NYU’s part-time MBA: Worth the hustle?

April 16, 2013, 7:00 PM UTC

(Poets&Quants) — If the logistics of working full time while attending New York University Stern’s part-time MBA program ever make Yue Xi feel like a pinball, perhaps it’s in a fun way.

Outfitted with a 10-pound backpack, Xi leaves the downtown Manhattan office of her employer at 5:20 pm, and spends 20 minutes on the subway to reach NYU in Greenwich Village. She starts classes at 6 p.m., grabs dinner during a break, returns to the classroom until 9 p.m., and then begins her trek home to Queens, about an hour via train, to see her husband.

She also squeezes in Graduate Marketing Association meetings, which usually take place over brunch. “I was thinking when I first started this program, I wouldn’t have time to socialize,” says Xi, a product manager for Serve from American Express (AXP). “But it’s having lunch, and I have to have lunch anyway.”

Stern’s part-time students often have different goals than their full-time counterparts. “Most [full-time students] are looking for a transition in career, a change in industry or function, and they want full immersion in the MBA experience,” says Isser Gallogly, assistant dean of MBA admissions. “Part-time is primarily for people looking for an academic experience. They like their job but want to move up or just be more proficient at their job.”

According to GMAC’s 2013 Alumni Perspectives Survey, 77% of part-time MBA grads and 70% of executive MBA grads stayed in their existing jobs. Among full-time grads, only 12% of two-year MBA students and 19% of one-year MBA students continued with their existing jobs.“In general, part-time MBA programs attract more women and more older workers,” says Tracey Briggs, a GMAC spokeswoman. “Those considering part-time MBAs are more likely to plan on using employer sponsorship [for tuition].”

Xi’s club membership notwithstanding, part-time students tend to sacrifice participation in MBA clubs and extracurricular activities. According to mba.com’s  2011 and 2012 worldwide Prospective Students Survey, 55% of prospective full-time students say they want to join clubs, while only 30% of part-time applicants do.

“I think there’s a real advantage of full-time over part-time, because you are really in the trenches with other students,” says Anna Ivey, president of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, which is based in Santa Cruz, Calif. “For part-time students, there’s a limit to what you can get done in one day — you don’t have the same bandwidth to participate in activities.”

While part-timers may lose out on socializing, they win in the workplace. “You can take learning you experience in the classroom back to work and start applying it immediately,” Ivey says.

And vice versa. “I can bring questions from work into class,” Xi says.

Part-timers also don’t have to shoulder the opportunity cost of losing two years of employment income. That’s the case for most of Stern’s part-time students. Officially named the Kenneth G. Langone Part-Time Evening MBA program, to honor the Home Depot (HD) co-founder who endowed it with $6.5 million in 1998, the part-time program has actually been around since Stern’s founding in 1916. These days, Langone has about 2,000 enrollees in any given year, whereas the full-time program has somewhere in the neighborhood of 800.

Of the MBA programs U.S. News and World Report ranks, Stern has the largest part-time program, exceeding University of Chicago Booth’s  (1,473 part-timers) and Northwestern-Kellogg’s programs (813).

Langone students take classes on weeknights or Saturdays in Manhattan. And they can earn credit by traveling overseas for one of the school’s intensive short-term immersion courses called “Doing Business in.”

Jessica Chan recently took two weeks off from her full-time job to participate in a course in Hong Kong. The program consisted of classes, such as “Deal Making in China,” at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, corporate visits, and a Chinese Kung Fu lesson. “I had the opportunity to meet with the head of my firm in Hong Kong, so it seemed to make the world a lot smaller,” says Chan, who is a project manager at the Manhattan real estate services company Jones Lang LaSalle. “The class highlighted cultural and political aspects of how an expatriate like me could run a multinational.”

On average, part-timers complete the MBA in three years, although some pack it into two years or stretch it out to six. Chan plans to finish her MBA in 2.5 years. Like Xi, she finds that the work-school-home travel triangle is worth the hustle and the tuition. As of this year, Langone MBA tuition adds up to $104,280 (plus fees).

“At work, I’m working with mostly developers and financiers,” says Chan, who travels to Stern from her job in the Grand Central Station area, and then back to her home in Midtown after class. “But since Langone, my contacts have increased five-fold. They are from different fields and [there are] also people who work in the same field for competing firms.”

Part-timers must contend with conflicting priorities that many full-timers do not necessarily encounter. 2011 Langone grad Dan Kolodny attended the part-time program while working at NYU’s Division of Libraries, which is right next to the Stern building. That certainly made the commute easy, but he says still had to forfeit part of the traditional MBA experience. Married with a little son, Kolodny, 33, wanted to head home to Astoria, Queens, an hour from campus, as soon as he could.

“The MBA program means you meet with people to do homework, so that was another chunk of two hours, so I really didn’t have time to take away from my family and do a Happy Hour,” recalls Kolodny, who is now a management consultant with Accenture in the San Francisco area. “The Langones were kind of split. I gravitated toward the married group with children. And then there was the group that was younger, maybe three years after undergrad, and they were far more involved with clubs related to Stern after school and on weekends.”

The back and forth paid off for Kolodny. “I was shocked how much Langone prepared me for my job at Accenture, the running around from place to place,” Kolodny says. “My office is wherever my laptop is.”

None of three students interviewed for this story voiced complaints about the famous “Stern curve,” but it’s no doubt a source of apprehension for those considering Langone. The curve dictates that core faculty award A’s to no more than 35%  of students, which some believe fosters an overly competitive environment. “I didn’t have a problem with it,” says Kolodny. “I think the curve is a good prequel of being compared to coworkers in the working world.”

One thing to note about NYU-Stern: It doesn’t necessarily play brilliantly beyond New York. The program is consistently ranked among the Top 10, but Kolodny says he received mixed reactions when he began to search for a job in California. He looked at positions at the likes of Pixar, Google (GOOG), and Facebook (FB), and found that “Stern” didn’t automatically open doors.

“There’s some pride out there about their MBAs. They have Stanford and Haas,” he says. “Coming from New York, you think everyone is impressed with it, but not necessarily.”

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