Brand or Non-Brand MBA?

Top Universities are an Enticing Choice, But not the Only One

Embarking on an MBA degree is a big enough decision, but making the right choice does not necessarily amount to aiming at the highest possible target.

An MBA certainly provides you with better qualifications and increases your chances of promotion at your place of work or of a major career shift. However, making the right choice is crucial. Elite universities may have brand names that give you an extra shove, but they are not necessarily the only possible choice one can make when pursuing an MBA degree.

The simple truth is that every ranking system has weaknesses and the criteria for each ranking may be vastly different from the needs and interests of the applicant. Rankings should not be the only selection criterion. There only about 20 elite MBA programmes in the world and it would not be very wise to exclude all the others.

A university degree should above all be tailored to your personal needs and aspirations, without being a complete drain on your savings. So before you fill in the application, you may want to check out the advantages of second-tier MBA programmes. 

Cost is an issue

Quality comes at a price. The price for top-class MBA education may be too high to pay. The total cost of an MBA from one of the top twenty schools is between €30 000 and €95 000. You may of course be able to get a grant, but scholarships are hard to obtain due to the highly selective nature of these schools and the extreme competition for places.  Moreover, the cost of an education and its quality are not directly correlated: more expensive is not always better. You also need to think about the return on your investment. The price of a prestigious MBA can be extremely high and a less expensive project may yield a faster return on your investment.

Another myth is that costly brand education guarantees you the highest possible salary. In a recent article in Money Magazine, Alan Krueger, economics professor at Princeton University, points out that “over the course of their careers, students who chose not to attend the most selective schools earned about as much as those who went to the highest-ranking college.”  On the other hand, Stephen M. Miller, Chairman of the Department of Economics at the University of Nevada, comments that students from lower ranking MBA programmes can receive greater salary increases on graduation than students from the highest ranking schools. For example, he found that the Marriott MBA programme at Brigham Young University, ranked 29th in the Business Week survey, actually took fourth place in terms of salary gains, with an average increase of $42 121 per graduate. At the same time, one of the top 3 MBAs in the Business Week survey only took 27th place in terms of salary gain, with an average increase of $32 262 per graduate.

Format is a factor

Recruitment today is becoming quite flexible and open-minded and companies are on the look-out for staff with a particular set of skills, rather than for top b-school graduates with a brand diploma. The university curriculum, its teaching methods and class sizes should therefore be considered when picking a school. The elite school format, for example, suits the needs of candidates who aspire to leading executive positions by the age of 35 or 40.  A Top Ten MBA often serves as an entry point into the international business elite.  "It responds to your ego. One of the most important advantages of smaller MBAs is that they offer smaller programmes with twenty to thirty students in a class. This ensures better participation and interaction among the group." emphasizes Andrew Roberts, Director of the part-time MBA programme at Euromed Marseille School of Management in France. They respond to students' individual needs. "What makes an MBA valuable is its participants. If they come from different international backgrounds, the value of the exchange is higher".

Today, second-tier programmes offer a staggering variety of optional subjects, concentrations and cross-disciplinary programmes. Additionally, second-tier MBA programmes with geographical access to a major metropolitan area can often entice real-world practitioners from industry to accept positions as adjunct academic staff or guest lecturers in order to remedy a perceived weakness in the programme or introduce real-life cases into the curriculum. While leading theoreticians and Nobel laureates typically migrate to "big-name" business schools, the real-life experience offered by adjunct academic staff members can be just as valuable for applicants desiring less theory in the classroom.

Competitiveness may not be your game. If you are not used to the kind of extra pressure that high-ranking universities traditionally put on their students, you may want to consider other options. Competitiveness may work for some, yet be entirely counterproductive for others. So if you are not a high-achiever who likes to be under pressure, but prefer a more relaxing environment that would allow you to expand and test your skills without being under constant scrutiny, you may want to choose less renowned institutions that will offer you quality education in a cooperative rather than competitive environment.   



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