How to Choose an MBA Program

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You have researched MBA programs in general and decided this degree makes sense for you. Now it is time to choose an MBA program. You may want to apply to multiple schools and each one may resonate with you for different reasons. But make sure they do resonate with you, and you are not taking a one-size-fits-all approach to Business School.

A prestigious MBA comes with a hefty price tag. It is a huge investment of time and money, so you want to make an informed decision. You’ll need to do your due diligence and consider what you are personally looking to get out of the program.

What to Consider When Choosing an MBA Program

The all-important rankings are only one factor you should be considering. There are so many factors to guide your decision in fact, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the choices. At the end of the day, you want a program that suits you and aligns with your values and goals. A useful first step is to think about what your priorities are. Which factors are you willing to compromise on? Which ones are important to you? This will help you weigh up your options before you apply – and hopefully, when you are accepted to multiple schools!

It is also important to have an honest assessment of your level of competitiveness. The top schools are highly selective. This means that you’ll want a GMAT score that at least falls into the program’s GMAT score range. As MBA programs are looking for diversity, being different from the rest of the applicant pool will give you an advantage. That being said, don’t self-select out of applying.

It is a good idea to apply to a few different schools to keep your options open. Apply to a “vertical” list of schools. These are schools that vary in their level of competitiveness. “Safety” schools will be schools where you are more certain of being accepted. You might also have more of a chance at scholarships. Your “target” schools are those that match the level of competitiveness of your application. “Reach” schools are those that you are not confident about getting accepted to, but where you want to throw your hat in the ring, just in case.

 The 5 Steps to Researching and Choosing MBA Programs

1. Consider Your Career Plans

The decision to pursue an MBA is usually preceded by a decision around your career. Do you want to change career paths? Would you like to accelerate your career? Start or scale a business? Having a clear career plan is a good way to assess how different programs can support you.

If you already have a general business background, a more specialized program might give you a better career boost. This might be a program specializing in data analytics, entrepreneurship or supply chain management. If you come from a non-traditional background (that is from industries outside of consulting and finance), a more general program can give you a solid foundation in business. These days, more and more of those that choose MBA programs come from non-traditional backgrounds like healthcare, journalism, and non-profit work.

If you are curious about how potential employers in your sector might perceive different programs, you can ask them for advice. You’ll also see trends where certain companies hire extensively from certain programs. Find out what career services are offered by the program.

You should also consider which region you’d like to work in after your MBA. Ideally, it is good to have brand recognition for the school you choose, in the location you’d like to work in. You should also consider where you are building your networks.  Do your research into the post-study work visas options in different countries if you would like to work abroad. This is particularly important if you want to use the MBA as a chance to move countries or gain a few years of experience in another country.

2. Consider Your Circumstances

Everyone has different circumstances when applying to business school. One of the big decisions you need to make is around the program length. Typically, full-time MBAs range from one to two years. Most of the European MBA programs are one year, and most of the US MBA programs are two years but there are many exceptions.

A two-year program will give you more time to pursue internships during the program – which is especially helpful if you want to change careers.

You’ll need to consider the opportunity cost of taking time off work (and not earning a salary). Bear in mind that there might be scholarships available that change that equation. Normally, you’ll only be able to find out about scholarships after you are accepted. That’s why applying to a range of schools can help you to keep your options open.

You can also choose whether you want to do a full-time MBA or a part-time one. If you are unable to take time off work (and be without a salary), a part-time option could be ideal. The advantage of a part-time program is that you can apply what you are learning at work, straight away.

Are you looking at MBAs in different countries and relocating with a partner or children? The logistics around relocation, childcare, and your partner’s job prospects should play a role in your decision. Reach out to schools to find out what support and advice they can offer you.

3. Get the Official Information

You can get a range of good metrics to inform your decision. The first important metric to look at is MBA rankings. Make sure you know which MBA Rankings you can trust and which factors different rankings take into consideration. Luckily Magoosh has done the legwork for you and puts together everything you need to know about MBA rankings.

Another great resource you should be able to find on Business School websites is the employment report from previous years. This gives you a breakdown of which companies have hired alumni, and which industries and regions alumni have moved into.

You should also have an opportunity to hear more about MBA programs through events and webinars held by the school. These are also a great chance to reach out to admissions officers to find out more about your individual circumstances or to get on their radar. Attending Business School events also indicates your seriousness and interest to admissions officers.

4. Get the Unofficial Information

Part of doing your due diligence is getting a view of what attending a particular program is actually like. That means you need to tap into the unofficial information you won’t find on flashy websites and sleek brochures. If you are nearby, you should definitely go for an on-campus visit to get a first-hand experience of what it’s like in the classroom.  You might also be able to sit in on a virtual class.

Before you choose an MBA program, you should connect with current students and alumni online. These current and former students are a great resource to get a true sense of what it’s like to be at a Business School. You can ask them questions about what life outside the classroom is like.

Business School admissions teams to put you in touch with them. You can also reach out to them on LinkedIn. If you reach out on your own, try to find someone you have something in common with. Perhaps you are from the same city or the same background. Perhaps you both have the same interests or have a similar career path. Also, be specific with your questions. A question like “How did you find the MBA program supported your transition from healthcare to consulting?” is better than “What did you think of the MBA?.”

5. Find the Right Fit

“Fit” refers to the right cultural fit between your values and those of the schools. You might be focused on getting through the School’s selection process, but choosing the right school is a decision that goes both ways. You want to spend your time in a program that allows you to thrive. Remember that demonstrating shared values is important for your application.

Here you can consider those less obvious factors. Is the program collaborative or competitive? Is the Business School in a big city or a small town? What is your preference for class size? Is it important that the Business School you choose is part of a wider university?

How to Choose an Online MBA Program

In our post-pandemic world, online MBA programs have become more popular than ever. These programs are especially attractive if you are unable to change locations, or if you are looking at part-time programs.

You can take a look at the online MBA rankings to get a sense of which programs should be on your radar.

Find out if the course is delivered live, asynchronously, or through a combination of approaches. The most engaging courses will give you an opportunity to interact with and learn from your classmates. You can take a look at the same information you would look at for an in-person class, such as employment reports. You can also see if there is a connection to peers in a full-time program, and what the alumni network looks like.

Final Takeaways: Which MBA program is right for me?

The research you do will not only help you to narrow down schools. You can also refer to what you have learned in your essays and interviews to show your interest, understanding, and commitment.

There are a lot of factors to consider but keep an open mind. Don’t narrow down your options too early. Part of the process of looking for the right MBA is learning what you don’t want in a program.  You should at least think about different factors and do your research. But the final decision might come down to a gut feeling for the right school for you.

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  • Cara Skikne

    Cara is a communications specialist, admissions consultant, and one of those lunatics who genuinely loves the GMAT. Cara is the Senior Editor at Studyportals, a global study choice platform used by over 50 million students each year. Prior to working at Studyportals, Cara wrote for BusinessBecause, an MBA news site owned by the GMAC, and co-founded a company dedicated to admissions support for business school candidates from Africa. She has an MBA from Oxford University and a Bachelor of Journalism from Rhodes University. Reach out on LinkedIn if you’d like to get in touch!

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