How to Choose the Right MBA?

A Guideline for MBA Seekers

Your post-MBA success depends largely on your pre-MBA choice and there are a number of important things to consider before filling out that application. Here are some tips on how you should go about identifying the right school.

What qualifications are you after?

Your reasons for pursuing an MBA may differ – a change of professional venue, gaining an advantage in a rather tough market, a bigger salary or a better job placement. Yet, before you get down to filling out those applications, there is one important question that you should ask yourself. What qualifications do you want to acquire? Making a realistic and a clear-sightedassessment of the professional skills that you want to develop or improve will help you gain a clearer vision of your future career track.

The majority of MBA candidates have 5 to 10 years of professional experience on their CV and career plans do come foremost when they get down to choosing a business school. Some, for example, are happy with their job but still want to add value to their services by moving up the career chain and a part-time MBA often proves to be the best route for them. Others have already reached a managerial level and are good at what they do, yet the fact that they can juggle tasks blindfolded has turned into a demotivating factor. They have lost interest in their job and they see a change of career functions as a way out of the impasse. For them, a local fulltime MBA with their company endorsement may be the best option. Finally, there are those that fall into the ‘total makeover’ category. They aspire to a clean start, a new professional venue, a complete change of company or sector. They want to move out and move on with their career and the best choice for them could be a well-known full time MBA programme with an active network of alumni in an international environment.

Faculty matters

Once you’ve decided on an MBA programme you should look into the background of its faculty. Good-quality education depends primarily on the calibre of the university’s faculty members. Most top business schools boast a ‘team’ of world-renowned professors with diverse interests and expertise. Their faculty is very much a part of the real-life business world and will bring a range of important and useful topics to the classroom – from accounting to strategic management. The easiest way to find out if a school’s faculty meets your expectations is by visiting its websites – all universities have detailed profiles of thei permanent or visiting staff. Full-time programmes might have faculty members well known for their research in a particular area of expertise, while part-time programmes might have visiting professors who are pro-active business leaders in a particular sector. Furthermore, schools create their own structures that combine management theory and business practice. The Manchester Business School, for example, has developed the Manchester Method, a learning structure that produces positive results and has pushed MBS up in the rankings.

Networking and alumni

A good business school should provide you with access to a network of MBA students, alumni, faculty, and business and community leaders, which can be very useful when beginning a job search, developing a career path, building business relationships in your current career or pursuing expertise outside your current field. Quality business universities pride themselves on their high graduate placement rates. A careful study of career placement activity is therefore essential, especially where some business schools have higher success rates at placing their graduates in certain regions or companies than others. A candidate who wants to work in Europe post-MBA, for example, might think twice before applying to a school in the USA. It may also be a good idea to check out what career assistance the university offers – if it focuses on honing your management skills; if it introduces you to recruiters for big companies or provides you with detailed information about salary expectations in certain sectors.

Talking to alumni is always helpful. An international alumni network is critical if you are a global mover and shaker, but a nationally-based network could be just as critical to someone who is forging a career in a defined market. By talking with graduates before you apply, you are in a better position to know which type of network will suit you. You can also judge the quality of a business school by the profile of its graduates – their career tracks and their professional growth. Be ‘on the alert’ if you are not satisfied with the university’s alumni profile (also available on the school’s website).

Location is a factor

A university may have top-notch facilities and highly renowned academic staff and still be the wrong choice for you. Research shows that location is a prime factor when it comes down to picking a business school. Make sure that you are comfortable with the geographic area in which the university is located. For example, if you are bound by family or otherwise you may opt for a school that is closer to home. If, on the other hand, you are looking for an international and diverse milieu as well as new cultural experiences, an overseas MBA may be a good option. The industry you want to work for may also determine your choice of university location. If finance and investments are your prime interests, then you’ll be advised to choose a university in one of the cities where the markets are based – New York, London, Frankfurt, Paris and Tokyo. It is important that you pick the geographic area that best fits your needs as you are likely to spend longer than two years there – a large number of MBA graduates decide to stay and pursue their career within the area of their alma mater.

Format

If you have decided to cross ‘the point of no return’ and change your career completely or if you want to stay within the same industry but change the location, a full time MBA programme may be the best choice for you. This kind of format requires full commitment, but returns on the investment are also guaranteed. 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’. To sum up – a full-time programme is designed for career changers, while the part-time option is designed for career enhancers. You can also choose between a 12, 15, 18 or 22-month programme. The different length is determined by the pace and intensity of the teaching process.

Rankings

Rankings inform perspective students about a university’s or a business school’s prestige. They are a good starting point when searching for a suitable alma mater and may give you a good idea of the global MBA market. However, you should bear in mind that there can be large variations in the different rankings published, depending on the source used (the Financial Times or the Economist Intelligence Unit in the UK, or Business Week and the Wall Street Journal in the USA) or the methodologies applied. So how should you go about ‘reading’ the available rankings? First of all you should stay critical – do not take rankings at their face value but rather match them against your own personal needs and goals. Always read the survey methodology, i.e. how the data is collected and presented (publications such as The Financial Times, The Economist, Business Week, US News & World Report give extensive details about their methodologies on their websites). You are also advised to look at ranges – collect the publications of a particular ranking over several consecutive years and focus on MBA programmes that show consistency. Also look into the university’s connections to local industries – many business schools have strong ties to important local companies and these ties often translate into employment opportunities for the graduates of these schools. And remember – look for what is best for you, rather than which business school ranks first.

Return on investment and cost efficiency

Today, the MBA remains the most ‘lucrative’ of degrees. Statistics show that the return on investment is quite rapid for the majority of graduates, with the average return being three to six years – for example, students graduating from Insead's campuses in Fontainebleau and Singapore earned average salaries of $148,490, an increase of 108 percent on their pre-MBA salaries. An MBA degree is undoubtedly a major investment and many students incur debts to pay for their one or two-year education. However, they do get their money’s worth in the long run – not only do they hone their knowledge and qualifications but they also build a network of useful professional relationships. Finally, the ROI coefficient has non-financial benefits that should not be neglected – an MBA degree is bound to increase your professionalism, help you develop your potential, and teach you how to manage your work/life balance.

What’s next?

Once you you’ve gone through all seven steps and identified your goals, career priorities and expectations you should find it easy to pick the right MBA programme. Choosing the business school that best meets your needs is indeed crucial to earning the degree that will add the most value to your life – personally and professionally. In order to best match your criteria to the available ranking lists you may want to visit the Access MBA Fairs, as well as use the Access MBA search tool for MBA programmes. And if you find this seven-step self-analysis a bit frustrating, just remember that all your efforts will be rewarded in the long run.

Design your MBA

It is indeed much more likely that you will be able to structure and design your own curriculum in a smaller, lower-profile programme, rather than in the bigger programmes. If you know exactly what you wish to achieve and are determined not to be diverted from your path, look for an environment which will allow you to do just that. It might be in a very unexpected place. So, there is more to the MBA than just the brand. If remaining in or going to the UK is better for your finances than moving overseas for two years, and will still provide you with a top MBA degree, then maybe it is not a hard choice to make. If choosing the Middle East over Europe might open up more work opportunities for you in the future in a region you find exciting, then maybe this is your match. It would be a useful two years during which to test the market yourself, and if you do not like it, you will still have a precious MBA degree under your belt.

Keeping your future options in mind is key to choosing your MBA programme. Indeed, choosing any school in the top three list in your own country or from the top 100 rankings, would be a fantastic achievement as, believe it or not, there are more than 5,000 MBA programmes available worldwide.



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