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Study Part Time Or Full Time?

So you want to get an MBA.

One of the big questions people often wrestle with is whether to go to school full time or part time. Both have pros and cons, experts say. Here are some points to consider:

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Many top business schools offer both part-time and full-time MBA programs these days. Most provide the same courses, and the same faculty often teach those course. Many also say that the quality of students in the part-time and full-time programs is comparable.

Part time: paychecks now

A big advantage of going part-time is money, because you can continue to work and get a regular paycheck.

Douglas Dunn, dean of the Graduate School of Industrial Administration at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, estimates that it costs students about $150,000 (including tuition and lost salary) to go through the school's full-time, two-year MBA program.

Another benefit of enrolling in an evening or weekend program: You can apply, right away, skills learned in class to the challenges faced in your job.

In the part-time programs, however, the student body may not be as diverse, since it draws people only from within driving distance of the school.

And part-timers face challenges balancing work, school, and personal life. "It takes a very dedicated and disciplined person to do a part-time program," says Michele Rogers, admissions director at Northwestern University's Kellogg School.

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It also takes a lot longer to earn a degree. Most of those in Boston University's MBA program earn their degree in four years, versus two-years for full time.

Some part-timers do it in three years, says BU admissions director Peter Kelly, "but it's a very brutal pace" - two classes every semester, including summers.

Full time now, big salaries later

An advantage of going full time is being able to intern at a company in the summer.

"It gives you the chance to date before you get engaged," says David Wilson, president of the Graduate Management Admission Council in McLean, Va.

As to whether companies look more favorably on one program over another, most say it's hard to tell. Some agree that part-time students don't always see the big salary gains and automatic jump up the career ladder that graduates of full-time programs get.

"It's harder for part-timers to realize that big bang at the end of their program," says Mr. Kelly of Boston University.

Another big benefit of going full time, which part-timers say they miss, is the chance to bond and network with students in social and extracurricular activities.

"There isn't the camaraderie among classmates in a part-time program," says Michael Schmitt, a recent graduate of Boston University's MBA program, who started part-time and switched to full-time. "Most of the people in the part time program go to class straight from work. When class gets out at 9 at night they're tired - they don't hang out."

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