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M.B.A. Students Take Fast Track

Students can jump-start their careers with an accelerated, one-year master of business administration.

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When 28-year-old Jessica Chang, a Dallas native, began to think about getting an M.B.A., she was drawn to a one-year program instead of the traditional two-year course of study. With an undergraduate degree in finance and experience in investment management, she didn't want to spend time reviewing basic concepts she already understood. In the one-year program she's attending at the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., students begin in May, and the whole first year of business school is condensed into the three summer months.

Chang is on the entrepreneurship intensity track, one of several offered at Babson including global management, marketing, finance, and life sciences and health care. "Getting those core first-year classes like finance, accounting, and marketing out of the way in the summer helped me maximize my time at Babson," she says. "I could focus on refining my idea for a business and determining if it's feasible."

Chang is not alone in gravitating toward an "intense" one-year accelerated M.B.A. program. These programs are attractive not just for the tuition savings—at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, for example, the two-year tuition cost for students starting in 2011-2012 will run about $108,000 versus $72,000 for one-year students—but also for the time saved. In today's economy, many worry about being out of the job market for two years.

[Read more about Kellogg's one-year M.B.A. option.]

An increasing number of business schools in the United States are offering the one-year option, including the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz., the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, and the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. Others may soon follow suit.

One-year M.B.A. candidates are required to have at least some background in business. "For the accelerated program to work, applicants need to have an undergraduate business education, or have done enough coursework to allow them to test out of that core curriculum," says Betsy Ziegler, associate dean of M.B.A. programs at the Kellogg School.

In September, the one-year enrollees take their place alongside the two-year students who are beginning their second year and choosing electives. At graduation, whether someone is "in the one-year or two-year program, they are getting a Kellogg M.B.A.," says Ziegler, and this holds true for most schools.

An M.B.A., whether earned in one year or two, continues to enhance job prospects and salaries, according to the Reston, Va.-based Graduate Management Admission Council, an association of leading business schools that owns the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT.

While the admission council's 2011 global management education graduate survey showed that two-year M.B.A.'s got slightly more job offers than one-year students (2.0 compared to 1.7, on average), the one-year grads saw an 80 percent hike in their annual pre-degree base salaries compared to 73 percent for the two-year M.B.A.'s.

[See a GMAT study timeline.]

The major downside to one-year programs is the lack of summer internships generally available to two-year students between their first and second years. Corporations often hire their full-time employees from summer intern pools.

To address this issue, some schools, such as Babson and Goizueta Business School at Emory University in Atlanta, are stepping up their career services for one-year students, offering help with interview training and résumé writing. Brian Mitchell, associate dean for the full-time M.B.A. program at Goizueta, notes that all students have access to the same corporate recruiters. Ninety-five percent of the overall full-time class of 2011, he says, had job offers before or within three months of graduating.

Many students also feel that the lack of an internship opportunity is balanced out during the summer "boot camp" by the intimacy of the smaller classes. "The world revolves around you in the summer," says Jason Gordon, a student at Goizueta, noting that it's a good way to get to know members of the faculty and the administration.