David Against Goliath MBAs

Are Top Ten MBAs the Only Choice?

Pursuing an MBA is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Many candidates choose a program because of its international reputation. Should it be the only factor in creating a successful career? Are branding and rankings the only matters?

While choosing an MBA, you can easily get an idea of a school's reputation based on its classification. However, every system of ranking contains weaknesses. More importantly, each ranking uses criteria that may be vastly different from the needs and interests of the applicant. Should it be the only criteria of choice? Only 20 MBA programs are truly well-known all over the world. Are they the only ones to consider?

One advantage of Second-tiers MBA programs is that they "have different approaches to the economical solutions. The leading schools have a global approach, which is not based in a region or a national situation… Big global players are not better or worse, but they don't offer a specific approach.
Since the economy is getting more complex and specialized, the smaller MBAs offer an adapted solution to specialized companies and regions," explains Petra Wieczorek, MBA Program Director at the Berlin School of Economics. Some institutions train people to work in the country where the school is located. Others emphasize the global economy and focus on multicultural business settings. These differences are often reflected in the program's curriculum.
Therefore, you need to decide whether an international focus is important to you and be sure that the program you choose meets your needs. Michael Houston, the interim codean of Carlson School of Management, insists that students must ensure that a program fits their style of learning. "Smaller programs frequently offer more individualized services and leadership opportunities. Some adopt a niche strategy that provides a unique experience. There is more flexibility for learning, connecting with faculty, and internship opportunities than in more prestigious MBAs."

Finance is an issue

Financially speaking, the total cost of an MBA from one of the Top Twenty schools, is between €30,000 to €95,000. There is not always a correlation between the cost of an education and its quality: in short, more expensive is not always better. "You also need to think about the return on investment," explains David Butler, the director of the post-graduate programs at ESC Rouen in France. "The whole price of a prestigious MBA can be extremely expensive. Therefore, a less expensive project leads to a faster internal investment".

In addition, a more expensive MBA does not guarantee a bigger salary. Stephen M. Miller, Chairman of the Department of Economics at the University of Nevada, comments that students from lower ranked MBA programs can receive greater salary increases upon graduation than students from the most highly ranked schools. For example, he found that the Marriott MBA program at Brigham Young University - ranked 29th in the Business Week survey - actually came in fourth in terms of salary gains, with an average increase of $42,121 per graduate. Moreover, One of the top 3 MBAs in the Business Week survey, came in 27th in terms of salary gain with an average increase $32,262 per graduate.

Today, recruitment is becoming more openminded and international. This is why diverse and forward thinking companies value an international perspective, which is the foundation of many MBA programs. The most prestigious MBAs are sought by students who aspire to leading executive positions by the age of 35 or 40. A Top Ten MBA often serves as an entrée into the international business elite. "It responds to a personal ego," underlines Mr. Butler. "One of the most important advantages of a smaller MBA is that they offer smaller programs with ten to twenty students in class, which ensures a better participation and interaction of the group." They respond to students' individual needs. "What makes the good value of an MBA is its participants. If they come from different international backgrounds, the value exchange is richer," emphasizes Andrew Roberts, Director of the part-time MBA program at Euromed Marseille School of Management in France.

Stephen M. Miller, the Department of Economics Chairman at the University of Nevada, explains that "the prestigious MBA programs provide a 'seal of approval' on two items - the quality of the course content and the quality of the entering students. But, the output of a program hinges on factors not easily measurable by standard tests and content evaluation. For example, student effort and innate ability provide the crucial factors in producing a good MBA graduate, something that the individual student can provide even if the quality of his/her fellow students is not the best. That is, excellent students can compensate for program and colleagues inadequacies. So, the top students at lower quality MBA programs probably prove better hires than the middle of the class at the elite MBA programs. The Corporate Recruiter just has to do more homework to find those excellent hires. That effort will get rewarded in the long run."

Business professionals seeking an MBA should weigh two divergent needs. On the one hand, they need a degree, which emphasizes today's diverse and multicultural business environment. Globalization is an economic reality, and professionals must be equipped to handle different cultures and their modes of conducting business in order to optimize global growth and strategy. On the other hand, a regional perspective is also needed in order to find solutions to specialized business needs in specific areas. Thus, second-tier schools, those not in the Top Ten, are more likely to give an answer to these diverging requirements. Though all MBA programs share similar subject matter, each one has a particular focus.

Given the vast number of existing programs, how can you find the MBA most suited to your needs? First of all, you must verify that the institution meets international accreditation criteria. Secondly, find a program whose values harmonize with your own personal and professional aspirations. Second-tiers MBAs have the important advantage of responding to a particular individual's needs. Thus you are advised to consider every type of MBA before applying.

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