A Complete Guide to Accelerated, Executive, & Advanced-Standing Master’s in Organizational Leadership

Written by Scott Wilson

business women walking

By their nature, leaders are out in front of the pack. They want to be first; they want to be ahead of the game.

To have leadership potential is to have a sense of urgency pushing you forward all the time… including in your education.

A master’s degree in the field is one way to get there. With in-depth research, analysis, and hands-on leadership training, this is the education that prepares you for senior roles in any organization.

So it’s no surprise that leaders looking for an edge are often looking for master’s degree programs that can get them up and running faster than the average student.

That’s where accelerated, advanced standing, and executive master’s programs kick in.

With a promise to get you in and out of a graduate program quickly and back on your career path to the top, they offer a seductive option to students who are up for the challenge.

But not all these degrees are created equal, and not all of them offer the same thing. Read on to see what the advantages and alternatives are in fast-paced master’s programs in organizational leadership.

Organizational Leadership Studies Are Already a Pretty Quick Graduate Degree Option

busy peopleWhen you see a program that touts its ability to get you a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (or the very similar Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership) in only a year, you might be a little confused at first.

A typical organizational leadership master’s program will require between 30 and 36 credits to complete. At 15 credits per semester for a typical full-time student, that’s already only about a year.

But these claims aren’t just a marketing trick. Many people who are in a position to be interested in a graduate degree aren’t traditional, full-time students. They have jobs, families, and other obligations. And not every school holds graduate students to a 15 credit per semester standard… the tougher coursework overall means that some define full-time as being as few as 8 or 9 credits per semester.

Accelerated may also be used to describe what is effectively a full-time degree program that is otherwise mostly taken on a part-time basis.

Being an effective organizational leader is about making the right trade-offs. Ultimately, what you are measuring accelerated programs against are your other options. So your own timeline will always be the most important—but at least you know a school is going to be focused on getting you through quickly by some standard when you enter one of these programs.

An Accelerated MBA in Organizational Leadership Can Also Be Completed on the Fast Track

innovationThe master’s in organizational leadership isn’t your only fast-track option for leadership training. There’s also the Master of Business Administration in Organizational Leadership, a popular related program which is also highly sought after in leadership circles.

A one-year MBA is a different animal from one-year MSOL/MAOL programs.

That’s because the typical MBA is 60 credits or more. Completing all that coursework in a year, with OL specialization classes on top, is indeed a tall order. But some MBAs offer exactly that.

How can a one-year degree cover the same ground as one that traditionally takes two to three years? And particularly how can it offer the same kind of in-depth, advanced study as a traditional MBA?

Many schools achieve this through a combination of cutting down credit requirements while upping the intensity. You can expect intensive coursework but fewer elective options if you want to get an MBA in only a year.

Are There Advanced Standing Master’s in Organizational Leadership Degrees?

mba students studyingThe schools running MSOL/MAOL programs can’t assume everyone coming in the door has picked up essential foundational knowledge in OL somewhere else. It has to be part of the program.

Unless, of course, you already covered it. For some students in some fields, that existing knowledge is a ticket to faster graduate degree completion: advanced standing programs either accept prior bachelor’s studies or bundle a bachelor’s degree with a master’s program to cut down on the total time required.

Students filter into master’s degrees in organizational leadership from a wide range of backgrounds, however. It’s actually unusual to major in leadership and pursue a master’s in the same subject. That makes advanced standing OL master’s programs very rare.

But there are a handful of schools that offer a 4+1 program that will allow you to take some of your graduate courses even as you pursue an undergraduate major in another field. These get you all the way to your OL master’s degree in just five years… four for the bachelor’s, and one for the master’s.

In other cases, schools will offer transfer credits from other certificates or even from professional certifications you might hold, such as the Certified Professional from the Society for Human Resource Management. Both options give you a faster path to a master’s in OL.

Executive Master’s Degrees in Organizational Leadership Are Mostly About Convenience, but May Still Be Quick

quick and convenientExecutive degrees are aimed at—you guessed it—executives. Busy professionals on the move up the corporate ladder, they need the education that an organizational leadership degree can offer… but they need it to fit into their current job commitments.

EMSOL, or Executive Master of Science in Organizational Leadership programs are more focused on offering OL studies in a format that works for those professionals than simply speed for speed’s sake. That means online or hybrid class options, sometimes with intensive residency requirements.

Yet a fast pace is sometimes also a feature. Executive programs can count on students who already have substantial groundwork in management and leadership skills. That means they don’t have to spend a lot of time getting people up to speed. They usually cut back on internship or experiential requirements, too, which can save time.

These programs are often offered cohort style, with a fixed timeline that you progress through in the same order and with the same group of classmates from day one. There may be little room for elective options, which can also cut down on total time spent earning the degree.

Because organizational leadership is a common focus for many senior executives, you’ll find plenty of these programs available in every permutation of leadership training:

Naturally, you will also find these options offered in great abundance among the premier degree for executives: the MBA with specializations in organizational leadership.

Exploring the Differences Between Accelerated and Ordinary Master’s Programs in Organizational Leadership

multi purpose womanIf you do choose to pursue an accelerated degree in organizational leadership, you need to understand the trade-offs.

The big one is usually a loss of flexibility in your schedule and elective choices. When you are genuinely accelerating your studies, you’re going to narrow your elective options just by minimizing your time in school. There’s no hanging around to catch an interesting elective that might only be offered one semester each year.

Schools that put these programs together put them on rails to make sure you can get all your requirements covered in the shortest time possible. But that means you stay on those rails the whole time.

Don’t overlook start times as an advantage in accelerated programs; many offer as many as seven start dates each year, which means they are ready to start teaching when you are ready to start learning… no waiting around for next fall.

The Accelerated Dual Degree in Organizational Leadership: The Ultimate Challenge

happy gradsBecause organizational leadership is a skillset that is valuable across a range of professions, it’s a field where interdisciplinary or dual major options are common.

So you will find a surprising variety of delivery options and degree combinations putting together OL with professional specialties like education, organizational development, and healthcare. And many of those are available as 4+1 or other fast-track formats, getting you both professional training and leadership skills in one fell swoop.

This type of accelerated program is also common in professional degree fields where OL is a specialization rather than a major. That can include business, nursing, and public administration, among others.

In fields where a master’s is also an important professional qualification, like advanced practice registered nursing or social work, you will find entirely different qualifications necessary to get into advanced standing programs.

Dual degree options, which are likewise popular for leadership studies, operate on a similar principle. By their nature, dual degrees are a kind of fast-track, condensing what could be four or five years down into two. But like any accelerated program, that means you are studying hard and putting everything you’ve got into getting finished on time.

This often goes together with tougher entry requirements, ensuring that you have prior experience in management or a relevant undergraduate degree. You won’t get any refreshers, but you will get done much faster.

Accelerated also sometimes refers to course formats. At some colleges, to cover all the required subjects, the traditional semester format is ditched in favor of more compressed terms. These can jam in twice as many classes as a standard 15-week semester.

It takes a lot of intellectual horsepower to get through such fast-paced studies.

Is an Accelerated or Executive Program in Organizational Leadership Right for You?

businessman running upstairsWeighing those tradeoffs to your studies versus completing them sooner may be your first real leadership test. It won’t be the last.

To make your decision, you’ll have to exercise some of the same skills that you’ll need in a leadership role:

Of course, the choice is not entirely up to you. The colleges you are applying to will have something to say about your eligibility for accelerated classes.

In many cases, the standards are higher. With cohort-driven programs, anyone who can’t keep up is a drag on the entire class. Accelerated master’s in OL might want to see more real-world experience under your belt, examples of actual leadership potential, or degrees in a business field on your application.

In a way, simply getting through a fast-track program in organization leadership is a pretty good sign of your management skills!