the tools and analytic skills relevant to areas of particular interest. At the same time, because they build on the fundamentals, the concentrations are valuable well beyond specific career paths.
• Accounting • General Management
• Analytic Finance • Human Resource Management
• Analytic Management • International Business
• Econometrics and Statistics • Managerial and Organizational Behavior
• Economics • Marketing Management
• Entrepreneurship • Operations Management
• Finance • Strategic Management

Most American schools are closer to Kelloggs than Chicago in their curricula. Although a good deal of freedom of choice of electives is offered, the set of required courses remains at about 40 to 50 percent of the total program.

Whereas some schools allow students to waive some required courses, most case-oriented schools (like Harvard, Darden, and North Carolina) do not. They feel it is essential to have highly knowledgeable students in these courses because these students will effectively end up teaching the novices, through their comments in class and their work in study groups.

Advantages of a Traditional Full-Time 2 Year Program as compared to other methods of obtaining an MBA
• Traditional and well-understood method of getting the degree and established placements
• Opportunity for in-depth study, to become a functional specialist
• Ability to take numerous elective courses as well as to do (lengthy) exchange programs abroad
• Time to reflect upon one’s career future, and to explore career options
• High student satisfaction with most programs
• High interaction with other students in and out of class, and often with faculty
• Opportunity to participate in student organizations, study trips and other out-of-class offerings
• Potentially able to work during second year (albeit not at the most intensive programs) to earn money and gain experience
• Appropriate for people changing careers who need courses, a summer internship (between years) in a field related to their chosen field, and time to make the change
Disadvantages of a Traditional Full-Time 2 Year Program as compared to other methods of obtaining an MBA
• Expensive
• Long time away from work
• Not appropriate for horizontal placements
• No emphasis on learning of new languages
• Peer group without the richness of work experience
• Student body typically largely American rather than mixed
• Global exposure limited as compared to European One Year programs.

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