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How to Choose the Best MBA Degree
If you want to complete an MBA degree, you have a lot of things to think about. There are universities all over the world that you could enroll with, and they offer different curricula, concentrations, delivery models, and more. Hence, you need to know how to choose an MBA degree that is right for you. Luckily, it is a relatively simple nine step process. Let’s take a look.
1. Why Are You Thinking Of An MBA?
You need to come up with at least three reasons as to why you would choose to enroll in an MBA. Some valid reasons include:
- A complete career change
- A change of function or industry
- An opportunity to smash the glass ceiling
You also need to think about location, because you will have to start to build a network with local businesses, alumni, faculty, and fellow students. Why you want to study an MBA will also determine where you want to study an MBA, and this may even mean having to learn a new language. Completing an MBA usually means that you have to interrupt your career for a period of time, often two years, so you do have to make sure that you make this decision based on facts and good information.
If you want to make a complete career change, then it is very important that you go to a top MBA school. This is because you will rarely get accepted to a senior position without any industry experience, unless your degree program is so good that it matches work experience. Top MBA schools have very stringent selection criteria, so it is hard to get into them.
Perhaps you want to set up your own business. In that case, an MBA could help you to better develop any entrepreneurial skills you already possess. It cannot, however, teach you how to be an entrepreneur unless you already have some entrepreneurial spirit.
Maybe you want to increase your earnings and have more transferable skills. In that case, the MBA is definitely a good choice. Usually, it increases earnings by around $15,000 per year, and you will be equipped with skills that can be used across different industries. But do be aware of the considerable financial investment you have to make in your degree program first.
These are just some examples of considerations to make in terms of why you want to study towards an MBA.
2. Which Business Or Industry Do You Want To Work In?
It is nice to dream about places you might want to live in, and jobs you would like to have. There are lots of interesting places all over the world, with different cultures and experiences. You may want to live on a Caribbean island for the rest of your life, but then you do have to have something to do there as well.
Unfortunately, an MBA may not be entirely suitable for that type of environment. Hence, start by thinking not where you want to live, but where you want to work. Then think about the locations that have that type of work. For instance, if you want to work in fashion, you could consider London, New York, Paris, or Milan. If you like electronics, you could consider Korea, China, or Japan.
3. Get Your Focus Right
A lot of successful business people knew from a very young age that they wanted to become entrepreneurs. Take people like Richard Branson, for instance, who was quite literally born to create a business (despite not even finishing school!). You need to know what your strengths are, whether they are in general management, finance, entrepreneurship, and so on, and build on those.
This can be done by choosing an MBA with a relevant concentration. All MBA programs are general management degrees, which means you have transferable skills. But it is often better to choose a concentration that interests you in particular.
Areas such as entrepreneurship, environmental technology, information technology, human resources, accounting, finance, hospitality, healthcare management, and so on, are popular options. A specialized MBA will also put you miles ahead of the competition when it comes to applying for jobs.
4. How Do You Want To Study?
The MBA degree is offered in a range of different formats. The five most popular ones are:
- Full time, which usually takes two years to complete by going to school during weekdays, daytime.
- Part time, which usually takes four years to complete by going to school on evenings and weekends.
- Distance learning, whereby you only attend school a few times during the program, studying the rest online. This usually takes two to three years to complete.
Online, where you attend a program mostly online. This type of program can be either 100% online, or you may be required to attend a few on-campus sessions over the duration of the two or three year program. Many experienced professionals prefer to earn their MBA online because they can attend any university they like, and can complete the majority of their studies at home. Students also can continue to work at least on a part time basis, easing the financial strain while in school.
Accelerated, in which you immerse yourself into the degree program, going to school during weekdays and having fewer school breaks. An accelerated program may take anywhere from 15-18 months to complete.
There are many things to take into consideration when deciding how to study. The amount of time you can take off work is probably a main consideration, but also your level of personal responsibilities. If you go for the accelerated format, for instance, you will have almost no time left for personal or leisure activities.
5. Where Should You Go To School?
Because the MBA is now such a popular degree, there are literally hundreds of schools to choose from, thousands if you consider the international schools as well. Choosing between these options is a personal decision. Generally, the more prominent the school is, the more stringent the admission criteria are.
You should only look for schools that will accept you based on the skills and knowledge you already have. Considering how you will study will also be an important factor. If you study online, for instance, it is much easier to go to an international school. Do make sure that the program, and not just the school, is properly accredited.
6. Online Programs Growing in Reputation, Quality, Affordability
Online MBA degrees have been offered for more than 20 years by some schools. In the early years, online MBAs did not have the same reputation for quality as campus-based programs. However, things have shifted markedly in recent years. Today there are more than 90 online MBAs offered. Many top-tier non-profit universities are in that number.
Some of the most well-regarded online MBA programs according to US News and World Report are:
- Temple University
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Indiana University
- University of Texas-Dallas
- Arizona State University
- University of Connecticut
- Villanova University
- University of Southern California
- Georgetown University
- Pennsylvania State University World Campus
- Auburn University
- Boston University
Not only can you often earn an online MBA that is high quality: Some programs also offer tuition discounts to online students. For example, the University of North Carolina offers a 13% discount for online MBA students, and at Auburn, the online tuition is only $27,900, compared to $65,500 for the campus program.
7. What About Return On Investment?
Completing an MBA is an expensive venture. You may receive some support from your employer, but it is very rare to be eligible for things such as student finance for these degree programs. That said, the program does offer an excellent return on investment. The majority of the people who complete an MBA experience a $15,000 per year increase in salary. Additionally, around 95% of all MBA holders are employed within six months of graduating, which means you should also be able to see a very rapid return on investment.
8. Thinking About The Program’s Rankings
You should now be well on your way towards choosing your MBA degree program, which means you now have to get into the nitty-gritty. Checking out school rankings in sources such as the Financial Times, the U.S. News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal, and Businessweek is always a good idea.
If you ever attend an MBA fair, you will find that one of the top questions prospective students ask is how high the school and program ranks, and this is an important question. The higher a school’s ranking, the more respected and in demand you will be once you graduate.
9. Speak To Schools
At this point, you should have collected relevant information on a number of different schools. Try to have at least three different schools to look into, getting their brochures and hand outs, listening to alumni, and more. Visit the schools you are considering and check out the campus, even if you intend to study online.
It gives you an idea of the overall culture of the school and whether or not that is something that you feel you can fit into. Write down some questions you may still have and pose them to an admissions counsellor to help you make your decision.
A key factor in choosing an online MBA degree is finding a school that will provide you the type of networking experiences that you want. One of the major benefits of attending MBA school is the opportunity to network with your classmates, teachers and alumni.
Some programs offer more productive networking opportunities than others. For example, The Economist recently ranked the following MBA programs as the best for networking in the United States:
- New York University-Stern
- Indiana University-Kelley School of Business
- University of Notre Dame-Mendoza College of Business
- University of Southern California-Marshall School of Business
- University of Chicago-Booth School of Business
- Harvard Business School
The Economist points out that the above programs are known to have some of the largest and most active alumni groups. Other factors that are taken into consideration in the rankings are the ratio of alumni to current MBA students; number of alumni chapters abroad; and how students at the school perceive the quality of their alumni network.
11. Quality of Faculty
A very important factor when considering MBA school is the quality of the faculty. Many universities will boast about the high quality of their faculty, according to Poets & Quants, but few actually live up to their marketing rhetoric.
That publication recently highlighted the focus on teacher quality at one MBA school in particular: The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. An analysis by that magazine looked at student satisfaction data over nearly 25 years, and found that there was no other business school in the country that came out as high as Darden.
It also was noted that only a single school over that long period of time had scored in the top 20% of teaching grades from MBAs who had graduated: Darden. Other top-ranked schools for quality of the professors were Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and Cornell University’s Johnson School of Business. The University of North Carolina was also highly ranked.
Poets & Quants noted that these four universities shared similar attributes:
- They all have fairly small MBA enrollments
- The size of their facilities are small, so the recognition of teaching quality is greater
- They are located in small towns away from the big city
- They are all general management programs where the main approach to business teaching is through case study. This involves a high level of student-professor interaction.
- At each school, there is an academic culture that puts pressure on professors to excel in the classroom.
This is not to say that MBA students must select the University of Virginia or any of the other universities. It is only to point out that professor quality is very important, and some universities pay closer attention to this than others.
Many of the programs that do not rank as high for teacher quality have professors who are more focused on academic research than on teaching.
12. Is the Program Accredited?
There are two major business school accreditation bodies: the ACBSP (Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs) and the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). As you look at different MBA programs, you should note which accreditation the program has.
Accreditation is just as important as any other factor in choosing the right program. It offers some assurance that the university and program has meet standards of quality, rigor and excellence according to an independent organization.
AACSB accreditation is generally the best known in the US for business programs; it has been around since 1916. The AACSB puts a strong emphasis in its accreditation process on excellent faculty research. On the other hand, the ACBSP has been around for only 30 years and tends to prioritize teaching excellence and strong educational outcomes.
An ACBSP accreditation suggests that the program has achieved excellence in strength of its teaching and educational results, while the AACSB accreditation suggests the program’s strength lies in the research quality of its faculty.
Both accreditations are noteworthy but it is important to remember that the AACSB is simply better known in the business industry. So many potential employers may be looking more for that accreditation.
13. Business Experience
The best business schools place a strong emphasis on the work and leadership experience of their students. Students who get into good MBA programs often have several years of work experience. Some programs may require that students have five or more years of experience, while others may require one to three.
It is a good idea to look at the average years of work experience that students entering your MBA program have. Generally, the higher the level of work experience of the student body, the more likely that you will learn new skills from other students. Many MBA students find that they learn almost as much from other students as the professors. This is made more likely if the students have been working for seven years, as opposed to having graduated from college last year.
The US News and World Report rankings often list the average years of work experience that accepted MBA students have in a given program.
14. Graduation Rate
How many of the students in the program graduate on time? If most students graduate within two or three years, this is a sign that the program has been successful in accepting quality students and providing them with a valuable education. If a high number of students drop out or transfer, this could signal that the program is of lower quality.
On a related note, it is also important to research how many graduates of a program default on their student debt. Students who attend MBA school should be able to obtain a good enough job to service their MBA debt load, if they have any.
If a high number of students default on their obligations, either they could not find a job at all, or could not get hired in a job with a sufficient salary to pay their bills.
15. Admissions Difficulty
Does the MBA program require you to take the GRE or GMAT examination? These tests have been the gold standard for MBA school admission for decades. Today, more universities are dropping standardized test requirements, or at least offering waivers to students with a high undergraduate GPA, or more than 7-8 years of work experience in business.
It also is recommended to look at the US News or Princeton Review rankings to determine how selective the admission process is. While it is easier to be admitted into a less selective school, a more selective program often features a better quality of professor, and better quality students. These factors can definitely affect how much you learn in that program.
16. Financial Aid
Some universities offer a higher level of financial aid than others. The best programs provide many opportunities for students to earn grants and scholarships. Some programs also offer fellowships where the student can provide teaching or research help while earning their degree. A small stipend and tuition discount is typically provided.
You can increase your chances of getting financial aid by turning in the best MBA school application you can. Students who get more than one acceptance letter for MBA school can be in a strong position to negotiate for more aid.
Experts say that top MBA schools want to attract good applicants with more aid, so if you have a very good application, you stand a better chance of getting school paid for.
You are now ready to actually enroll in a school. Check all the facts and figures you have collated once more, speak to your support network about your choice and motivation, and decide to go for it. Make sure you meet all the different acceptance criteria and send in all your documentation, and you will be good to go.
- Who You Know, Not What You Know. (2017, March 24). Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/whichmba/mba-rankings/alumni-network
- Smith-Barrow, D. 3 Ways to Be a Good Candidate for MBA Scholarships. (2014, Dec. 11). Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/articles/2014/12/11/become-a-good-candidate-for-mba-scholarships
- American Intercontinental University. AACSB vs. ACBSP: The Importance of Finding an Accredited Business Program. (2015, May 1). Retrieved from http://www.aiuniv.edu/blog/april-2015/aacsb-vs-acbsp
- Adams, S. The Best Online MBA Programs. (2015, May 13). Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2015/05/13/the-best-online-mba-programs/#4c63df32465b