Which MBA?

Picking the Right MBA is a Must

MBAs are tailored to the personal needs and aspirations of potential candidates so before you make your final and ultimate decision it’s best to have an action plan and follow a few preliminary steps.

The number of MBA’s offered is constantly growing. So if you have decided to go back to university and expand your competences by doing an MBA, you are certainly on the right track. MBA graduates continue to be in high demand. Not only do more companies plan to hire in 2012, they plan to hire at similar or increased levels when compared to 2011, according to responses to the 2011 Year-End Poll of Employers of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). Moreover, nearly a third (32%) of companies planning to hire MBAs in 2012, expect to increase the annual base salary when compared to 2011.

So if anything, an MBA is an investment which  pays off in the long run. Yet, applying to a b-school does not amount just to choosing the most popular programmes.

Identify your motives

Ask yourself why you want to spend the next two years in a university doing an MBA? Is it because you want to move up the career chain within your current company for a pay rise? Or are you looking for a complete change of professional venue?  Or perhaps you have reached a point when you can juggle tasks wearing a blindfold and you are looking for a change of career functions. Identifying the reasons for wanting to do an MBA will help you pinpoint the format which will best meet your needs as well as the location that will be most convenient for you.

Format is foremost

If you have decided on a complete career change or if you want to stay within the same industry but change location, a full-time MBA programme may be the best choice for you. This kind of format requires full commitment but investment returns are also guaranteed. Most US universities offer a two-year full-time MBA. However, if you’re reluctant to take two years away from the market, you can opt for a one-year programme offered in Europe and more specifically in the UK. Naturally, the living cost for a one-year programme is lower.

The part-time MBA is for those who want to advance their careers (without changing their professional venue and starting from scratch) but cannot afford to take ‘leave of absence’. Working professionals can thus complete the course on a part-time basis while still being employed. Although the duration of the programme may be extended, the income stream will continue throughout your studies, helping you to finance your degree. Those who are reluctant to change their lifestyle and are not seeing a new job may also consider distance learning. This format allows you to attend courses without leaving the comfort of your home or workplace. You can sign up for various correspondence classes, discussions and tele and video-conferencing. Finally, the dual MBA programme  is gaining in popularity. It is geared towards ambitious professionals who want either  to test new waters and change their career track or boost their careers and climb up the ladder. This dual or joint degree offers candidates a full MBA programme combined with classes in the specific area they want to pursue.  Some schools like Wharton, Kellogg have been offering a three year joint J.D. / MBA programme. NYU Stern School of Business also offers a range of choices for a dual MBA course. It also has a tie-up with HEC Paris and students graduate with degrees from both colleges. INSEAD, on the other hand, has a dual-campus programme, where candidates can choose to study in their Asia campus at Singapore or Europe campus at Fontainbleau, France. It also has a tie-up with Wharton School of Pennsylvania.

Location is important

Research shows that location is a prime factor when it comes down to picking a business school. Those who have family or other commitments may want to choose a school closer to home. Candidates who are looking for international experience may opt for an overseas MBA. Moreover, your choice may be determined by your career aspirations. If you are looking for a job in finance and investments, then you would be advised to choose a university in one of the cities where the markets are based – New York, London, Frankfurt, Paris and Tokyo. Overseas experience is indeed an asset valued by most industries. Most big US tech companies, investment banks, consulting firms, and consumer-goods companies nowadays are interested in people who can function globally. An MBA with overseas work experience, or familiarity with one or more foreign markets has a real advantage. Such a person can probably choose among several great job opportunities.

Rankings and faculty

The Top b-schools usually get the highest rankings, yet an MBA should suit your individual needs and a first-tier school may not be the best choice for you. Be critical, do not take rankings at their face value; do your research and find out which curriculum meets your expectations. Bear in mind that there are specialized rankings too.  So, instead of attending the highest ranked school, you may be better off attending a B-school programme which ranks very high in your chosen specialization, such as accounting, entrepreneurship, IT, finance, marketing, strategy, operations, or logistics. Faculty is also a motivating force. If you want to hone your understanding of the why and how of business and gain knowledge from the best of the best, you may opt for universities with a team of celebrated  lecturers with a long list of academic publications. If, on the other hand, you are more interested in the practical application of your education, it would be best to look for a university whose faculty is comprised of people with both a business and an academic background.

ROI or why invest?

The elite b-schools are more costly but according to stats, they secure a quicker ROI. An MBA from a premier programme, such as Harvard, Stanford, INSEAD, Booth, Wharton, Sloan, Kellogg, Columbia, or NYU Stern has a very robust return on investment. For example, students graduating from Harvard Business School can expect to earn a starting post-MBA salary of $115,000, and to average $3.6 million in total earnings during the 20 years post-graduation, with many HBS grads earning significantly more. Second-tier schools, on the other hand may pave the way for lower starting salaries, but they also require a smaller investment by the candidate, so the ROI may very well equal and even surpass that of the top universities. Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School for instance into the annual Financial Times rankings made it number 3 for best value for money. Besides, if you have a global MBA in mind, the school offers three campuses:  two in Belgium which is also the ‘headquarters’ for the European Union,  and one in Russia, St. Petersburg where you can gain first-hand experience of an increasing dynamic market that covers not only Russia but the neighbouring states too.

So consider all possibilities, measure them against your priorities, career aspirations and financial backing and remember that an MBA is worth having only if it benefits you as a professional and is not a mere padding of your resume.

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