Choosing the correct MBA might really seem like a roller-coaster – it looks scary, it takes guts to get aboard and it gives you a ride to remember. For many people enrolling in an MBA is a life-changing decision, and certainly a life-changing journey, so how can you be sure that you are choosing wisely?

You can choose to pursue an MBA for a plethora of reasons. The importance of the criteria vary depending on your personal objectives and life experience – it is hardly likely that one programme will suit both a fresh university graduate and a seasoned corporate executive. Location, travel and time availability, as well as your financial situation, are all points of key relevance that you should consider along with school background, rankings and alumni organisation. Another very important thing to keep in mind, that is also tightly bound to location, is the opportunities the area provides, such as businesses, international environment and connections, corporate traditions, etc.

What is key though is to start by answering this question: Why do you want to pursue an MBA and what outcome do you expect after graduation?

Here are some of the key steps to complete before you take the plunge.

1. Choose an MBA to suit your needs.

Are you looking to kick-start a stellar career, or is it change and improvement that you are after?

Not so long ago corporations used to hire MBA graduates before the ink on their degrees had dried out. While this is no longer the case, difficult economy and all, having an MBA up your sleeve would definitely increase your chances of landing the position you want.

A global survey among the business school recruiters of 565 employers, including 36 Fortune 100 companies, shows that 86% of U.S. companies employing business school recruiters were planning to hire MBA graduates in 2014, up from 81% in 2013 and from 51% in 2009.

MBAs are getting very popular indeed. According to a survey carried out by the Graduate Management Admission Council, there is increased MBA need among technology and manufacturing companies – sectors that until recently were not seen as leaders in MBA recruiting. Other sectors such as advertising and public relations are following suit.

If you are already in the rat race, you know the importance of stopping and looking at your everyday challenges from a different perspective. An MBA would give you exactly that, a rare chance to focus on subjects that matter on a larger scale, and obtain knowledge that can and will be directly applicable to your job or business venture almost immediately.

However, dedicating two full years to an MBA is often not possible once you have reached a certain point in your career or family life. Fortunately, there are multiple programmes designed to respond to such limitations. Look into Executive MBA programmes, which are aimed at more experienced students and could allow better flexibility, as well as at specially tailored One-year MBAs that offer more intensive learning.

If your agenda requires even greater flexibility, check out modular programmes. They require face-to-face sessions every 4-8 weeks, while the majority of learning will be in an asynchronous, online mode. That gives you full control over your learning pace while still maintaining the important aspects of university education such as personal interaction between student and tutor, developing an active network with your co-students, and making use of amenities, resources, practical exercises and business opportunities.

2. Do your homework: research.

Make sure you check that the school is accredited by an internationally recognised body, such as the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) or Equis (European Quality Improvement System). Check school rankings in reputable sources such as Bloomberg, Financial Times or The Economist.

You can also evaluate the specialisation of a school, and whether it has particular strength in finance, entrepreneurship, IT management or healthcare... whatever it is that interests you.

MBAs can be helpful not only to people targeting top positions within international corporations, but also for those looking to develop their entrepreneurial ideas into business ventures. With an MBA focused on entrepreneurship, you will have theoretical courses to bring you up to speed with finance, marketing and capital sourcing – knowledge that can make you much more efficient when you venture on your own. You will be amazed at the amount of free advice, support and cooperation you will receive in the process!

But it is not all about the start-ups; if you are in a humanitarian or a technical field and are looking to broaden your horizons and learn about how business is done, an MBA is a step in the right direction.

Look into the academic community to find out more about their expertise and achievements, as well as the industries they come from. MBA is all about practice, so check if the faculty are actual practitioners who can give you in-depth knowledge and practical skills. Ask questions about the teaching methods, studies, consultancy projects with external companies, business incubators, networking events, summer internships with reputable companies, etc.

3. Check out the alumni network

Networking is possibly the number one benefit of an MBA. The contacts and relationships that you develop while you study could last and serve you for a lifetime. A typical MBA takes focus, perseverance and enthusiasm, and the people you meet will most likely possess those same qualities. The bonds and relationships that form during the intensive learning process could have the potential to grow into excellent partnerships. It is precisely among those people that you spend the next couple of years of your life with that could become your most loyal clients, colleagues, partners, or service providers. Each has their own colleagues, contacts and other relationships that form an extended network of international contacts in a host of industries all over the world. For example, a typical MBA class at Cambridge Judge School of Business could comprise 39 nationalities. That is 39 different markets! 

Look up alumni testimonials and profiles in the programmes’ websites and check up on their cultural and professional backgrounds. If location is important for you (as it should be), you can see whether the school you have chosen has a rather regional footprint or attracts students from across the world.

4. Assess your capabilities

Financially and location-wise, that is. How you will fund your studies is not a question to be omitted. With the intensive experience that awaits you after enrolling in an MBA, you need to sort out the funding in advance. Deciding whether to finance the programme from your own savings or by getting a bank loan could seriously impact your choice of school, programme and location. 

If you intend to study overseas, you need to work out whether you could manage the cost of living in the selected location. If you plan to travel for face-to-face sessions, check the route and convenience. Larger cities are often home to the larger companies, so you will have easier access to venture capitalists and business leaders. Employers often seek international experience and studying abroad can improve your understanding of job markets.

Sometimes you simply cannot afford an MBA. But look beyond the household brands and you can find some pretty good deals. Many schools are now offering low-interest loans, as well as scholarships.

5. Prepare to enjoy the ride

Are you excited already? An MBA programme will boost your career opportunities and open up new areas of expertise and mobility. It will help you develop international experience, get a better job or set up a new business and build a network of contacts. Granted, you would have to give up weekends for the duration of your studies, and embrace late-night studying rather than a glass of wine - but ultimately this could be the ride of your life, one that will help you build your dream and make it come true. Enjoy!