How to Choose Among Accelerated, Executive, and Online M.B.A.’s

Ultimately, you should choose the type of M.B.A. you pursue based on your individual needs.

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With the first round of business school application deadlines looming in the fall, many prospective applicants are seriously considering whether this is the year to apply for an M.B.A.

Business schools have become increasingly innovative in their approaches to management education, from bespoke curriculums to delivery options that run the gamut, including traditional two-year programs, one-year accelerated M.B.A.'s, part-time M.B.A.'s, executive M.B.A.'s, online programs, and global M.B.A.'s. There are some terrific options out there for all types of interests and schedules, so if you're having doubts about whether an M.B.A. is feasible, don't rule it out. Do some research first.

[Check out three reasons to choose a part-time M.B.A.]

A one-year M.B.A. may be right for you if:

Long the norm in Europe, accelerated M.B.A. programs have grown in popularity stateside over the past five years. This format is best suited for those who want to continue working in the same industry but would like to deepen their knowledge and skills in specific areas in order to move into a higher position. Recruiters show no real preference for the two-year over the one-year program, so the decision often boils down to whether candidates are career accelerators or career changers.

Since the degree is time consuming and requires intense focus, applicants must come onto the scene with a strong background in business fundamentals, and many programs show a definite preference for those with an undergraduate business degree.

This format is both a time and money saver, and often provides a faster return on investment than other program types. Participants endure only one year of lost income, and while the accelerated M.B.A. option doesn't allow for internships, students are back in the workforce after 12 months.

[See how LinkedIn is transforming job search for M.B.A.'s.] 

An executive M.B.A. may be right for you if:

This iteration of the M.B.A. is tailored specifically for mid-career professionals, who want to continue working while pursuing their degree. Executive M.B.A. students also immediately apply the lessons of the classroom in the boardroom. They may be looking to switch industries, or to transition from manager to entrepreneur. A demanding family life may also make it impossible to take advantage of the extracurricular activities available to traditional full-time M.B.A. students, which may make an E.M.B.A. more desirable.

Students in an E.M.B.A. program must have the support of their employers, as the degree requires some time out of the office in the form of weeklong residencies or classes held on alternate Fridays. Historically, companies have sponsored 100 percent of their employees' studies, though these days, a mere 30 percent of students receive full tuition reimbursement.

Many schools won't state an actual number of required years of work experience; however, the expectation hovers around 10 years, and participants are typically in their late 30s. E.M.B.A. applicants must show prior management responsibility and a record of significant achievements, as this wealth of professional experience is what ultimately enriches the learning environment in the classroom.

[Check out E.M.B.A. programs for linebackers and wine makers.]

An online M.B.A. may be right for you if:

For M.B.A. aspirants who are either unwilling or unable to leave their job and family to pursue a full time, two-year degree, a program that can taken from the comfort of one's own home could be the ideal solution. The online M.B.A. path is even more appealing given the lower cost of most online degrees.

The caliber of online options has improved dramatically, with offerings coming from such highly ranked schools as Indiana University—Bloomington's Kelley School of Business, Spain's IE Business School, Babson College's Olin Graduate School of Business, and University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, which got into the fray in summer 2011 with the launch of MBA@UNC and is no less expensive, or selective, than its traditional counterpart.

This format requires a high degree of self motivation and excellent time management, and, like the accelerated M.B.A., is best suited for candidates who are intent on sticking to the same career path or moving ahead within their current company.

[Learn why online M.B.A.'s, though prevalent, remain controversial.]

In today's global business environment, much of the day-to-day interaction takes place remotely, via E-mail, text, or video conference. An online M.B.A. format maximizes these technologies and perhaps even better prepares tomorrow's business leaders for navigating within the dominant communication methods.

The classic M.B.A. experience is still the gold standard for many applicants, however. Paul Danos, dean of Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, noted recently that the full-immersion experience is invaluable for the networking opportunities and alumni connections it provides. It also provides a precious time for young men and women "to reflect on and reconsider their career paths," Danos adds.

In reality, every candidate has his or her own unique needs that must be aligned with the format that makes the most sense. Whichever program you choose in your M.B.A. journey, a great fit with your goals and lifestyle will ensure the best results from application to graduation.