Identifying the Best Business School for You

Selecting the right business school (‘b-school’) is the most important decision in the application process. Before limiting your options to high profile schools, investigate all possible options available to you as a consumer of graduate management education.

 

Invest time in asking appropriate questions and collecting the right information, and focus on programs that will best fit your personal and professional goals - only a fraction of the 1500 graduate management programs worldwide will be a good match for you. Before you begin, make sure your career-related goals and personal considerations are well-defined. Identify a range of schools that meets your needs, and compile a select list to which you will apply. Eliminate any schools that do not closely match your personal and professional goals.

Request brochures and application materials using school websites, and contact the admissions office to have information mailed to you. A school’s web and print materials indicate what the school values most in its students.

Admissions representatives are valuable resources to clarify your results and provide further information. Staff can put into perspective the realities of their programs in relation to your interests. But no one can give you effective advice unless something is known about your goals. In conversations with admissions staff, remember to provide key information about your background and interests. Avoid asking vague questions such as ‘Why should I come to your school?’ Students and recent alumni are also great sources of information on school ‘culture’.

Placement professionals are the best authority on whether your MBA career aspirations will be satisfied at their schools. Ask how successful graduates have been in securing internships and jobs, review published placement statistics, and seek clarification on data that is relevant to you.

No matter what sources of information you use, you are assured of receiving the most up-to-date and accurate material directly from each school. Do not rely only on secondary sources of information to do your research - the further you inquire, the more balanced your understanding of the schools will become.

Publications that rank MBA programs are widely used, but remember that rankings do not examine all MBA programs. Remember to keep rankings in perspective. Read explanations of how data is gathered and reported, as statistics can be misinterpreted easily when taken out of context.

Although you might want to be careful about publicizing your MBA plans at work, you should seek the opinions of professional people that you trust and respect. Ask what they think about your plans to pursue a graduate management degree. If you work with MBAs, find out about their experiences, and what they perceive as your personal and professional strengths.

Priorities and Goals

You must align your priorities and goals with a program’s strengths, so look beyond each school’s marketing messages to uncover concrete evidence that your priorities and expectations will be satisfied. For example, if a school says its program is global, ask about the specific qualities and achievements that make it so.

Most b-schools consider core courses to be the foundation for a program, and these are usually sequenced at the beginning of study. The core generally includes subjects such as Accounting, Finance, Human Resources, Marketing and Production Management. But because core classes are prerequisites for taking subsequent courses, it is important to check how far you can control the sequence of your classes. Can you exempt any of the required courses? Are exemptions based on previous course work, professional designations, or examination results? How do exemptions affect your program options?

Within the general MBA program, you build your area of expertise through elective courses, based on your need to develop a functional specialty or ‘concentration’. To effectively judge how the curriculum will help you, examine how many electives are offered, and whether they will be available to you? In addition, are there additional courses in other areas that make sense for you to take? Can you take a course outside of the business school but within the university for MBA credit? Can you do independent study or design your own concentration?

Examine the process of registration and course selection. What are your chances of getting spaces in the classes you need, when you need them? When are course schedules finalized? Can you change your schedule – if so, how? What is a typical course load? Can you increase or decrease the number of courses you take, and are there limits?

A school’s philosophy on approaches to learning can vary. For instance, with teaching, students’ class contributions are central to learning; conversely, in lectures, the faculty member drives the subject matter. Both require high levels of student participation. Find out if the school prescribes a uniform teaching or grading style within the program, or if it depends on faculty members; what forms of feedback are formalized between students and faculty, and how group work is viewed and measured.

A sizable part of a school’s reputation is related to its focus on research, which results in more relevant and timely course content. Faculty renown strengthens industry ties and promotes an MBA program’s brand, helping graduates secure jobs. Some schools put more emphasis on teaching quality than on faculty research, but most schools try to adopt a balanced approach, as quality research leads to relevant teaching. In addition, a school’s emphasis on teaching versus research will determine the type of faculty it attracts. Ask if the faculty is known for academic research, teaching quality, or accessibility to students.

The total cost to obtain an MBA will vary, as each program sets a rate for tuition and fees. Direct costs are those associated with your enrollment in a graduate management program, including tuition, student fees, books, and supplies. Indirect costs are those living expenses incurred while attending b-school, such as housing, utilities, food, personal expenses, transportation, and other standard living expenses. Your decisions about how you will study and where you will live affect your total cost of education, therefore knowing the financial impact of your decision gives you an important planning tool. Admissions staff can provide information about scholarships, fellowships, teaching assistantships, and other sources of financial aid that may be available.

Lifestyle

Your MBA experience will encompass many factors beyond academic life. Do your chosen schools fit into your lifestyle and environmental preferences? For instance, if your MBA decision involves a family choice, how will your decision impact those closest to you?

Student culture is also an important consideration. You will learn as much from your fellow students as you will from faculty members, because your classmates will represent a wide variety of work and cultural backgrounds. Participation in student-run organizations, community programs, and international field trips can greatly enhance your experience.

Compare yourself to the typical student profile at each program. In a competitive application process, you must use your judgement to determine which schools are worth your investment of time and money. As a consumer, ensure that the institutions possess the curricular strength, culture, and program philosophy that best meet your needs.

Exerpted from Exploring the MBA, published by the Graduate Management Admission Council ® .

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