How to Choose the Right MBA Program for You

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There are over 400 institutions within the US offering an MBA.  So, how do you go about choosing the best business school degree?  After speaking with MBA graduates, it’s clear that the most crucial piece of information isn’t provided on any MBA websites—it’s understanding what you want out of an MBA.  So after you’ve taken a good hard look in the mirror and know how you see yourself using an MBA, you can now look at schools to see which one can best serve you.  To help us, we’ve also asked for the expert advice of Deanna Scaramangos who has over a decade of experience as Program Manager and MBA Advisor at Clark University Graduate School of Management (GSOM), recognized as a top choice for ‘Green Business’ education.

 

#1  Identify the type of MBA

Like any purchase you’d make, when looking at a school, you first want to check that you are getting a product that you want.   Deanna says to start “You’d want to take a look at the degree offerings.  Look at their relevance to the job market or to your personal goals.”  According to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), there are over 4,000 different varieties of Masters programs related to management, with concentrations ranging from Strategic Management to Hotel and Tourism.  There’s also the option of full time, accelerated, part time or online MBAs.  Identifying the specialty degrees, concentrations or time-limited programs that work for you will help you narrow down your options.

#2  Compare Schools by Curriculum

Once you understand the type of degree you want, you can start to analyze the specific schools.  A good place to start is the curriculum.  Is there an emphasis on particular subjects in this school?  If you are entering business school for breadth and exploration, is there a wide variety of courses available to the student?  Is it part of the program that students can try out different areas of study, or is it a more classic curriculum focusing on core elements?  Does it focus on hard or soft skills?  Some schools also have accelerated curriculums for students with previous academic business background.  Clark, for instance, has waivers that would allow students with a business background to substitute basic courses for higher level courses that might engage their interest more.  Review the curriculum and understand how it’ll play into your educational goals.

#3 Vet the School

Now that you have a list of schools that have the degree, concentration or specialized program you’re interested in, it’s time to vet the schools.  This is more or less quality control of your purchase.  Just as you check a piece of clothing for tears before you buy it you want to check the quality of the education you’ll be receiving.  Deanna notes there are two main aspects to reference as you search:

School’s accreditation and rankings:
“You would want to know if the school strives for excellence, if they’re accountable.”  There are multiple sources for school rankings and comparison—like US News, the Princeton Review or NerdWallet’s salary comparison tool—that you can review or you could also check for accreditation.  The AACSB provides accreditation and has been around since the early 1900s as a trusted standard.

Caliber of the Faculty:
It’s important to know who will be teaching your classes as this can often reflect what you can expect to learn.  Deanna notes, “Our faculty is committed to research, meaning they’re bringing in cutting edge knowledge.  In any school, with a high caliber of faculty, I would expect a good level of rigor”.   Learning doesn’t just come in the classroom either.  You can learn a lot from setting up appointments, speaking after class or other school social events by speaking with a faculty member with experience in an industry you’re interested in.  If the faculty comes mostly from a corporate background and that’s what you’re interested in, this would be a good fit.  However, if you’d be interested in running your own startup after school, it may be better to look for a faculty with more experience in that realm.

The combination of evaluating the experience of the faculty as well as rankings and accreditation will provide a better picture of each school and how it fits into your vision of your MBA school.

 

#4 Personal Fit:

Every school has its own character, its own heritage and its own traditions.  It’s important that you find the right fit for you.  Here are a few key facets you should consider:

Student Body Size/Class size:
MBA class sizes can range from almost 1,000 students to under 100 students all across the nation.   Many people enjoy larger classes for the diversity that follows and for the greater amount of resources that come with a larger school.  However, Deanna states some students could prefer smaller class sizes because they can provide “more opportunity to have meaningful exchanges with professors or other students.  And networking is so important these days—it’s necessary to have the opportunities to make those connections.  In our classes, we’ve seen that other students who aren’t so vocal get involved because a smaller class has such a comfortable setting.”  It’s up to you to decide what environment serves you best.

Alumni involvement:
Alumni are often a strong resource for students.  If your alumni are involved, there are more opportunities for networking.  Also, the more involved alumni, the greater the endowment.  Many business schools have a high percentage of alumni that stay in the area, but that may not always be the case.   Schools usually have events where you can meet alumni—take advantage to understand the community you’d be entering.

Excellence in support services:
Always be aware of the support provided for students at any school.  Deanna says to ask questions.  “What kinds of offices are supporting these students?  Do they have a career services office?  How are their academic affairs—what is their approach?”  Also note the hours and how big the support services office is.  Are there enough staff to reasonably be serving the number of students at the school?  Common programs many schools offer to prepare their students for success:

          • Resume building sessions
          • Mock interview
          • Career training sessions
          • Database of Jobs

An MBA is a commitment in not just money, but just as importantly, your time and effort.   Just like in any other purchase, do the homework on these schools and find out which would be the best option for you.

A special thanks to Deanna Scaramangos for her contribution to this article.  Go Cougars!