Friday, August 1, 2014

Difference Between General and One-Year Specialized MBA

By Aimee Akimoff
Director of Recruitment MBA, Willamette University

There are a variety of MBA program types in the U.S. The traditional program type is considered a general MBA. It is typically two years in length, with an internship done in the summer between the first and second year. Generally, there is some mix of core or required courses and elective courses from which students can choose. There are also one-year MBA and master degree programs that allow students to focus in a specific area of study, such as entrepreneurship, finance, marketing or other areas. 

While these program types do allow students to focus their area of study, it does not provide the general principles of management that are taught in the core curriculum. Additionally, students who focus on one specific area may not gain that cross-functional training and the ability to integrate all of the areas of interest to gain a better understanding of management as it applies throughout the organization or across sectors. Having an understanding of management across industries and sectors will set up a student for success throughout their career rather than just limiting their career choices to one area that they studied in a specialized masters. Lastly, students who choose a shorter MBA or master program may also miss out on the internship experience, which can be a critical step in their career path.

Do students need work experience to apply to an MBA in the U.S.?

Not necessarily. MBA programs are changing. Different MBA programs are designed to meet different goals. Students who want to complete their MBA early in their career have the opportunity to select an MBA program designed specifically for recent college graduates and students with one to three years of experience who are seeking their first professional position. These programs are generally referred to as “early career” MBA programs because they provide early career students the full range of real professional experience, knowledge, and the career management tools needed to succeed as early career professionals. Willamette’s Early Career and Career Change MBA is an example of an early career MBA program, because it provides opportunities for students to build their real-world experience in the program. It’s important to find a program that is best suited towards your career goals. If you are early in your career or perhaps want to significantly change your career, you may want to look into a program such as Willamette’s Early Career and Career Change MBA.

How should students choose an MBA program if they do not have work experience?

As an early career student you should choose a full-time MBA program that emphasizes experiential learning and career services. This is important because early career students build the professional experience employers value through participating in client consulting projects, internships, professional organizations, mentor programs, networking opportunities, etc. Although, many MBA programs admit students without work experience, only a handful are actually designed for early career students. You should also choose a program that provides breadth and depth of knowledge. The combination of general knowledge and expertise support the decision-making skills managers need throughout their career. It is also a major benefit that separates the MBA from the Master of Accounting and other specialized master degrees.

What can a student who is earlier in their career do to stand out in the application process?

There are several areas in the MBA application, where students without work experience can stand out. First, throughout the application process, try to emphasize your transferrable skills, which are the skills you've gained through your undergraduate studies, volunteer work, hobbies, sports, or other extra-curricular activities that can be used in your next job or new career. These can include things like presentation skills, critical thinking, the ability to work with others, and project management – all skills that are highly valued in an MBA program.

Most quality MBA programs are going to require either the GMAT or GRE. Fortunately, students who are still in school or closer to their undergraduate studies tend to score higher on standardized tests than those who have been out of school longer, but you still need to put the proper time into preparing for the test.

For letters of recommendation, many schools will ask for at least two, sometimes three. If you are early in your career, you will likely need to submit an academic letter of recommendation, in which case, you should ask a faculty member or someone who knows you in an academic setting. Make sure to give your recommenders enough time to submit your letter of recommendation.

Most MBA programs also require some type of interview – whether it is via phone or Skype, or in person. To prepare for the interview, come up with a list of examples of academic, professional and extra-curricular challenges and accomplishments that you have experienced. Many questions that are asked during the interview have you relay an experience you have had in the past, so to have some of those at the top of your mind will come in very handy during the interview.

In conclusion, the financial ROI for a graduate degree is generally higher when you complete your degree earlier in your career. MBA graduates tend to earn higher salaries than students with just an undergraduate degree. Additionally, early career MBA graduates have more years of their work life during which they can earn higher salaries and their MBA opportunity cost is reduced. Students who do not have work experience don’t have to wait until they have years of professional work experience to get the MBA they want to jump-start their career. Willamette University’s full-time MBA program is specifically designed for Early Career students. Learn more at:


Aimee Akimoff serves as the Director of Recruitment for the Full-time MBA program at Willamette University. She recruits both domestically and internationally. Aimee has traveled to more than 50 countries around the world and frequently recruits in the US, China, India, South America, the Middle East and Europe to represent the program at fairs and conferences. Aimee has worked in the field of graduate school admissions for over ten years and frequently presents on how to apply and prepare for graduate school studies.

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