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A person with 6 arms juggling many tasks. (Arpad Nagy-Bagoly/ISTOCKPHOTOS.COM)
A person with 6 arms juggling many tasks. (Arpad Nagy-Bagoly/ISTOCKPHOTOS.COM)

The pros and cons of a one-year MBA Add to ...

Adam Janikowski left his job as vice-president of investment banking at BMO Capital Markets in Britain to pursue an MBA at INSEAD in France.

INSEAD strives to fit the traditional two-year curriculum of an MBA program into one year and, for me, this is both time and cost effective. But it may not appeal to everyone.

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The shortened program is intense, with fast-paced classes and heavy coursework. The current administration believes that the INSEAD program completely covers 80 per cent of a two-year program and touches on the further 20 per cent. This intensity is both a blessing and a curse. Returning to the work force after one year minimizes costs and ensures that a student's industry knowledge and contacts remain intact. The drawback, however, is that students who do not have a business background may sometimes find the classes more challenging, given their lack of exposure to many of the concepts that the INSEAD format assumes have already been learned. Although INSEAD offers a one-week fundamentals course prior to the beginning of the program, many of my classmates have admitted there are concepts with which they continue to struggle.

Because of the intense pressures of academics, social commitments and the career search, students have limited opportunity for in-depth learning while at school. For example, to prepare for each class, we are provided with mandatory readings and assignments; if we find the topic interesting, we are given optional in-depth readings. Should any students wish to further explore a subject, recommendations for library references are also available. However, during an in-class straw poll, only five of 60 people had ever read the optional readings and none had gone to the library in search of a recommended book. In fact, due to the time constraints, many students are saving optional readings that they find interesting until after the course, when they can learn at their leisure.

As someone immersed in this one-year format, I feel that I am building on the experience I gained as an investment banker and developing strong tools for further financial education, including learning significant financial concepts that were not taught to me in undergraduate engineering. However, to really capitalize on this MBA, I feel that I need to reinforce my learning by further self-study once I have re-entered the work force.

Another significant aspect of INSEAD is the opportunity for students to attend both the Singapore and the Fontainebleau, France, campuses, as well as participate in exchanges with the Wharton and Kellogg business schools in the United States.

Where you choose to begin your program has a tremendous impact on your MBA experience. For the first four months of the INSEAD program while you complete the core courses, you are unable to participate in an exchange. It is also during these first four months that a strong set of friendships, alliances and networks develop among students. As a result, once the exchanges begin, there is a definite lack of social integration between those who have switched campuses and those who have not.

Furthermore, due to the short time frame, if a student chooses to spend time on a different campus, there is lost opportunity to fully settle into life in either France or Singapore. In addition, INSEAD rotates its professors between campuses. So, although the class content may be the same, depending on your timing and which campus you are attending, the professor may be different, which can affect your learning.

Closely linked to this campus exchange option is the INSEAD bidding system. Upon entry, students are given "points." Throughout the year students use these points in a closed auction system to express their interest in a campus exchange and in elective courses. Think of this as "academic eBay." For example, the most popular time to study at the Singapore campus is during the November-December period. The minimum number of points a student has to bid in order to exchange campuses during those months is 114, leaving at the maximum only 86 points to use in bidding for popular elective courses, such as negotiations or emerging market entrepreneurship. Many students bid much more than 114 points to ensure that they have a place in Singapore. Students who choose not to do a campus exchange have their full allotment of 200 points to bid for electives, giving them a distinct advantage in choosing their courses; especially when some of the more popular courses can cost a student up to 80 points. The system, while extremely fair, has left a number of my classmates sorely disappointed, as they have not won their choice of dates to participate in an exchange or the opportunity to attend their desired courses.

I am currently halfway through my year at INSEAD, and the program and overall experience have exceeded my expectations. I have found everything that I was looking for in an MBA program; the exposure to a diverse group of people, combined with an internationally focused curriculum and an emphasis on learning languages has made the year both challenging and fun. However, it isn't necessarily for everyone and potential MBA students should weigh their options before choosing which school to attend.

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