Is Harvard the Only Choice?

Top Tier is Not Always Top Fit

Everyone has a dream career, and a high-ranking school isn’t the only way to achieve it. Planning to pursue an MBA is a big choice, but the right choice doesn’t necessarily mean picking the highest-ranking school. A less renowned school can also provide the quality education which could be a much better fit for you.

MBA students around the world are today seeking to use their newly-acquired business
degrees to advance in niche businesses of their own or in newer industries, not just to reach the peaks of large corporations. This has broadened the horizons for new, non-branded schools to enter stage and expand the best programmes rankings to a top 100 rather than a top 20. We should not worry whether Harvard, Stanford and Wharton will continue to attract the crѐme de la crѐme from all over the world. However, with Europe and Asia offering so much already: excellent faculty, wonderful job opportunities, and not least, beautiful locations, your choice as a prospective student is now practically endless.

Completing an MBA is a big move for your career as well as for your profession. You obtain a better qualification, your resume is greatly enhanced and your market value is boosted by the precious experience. Therefore, making a wise decision is important. The top branded universities are definitely eye-catching and glamorous but there are other universities which are most certainly worth considering too. Ranking systems for top universities are an accurate but not always the best reference. These rankings might not always be based on quality research and so have their own drawbacks. Each applicant has different interests and requirements when choosing a university and the criteria for these rankings will vary significantly. This simply means that when searching for the right university, rankings should not be the only factor to consider. If you are aiming for a particular school just because of its brand, you risk spending a lot, and sometimes a huge amount of money on an experience which is not suited to you just because you did not research all the other options available on the market.

A good fit
An MBA should suit your personal interests, ambitions and circumstances. A second-tier MBA programme might not necessarily be second best. On the contrary, quite possibly it might even better fit the needs and goals of most applicants. Not being in top 20 does not necessarily indicate underachievement, since the top 20 are indeed so high up the ladder that the gap between the most prestigious and the least-known is a sea rather than a stream. Much more important than the prestige of being part of a very select group of alumni is to be confident that your MBA programme has the format, faculty profiles, curriculum and teaching approach that will best fit your needs.

Graduating from a top MBA programme certainly places you among a very select circle of peers, but general managers today have dramatically changed their approach to hiring people, especially top level managers. Today, they are looking much more for specific
expertise or general and seriously-tested knowledge of managing people, attitude, passion, and personality. You will no doubt agree that the majority of these are personal characteristics rather than acquired knowledge. You do not need to study at a 20 school to acquire or develop them. A well-designed programme anywhere around the world would be just as helpful.

If you wish to move abroad, look for an MBA with an internationally-oriented curriculum. Most US universities are more US-focused. European universities on the other hand are very international; in some up to 90 per cent of their students are international. The same goes for places like Dubai or Tokyo, for example. The vast diversity they offer is made even more tangible by their smaller size and more intimate atmosphere. Non-branded programmes often provide a very versatile experience to students, since the number of visiting professors is generally high and their selection is more diverse. European programmes might have visiting professors or experts from all over the continent. They might speak English with a variety of accents and can tell dramatically different stories. They certainly have experience of working with and managing a very diverse crowd.

Relaxed atmosphere
If you have joined an MBA programme in your 30’s, you probably have about five years of working experience already. Perhaps the deliberate choice to join a group of strong egos, brilliant, promising and intense as they usually are, might not be the best way of spending two years and all of your savings. No matter how brilliant an MBA curriculum might be, how advanced the lab equipment, how stellar the faculty, you still need to be happy with your memories of what will probably be your most intense and eventful years before your children are born.

Being placed in an extremely competitive environment every day and hour is one of the key advertising points of the top 20. You really need to be a particular type to appreciate that. What if you do not thrive under pressure and you wish to use your MBA in a more creative industry than finance, for example? Then maybe a programme in Italy or Spain could you be your match.

The best things always come at a price. The top MBA university programmes are usually extremely expensive, albeit an investment worth making. Furthermore, if you are admitted, they will actually give you access to funding which could be even more affordable than taking a loan in your own country and securing it with your home, for example. Although help is available in the form of various scholarships and grants, competition for those is fierce and selection rate is relatively low.

However, spending a lot of money on an MBA programme does not necessarily mean it is the best one for you. Being comfortable with your ROI is an asset that many non-branded programmes provide. A common myth is that a degree from a prestigious business school will get you the best and the highest salary package in the industry. Salary is a complex figure which depends on a number of factors and education is just one of them.

Take a look at last year’s rankings of the world’s top 100 schools, and you will see that tuition fees to salary increase ratio is often similar among schools. Going to Harvard, ranked by the Financial Times as #2, would have cost you $112,400 in 2011, and would have brought you a salary increase of 122 per cent. Manchester Business School, ranked by the Financial Times ranks as #31, costs $53,756 and potentially offers you a pay rise of 116 per cent. Such a comparison is oversimplified, of course, but it shows that better pay should not necessarily be a distinguishing point between branded and non branded schools.

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