What is a Professional MBA Program (PMBA)?

Anyone considering an MBA program other than the traditional full-time, on-campus type has probably encountered a professional MBA, also known as a PMBA. Professional MBAs have two characteristics: the first is that a PMBA can be completed part-time; the second is that its curriculum is entirely different from that of a traditional MBA.

The Virginia-based Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) is a nonprofit organization of 220 graduate business schools worldwide. GMAT administers the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), which 7,000 graduate programs use worldwide. In the GMAC 2021 Application Trends Survey Report, the organization classifies all university business school programs into three categories: full-time MBA, professional MBA, and master’s programs in business.

GMAC further breaks down professional MBA programs into several sub-categories based on whether they are cohort-based, lockstep, executive, self-paced, flexible, or online. The common element to all these professional MBA programs is that they are all part-time programs.

In other words, for GMAC, the term “professional MBA” denotes any part-time MBA program. That can encapsulate an evening or weekend MBA program geared to working professionals, an executive MBA program intended for seasoned executives aspiring to top management, or any other type of self-paced, flexible, or online program—as long as they are part-time.

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According to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), 493 business schools—about 52 percent of all business schools—offered PMBAs in 2022. Here are a few examples:

While the GMAC identifies all part-time programs as professional MBAs, other business schools employ this term to name a specific type of program that they offer.

Regardless of how the designation is used, there are only two groups of PMBAs: part-time and executive MBA programs. Because more than half of all MBA candidates earn their degrees this way, it can be said that part-time MBA programs, including programs with the words “flexible” and “online” in their titles, are synonymous with graduate management education in the United States.

Part-Time MBA Programs

Part-time programs include the “night school” and weekend programs that have been rebranded with newer designations in addition to “professional MBA,” such as the “fully-employed MBA.”

These programs are often more affordable than full-time programs. In addition, by being offered online, these programs enable students with minimal leadership experience to continue working full-time while taking a reduced course load and generally involve less competitive admissions due to the reduced applicant pool.

Executive MBA Programs

A smaller portion of seasoned business leaders attends executive MBA programs, which are different from other part-time programs. According to the Executive MBA Council and the Financial Times, EMBA programs are accelerated programs with fewer class hours that allow business leaders to receive their MBA in two years or less while working full-time. Condensed scheduling options include all-day classes once a week, three full days over a long weekend every three weeks, or one week a month.

As noted above, EMBA students complete classes with the same cohort, which can become a valuable lifelong network. EMBA programs also provide exceptional services to address the needs of busy business leaders, such as personal career coaching, certain concierge services like travel arrangements and textbook purchases, and meals during classes. The Financial Times business education editor Della Bradshaw claims that in recent years the trend has been to develop EMBA programs taught in different countries, often through partnerships between business schools around the world.

Full-Time or Professional, the Degree is the Same

Most part-time students earn the same MBA degree as the full-time students and benefit from the same alumni network. In addition, many reports suggest that most recruiters and hiring managers do not care if a student attended a full-time or part-time program.

For example, Duke University MBA Sam Lee said: “I’ve never had a hiring manager ask me if I did my MBA full-time or part-time. As a hiring manager myself, I never once asked a candidate that question either; it’s simply not relevant.”

For more about the similarities and differences between these different kinds of MBA programs, please check out the following BSchools.org guides:

Douglas Mark
Douglas Mark

While a partner in a San Francisco marketing and design firm, for over 20 years Douglas Mark wrote online and print content for the world’s biggest brands, including United Airlines, Union Bank, Ziff Davis, Sebastiani, and AT&T. Since his first magazine article appeared in MacUser in 1995, he’s also written on finance and graduate business education in addition to mobile online devices, apps, and technology. Doug graduated in the top 1 percent of his class with a business administration degree from the University of Illinois and studied computer science at Stanford University.

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