The MBA degree has long been considered as a ticket to success, a gilded highway to a high-flying international career and significantly higher income. Achieving these goals is guaranteed by a great variety of MBA programmes, not just a few top-ranked business schools.
Suppose you have set your heart on an MBA programme. You envision yourself climbing the corporate ladder, switching careers or even starting your own business. The MBA can indeed serve as a stepping stone to a bright future in the world of business.
But before all that becomes a reality, you first need to take care of a more pressing task - gaining admission to the programme that is the best match for you. This takes two steps. First, find the programme that offers the teaching and career focus you need. Second, make sure you fully meet the stringent requirements for gaining a seat in the MBA class.
Understanding MBA admission and selectivity
The first logical step after you have decided to pursue an MBA degree is to familiarise yourself with the requirements and the set of documents needed to apply to a typical programme:
- An MBA application CV/resume
- Bachelor’s degree or equivalent from a recognised college or university. Bear in mind that admissions’ officers will assess your academic background and your academic performance.
- If you are a non-native English speaker, you need to submit a score from an English proficiency test such as TOEFL and IELTS. Some schools require native English speakers to sit a language test, too. Ensure that you check the language policy of your target business school.
- GMAT, GRE or other school-specific test scores
- MBA participants typically have an average of five years of working experience. Yet more important than the length of your professional life is the nature and quality of your achievements. Also, admissions’ officers will be looking for evidence of your leadership potential.
- Motivation Essay(s)
- Business schools have increasingly been looking for applicants who possess a certain degree of international awareness and understanding of the complexities of business in an international setting.
Aim as high as you can reach
So, once you make sure you can fully satisfy all these requirements, research the competition that you will face. Thus, you will be able to select programmes with realistic chances of admission that fit your budget or potential to qualify for scholarships.
Many aspirants target only the most prestigious business schools without realising that competition to get there is severe. The average acceptance rate for the top 10 business schools in the US, as ranked by U.S. News, was 15.7% in 2018. The acceptance rate at Stanford is 6.1%, which means that only 6.1% of applicants gain admission. This is very, very selective.
Cost is also a major barrier. Participants in top MBA programmes pay tuition fees in the six-digit US dollar range and you need to ask yourself whether you are able to foot such a bill.
While it is fine to have one or two dream schools, the shortlist of MBA programmes where you will apply should include carefully selected realistic options. Otherwise, why apply if not to get admitted?
How should one measure reputation?
One of the biggest mistakes you could make as an MBA aspirant is to choose a programme based on its position in rankings. Rankings should not be viewed as the most important aspect when picking a school. They are simply one element to consider and you should always research whether they actually matter in the region and industry where you are heading after MBA graduation.
In addition, in order not to be misled, you should take rankings into account only after obtaining a deep understanding of their methodologies and only in cases where they reflect your essential MBA selection criteria. Different rankings employ different methodologies. Since none is conclusive, aspirants need to understand the methodology behind each one before deciding whether what it measurеs is important for them. The Economist’s MBA rankings, for instance, are heavily weighted toward career outcomes. Bloomberg Businessweek ranking, on the other hand, gives priority to compensation.
A much better strategy would be to look at accreditations instead of rankings. Accreditation serves as a stamp of class guaranteeing high MBA quality and academic standards. The top three international MBA accreditation bodies are AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS. Some programmes are accredited by more than one of these prestigious organisations, the “Triple Crown” accreditation being the most outstanding.
Remember that your project should be at the centre of your MBA search. Think about the company or industry you want to work in. It’s useful to examine the career or recruiting reports of MBA programmes to see which one corresponds to your preferences.
Don’t limit your options
Finding the MBA programme that 100% covers your ambitions and preferences is a much better strategy than going for a course just because it’s considered elite.
“Sure, that diploma from a top school may turn heads and get you a great starting salary, but studies have shown that salaries of graduates from some mid-tier programmes can grow faster and higher than top programmes over a twenty-year span,” according to Kaplan.
There are numerous examples of successful business people who graduated from business schools that do not top the rankings. Rajiv Bajaj, managing director of the world’s largest autorickshaw maker and India’s second largest motorcycle maker, Bajaj Auto, has a degree from the University of Warwick (UK). Anshu Jain, former co-CEO of Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank, holds an MBA in Finance from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (US).
Instead of focusing on several top schools, it is worth casting a wider net to include schools beyond the tiny list of top-ranked ones. This will boost your chances of finding the MBA programme that suits you best and where you stand a much higher chance of admission and where you will get great value for a much more reasonable sum. The diversity of MBA programmes around the globe has been growing, and so are your chances of taking your career to the next level.
The choice of an MBA programme should include a number of factors, not just the reputation of the school. The more thought you put into the selection of your programme, the more likely are you to steer your career in the desired direction. Why limit your options in advance? Explore and stay open-minded during the MBA selection process. Then your best options will really illuminate themselves.