Last updated: February 3, 2011 12:05 pm

MBA 2011

Ask the experts-MBA 2011

What will 2011 hold for MBA students? As recruiters return to campus, job prospects are better than for many years. But as the cost of study continues to rise, and job security returns, will fewer managers decide to return to business school to study for a full-time MBA? And will that mean that only the top business schools will be able to fill their classes?

Does this make it the right time to apply for an MBA? On February 2, 2011, a panel of experts answered your questions about studying for an MBA on this page. On the panel were:

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IN Ask the Expert

Della Bradshaw is business education editor at the Financial Times

Tom Robertson, dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which is ranked joint first in the Financial Times 2011 Global MBA rankings. Prof Robertson was previously dean of the Goizueta Business School at Emory University and deputy dean at London Business School.

Fiona Sandford, director of career services at London Business School, (LBS) which is also ranked joint first place in the Financial Times 2011 Global MBA rankings. Prior to joining LBS, Ms Sandford was head of career services at the London School of Economics.

Thomas Gatley, an MBA student at Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management, in Beijing. Previously Mr Gatley worked for JPMorgan in New York and London as a quantitative analyst, for a London-based headhunting firm and for a board advisory boutique.

Chioma Isiadinso, chief executive of Expartus, the admissions consultancy and personal branding organisation. Ms Isiadinso, who formerly worked in the admissions departments at both Harvard Business School and Carnegie Mellon University, set up Expartus in 2002. She is author of The Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secret. Watch Ms Isiadinso’s video on applying to business school.

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I am a mechanical engineering student. I am little bit confused about choosing a specialisation in an MBA. Can you suggest which area is best suited for a mechanical engineering student?
Amarjeet

Thomas G: My classmates from engineering backgrounds tend to excel, unsurprisingly, in the quantitative modules. As such it may make sense to think about a finance specialisation. (At Tsinghua, there are numerous students with engineering backgrounds as Tsinghua is famously an engineering-led institution, hence the tie-up with MIT.)

Tom R: Major business schools appreciate the rigour and analytics that comes from applicants with engineering and accounting backgrounds. Engineers are in particular demand from tech companies, media, manufacturing and general management areas.

Accountants are appreciated for their quantitative backgrounds and their understanding of regulation, so important now as government and business strive to understand each other better. Wharton has a large and diverse student body - in fact, 70% of our applicants are not from finance or economics backgrounds. We believe this diversity in the classroom adds to the learning experience on the whole.

But is that what you want to do afterwards? At Tsinghua, and I am sure at other schools, compulsory core courses give you an insight into the full spectrum of functional skills to give all students the opportunity to find out what it is that really sparks their interest before they commit to a specialism.

Chioma: The first question I would ask is what you wish to do long term. Your long term career aspiration will naturally influence what type of specialisation you pursue while in business school.

There are a lot of engineers who pursue an MBA. Numbers can range from 20% to over 30% of the entering class at some programmes. Some of them may be career changers who want to change from working in a manufacturing capacity into a service or consulting space. Individuals with this interest may opt for a finance or strategy specialisation.

Other engineers may be interested in working for a manufacturing firm but may wish to become a general manager in their industry. For such individuals the best option would be a general management MBA programme where they take courses across all aspects of business.

Della: I think a better question would be what specialisation would ensure you to get the job you want on graduation. One of the things I often hear when I talk to MBA students is that they have chosen career paths that they never dreamt of before they began their MBA. So do not close any doors before you begin.

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I am a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and company secretary with 10 years of experience in accounts, finance, taxation, treasury etc. I want to change my job and move into consultancy, therefore I want to study for an MBA from a top ranked business school. Could you please advise me?

I also hold an Australian permanent residency. Is it worthwhile to study for an MBA from an Australian business school such as Macquarie Graduate School of Management, AGSM (Australian Graduate School of Management) and MBS (Melbourne Business School)?
Mahesh

Della: My advice is always to study overseas and always to study in the country you want to work on graduation. I appreciate those two things are often mutually exclusive, but in your case it sounds as if you might be able to do both. My third piece of advice is always to go to the “best” business school you can get into. Best can mean many things - reputation, rankings, employer access and academic rigour - that is for you to decide.

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When it comes to getting a lucrative job, how far will an MBA help? Will a low ranking MBA affect the job hunt or does it only affect schools when it comes to recruiting students?
Harsha, UK

Fiona: The track record of MBAs from top business schools clearly demonstrates the impact on salary; most of those business schools in the top 50 of the FT rankings show a salary percentage increase of 100% or greater from before the start of the course to three years after graduation. For London Business School the average starting salary for 2010 MBAs on graduation was $113,316 and the average salary today for the class of 2007 is $146,332.

Employers pay a lot of attention to the rankings in deciding which business schools to target; so the top schools will be the most heavily targeted by recruiters from prestigious firms, so applying for jobs from a high ranking school may be easier.

Thomas G: Although my fellow panelists will I am sure be able to answer this question better from a statistical point of view, I can perhaps provide a useful perspective. First - Tsinghua SEM does not participate in the ranking system for various reasons, so I can empathise with job-seekers from low ranking schools.

The short answer is yes, it matters. Many companies, including the top tier consultancies, seem to have top-tier US school-specific summer internship programs, for instance, and particularly if you want to work in the US, having that brand behind you is useful.

The long answer is it depends. It depends whether you have good brands on your CV already - top tier undergraduate/ postgraduate schools or blue-chip employers; with that background you can be a little more adventurous. It also depends where (geography, sector and type of company) you want to work; I want to be out here in Asia-Pacific for the foreseeable future so the prestige and network afforded by the top school in China (five of the nine Politburo members are Tsinghua Alumni) is more valuable than anything I could get at a top-ranked school.

The take-away here is that the top tier of schools in the ranking will confer their students with an advantage in the job hunt, particularly if you’re applying to companies likely to be staffed with alumni of those schools. The key, though, is to understand why you are doing the MBA in the first place, what you want to achieve afterwards, and to select the school most likely to help you get there.

Chioma: This is an interesting question. Landing a lucrative job remains one of the top reasons applicants pursue an MBA.

Rankings provide a good starting point in getting a general sense of where a programme is ranked compared to its peers. It is important to go beyond just the most recent ranking and look at the overall trending, for example, has the school been sliding down in the rankings over the years and how significant the jump is or vice versa. But that is only one data point.

Beyond that, I would look a lot closer at the recruitment opportunities that are available to students at the programmes you are targeting, the firms that recruit there, for example, are they the firms you would like to work for, and the level of support the students receive from the career services team.

Alumni can also play a vital role in helping students land great jobs after they graduate so you should also try and get a feel for how receptive the alumni of the programmes are in helping current students with their job search/ mentorships. These factors to me can be more telling of how effective the programme will be in helping you meet your MBA career aspirations than just the ranking of the programme.

Della: I think most business school professors will tell you that an MBA is about the education, but the FT has been compiling its MBA rankings for 13 years now and what we know from the responses we get from alumni is most of them do it to get a better job and earn more money.

A full-time MBA should help you in two ways. First through the recruitment process, this is very intensive in most top business schools. Obviously the more prestigious the MBA, the better your chances of landing a top job. But second, the education itself is very valuable and should help you develop your career.

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After studying for a bachelor degree, I am looking at business design courses on the internet at good, but not great, schools in Central Europe. Would you be able to recommend a Masters degree, where the application process focuses on your skills and imagination and not your past grades?
Jakub Bares, Brno, Czech Republic

Fiona: Personally, I would be wary of using a Masters degree to ‘grade-wash’, if your aim is to improve your career prospects. Recruiters will always look back at previous grades, and be looking for consistent academic performance. You might do better to focus on getting some sound work experience, with a firm (and there are many) that focuses on your personal qualities as much as your grades. Then when you have three to five years work experience under your belt, that is the time to think about a masters.

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Everyone knows an MBA is a perfect launching pad for career switchers or for those seeking promotions within their current industries. How about entrepreneurs? How does an MBA help students in launching their own businesses? Is it worth spending about $100k for an MBA, or is one better off investing directly into a new business venture?
Anna Medina, Beirut

Thomas G: Some of my most interesting classmates come from entrepreneurial backgrounds (and some of them continue to run those businesses while studying!). For many of them, b-school provides an environment to round out their skillset into that of a better business leader and the opportunity to build a network among a community that will stand them in good stead after they graduate - other classmates are looking to work in the VC (venture capital) industry for example.

As someone who falls into neither camp, what I see are men and women becoming more confident, more structured in their thinking and better at presenting themselves and their ideas. Those characteristics will surely stand them in good stead in the course of their entrepreneurship.

Oh, and you don’t need to spend $100k, try looking outside the US and Europe. My 2-year MBA bill including living expenses will be less than 1/3 of that.

Fiona: Business schools are doing more and more in the field of entrepreneurship education; eight per cent of our 2010 graduates started their own business. However an MBA will not make you an entrepreneur. Many studies show that successful entrepreneurs share distinct personality traits, so while an MBA may make you a better entrepreneur than before, it is unlikely to make you into one if you have shown no entrepreneurial traits so far.

Chioma: That is a great question. We all know several successful entrepreneurs who did not even finish college let alone pursue an MBA. So there is a clear argument that an MBA is not the magic bullet for building a successful business enterprise.

Having said that, I do believe that there are many entrepreneurs who can benefit from business school. The chances to successfully build a business is very slim. An MBA can help prepare the entrepreneur towards success.

For starters, the global network found at leading business schools can be a great resource for fundraising, knowledge-sharing, not to mention talent-recruitment for your new venture. The centers for entrepreneurship at many business schools can provide exceptional mentorship and incubation for new products or services that you wish to launch.

Getting the benefit of programmes like Wharton’s Entrepreneur in Residence Programme (http://wep.wharton.upenn.edu/eir) can provide a critical perspective to future entrepreneurs as they engage with seasoned business owners.

Having said that, you know yourself best. Given the rigour of business school, you have to ascertain whether you have the patience to sit through a one year or two year programme or if you would find this too restrictive. You may also have a very strong network and a team of seasoned entrepreneurs which may raise questions about the value of the MBA for you.

You may want to attend the entrepreneur conferences at your target schools. This would offer an opportunity to engage like-minded entrepreneurial students and “grill” them about their experiences.

Finally, it can also come down to the kind of business you wish to start, how big the vision is, what skills you currently have and whether you can execute on your vision immediately without the business training that you can get from an MBA. Ultimately, the decision to go for the MBA is one that only you can make. I wish you success with your business!

Tom R: Last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, I moderated a panel on redefining work, where an interesting point about entrepreneurship arose – that larger corporations, especially global organisations, need to be more entrepreneurial to progress.

The MBA applicant currently can study entrepreneurship to start a company or as we see more, to add to larger companies moving in this direction. At Wharton, we have a dedicated research center dedicated to the study of entrepreneurship - view http://wep.wharton.upenn.edu/research/overview.html - to advance understanding of entrepreneurship and global wealth creation and Wharton researchers continually produce top quality studies of entrepreneurship. Wharton offers many touch points for those in the MBA programme who are interested in entrepreneurship whether in through dedicated coursework, networking with visiting alumni or gaining access to faculty research.

Della: There is no single answer to that, I fear. Although business schools report the number of students studying entrepreneurship is rising, the number of students going into start-ups or very small companies on graduation is generally still below 10 per cent. The mantra from business schools is that you should not become an entrepreneur on graduation but should work for a few years and put your MBA into practice before launching out on your own. So if you have a burning idea now ... perhaps an MBA is not for you.

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My GMAT score is 690 and Toefl score is 106. I have about four years of work experience as a senior service engineer at a major telecoms company.

At present, I have a place at Krannert Business School. I have also applied to Broad College of Business (MSU). However, the present rankings really worry me, Krannert is moving down and Broad does not even feature in the present rankings.

If I join Broad (if I get a place) or Krannert then, is the quality of education that they will provide worth me paying $100,000 for?

It really pains me that many schools that I left out actually ranks much better than either Krannert or Broad. I aspire to do an MBA that gives me a top quality education. Are Krannert or Broad in a position to fulfill that aspiration or should I try other schools and perhaps re-sit the GMAT and hopefully get a better score? Thank you in advance and best regards.
Anshuman Kumar, India

Della: Although it is not my place to comment on specific programmes, I probably am pretty well-placed to comment on rankings. At the FT we rank the top 100 full-time MBAs in the world. These are the cream of the crop. There are many, many excellent business schools - including many in India - which are not in this list. The same is true of all the other rankings. Rankings are a useful tool, a snapshot in time. They are the starting point in your search for an MBA, not the finishing line.

Chioma: I understand the concerns you raise about whether these are the right programmes for you. A $100,000 is a hefty investment without any doubt.

What are your goals? If you aspire to remain in the telecoms industry, what are these schools’ track record in this area? Which firms recruit from this industry and are they the firms you are interested in? Where are the alumni based? Are they regionally based, for example, in the Midwest, or across the US and internationally? And where do you want to work after your MBA? The answers to these questions will help you decide whether these programmes will enable you to achieve your career objectives.

If you still are unsure whether these programmes are the best options for you, you may decide to postpone your MBA by a year and conduct more thorough research to determine schools that are more aligned with your goals. This would include visiting the schools if possible, attending info sessions in India when the schools visit your city, engage alumni to learn about their experiences. You can also use that year to increase your GMAT score, develop more leadership responsibilities at work and develop your community service/ extracurricular involvement.

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I have six years work experience in the IT and manufacturing sectors and I am looking for an MBA in the UK? What should I consider while choosing a b-school? Do you have any advice on what type of specialisation I should opt for? Please advise.
Prashant Rai, Hyderabad, India

Chioma: I am not sure what your long term goals are, for example, to remain in your industry or change career.

Every school differs in terms of its focus, brand, etc. You have to start out having a clear sense of what key factors matter the most to you in the type of business school you wish to study at. Do you want to be in a large city versus a smaller city? The size of the programme is also a factor you have to decide on ahead of time.

You will then also need to decide what sector you wish to work in, the types of roles you are attracted to and then do your homework to determine whether your target schools will prepare you for a career that you are interested in. This includes the types of coursework being taught, specialisation opportunities and career support.

Paying a close look at the placement statistics and speaking to students, alumni and faculty from the schools you are interested in will help you narrow down your list of schools and will enable you to market yourself more effectively to the school on the front end.

Fiona: It depends on what your ambitions are. A generalist MBA will allow you to add an excellent management toolkit to your technical skills, and at LBS we find that students with a technical background do succeed in getting into technical consultancy and into general management roles.

However given that you will have to apply for internships (if you do a two year course), six months into your MBA, or start applying for full-time roles two or three months after starting a one year programme, you may not have as much time as you think to define your post-MBA objectives. While your pre-MBA ambitions might change while you are at business school, it is advisable to have some well thought out career plan when you apply.

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I have four plus years of work experience in total, with three plus years in India and one year in the USA. I will sit my GMAT this year.

I want to pursue an MBA in HR (human resources). I went through a few of the schools from the global MBA rankings and FT rankings but I am unable to find many schools where I can pursue this course. Could you let me know a list of schools that provide a good MBA in HR? Thanks.
Surupa Basu, USA

Chioma: My sense is that many of the full-time MBA programmes have coursework in human resource management but not MBA programmes focused on this. There are many programmes that do offer an MBA in HR but many of them are online with the exception of a few. For more information on this you can check out: http://www.gradschools.com/search-programs/mba-human-resources?PageNo=1

Tom R: In the new global landscape, managing people across multiple cultures and company sizes is a major subject in top business schools.

At Wharton, HR is a skill, important in any job and in any function, and is seen as part of the leadership, communications and global strategy courses offered in the MBA programme. It is important to look beyond the majors and concentrations of an MBA programme and rather at the specific courses that offer human resource management.

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I am an Irish citizen and a Canadian resident thinking of doing an MBA this year or next. Instead of applying to schools such as Insead, IMD and HEC Paris, I am thinking of a smaller school in Montreal (HEC) and studying in French which is not my mother tongue.

The cost difference is huge (as a Quebec resident) and I am wondering if a business qualification in a second language is a decent trade-off versus the lack of appearance on the FT ranking? Please note that Forbes and Businessweek rate this school pretty highly whereas FT do not.

Second question, if the school is not recognised by the FT then should I forget it altogether? I am prepared to spend more if necessary.

Many thanks for your expert guidance, choosing a school is very difficult.
Fionan McGrath, Montreal, Canada

Chioma: Selecting the right programme is a personal decision and often is influenced by multiple factors. It sounds like the cost of the programme is a factor that you are looking at. You have to figure out whether the HEC Montreal programme can provide you with what you need out of the MBA. If you plan to remain in Canada and the programme has a strong network in the industry/ sector you plan to work in then there may not be a need for you to look elsewhere.

If it turns out that you wish to return to Europe given your Irish background, then you have to consider how far-reaching the Montreal HEC programme network will be for you in Europe versus a programme like Insead or IMD.

I think there is great value in looking at business school rankings but I do not think they should be the only driver for the selection of schools. You mentioned that you are a Canadian resident and I am not sure where you wish to work after business school. If you plan for a global career, then I recommend that you look at programmes with more of a global reach.

Della: I think your final heartfelt comment says it all - choosing a school is VERY difficult. All rankings can do is give a broad brush approach; they can never address the needs of each individual applicant. So, I think you need to think very carefully about what you want to do on graduation and work backwards from there. Do you want to work in Canada, France and Switzerland? Will you need to speak French in your proposed new career? What can you realistically afford, given that the biggest cost is usually not the fees but the opportunity costs of losing your salary for the year? Good luck!

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Do you think employers value a part-time MBA as much as a full-time MBA? Do your MBA grades matter?
KCM, Hong Kong

Chioma: Most people who pursue a part-time MBA do so because they are currently working and prefer not to leave their jobs for an extended period to pursue a full-time degree or they may have sponsorship from their current employer.

Employers for the most part understand that the part-time programme is separate from the full-time one and that the profiles of students vary. A part-time MBA is still highly regarded by many employers.

At many schools, however, the career path differs for full-time versus part-time MBA students and often, times when employers are recruiting they are specifically looking at each programme separately. Job placement offices are also often separate for full-time and part-time students and this is very important to stress this because part-time students often cannot compete for the same jobs that full-time students are applying for.

As for grades, it is important to commit to the programme and grades do matter. At many schools students are able to disclose their grades if the employers ask so it is never a good idea to disregard the academic grades regardless of whether you are in a part-time or full-time programme.

Tom R: The Wharton MBA programme for executives - http://www.wharton.upenn.edu/mbaexecutive/mbaexecpresentation/player.html - offers the full Wharton MBA with the same innovative curriculum, with the same rigorous admissions requirements, taught by the same top faculty who teach in the full-time MBA programme and confers the same degree as the full-time MBA programme.

Graduates of the executive programme join the same network of 86,000 alumni globally with all the perks that come with that qualification. The only difference in the programme is in the way that it is delivered with flexibility to earn the full Wharton MBA without disrupting your career.

Della: I think it depends on the programme and the employer.

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I have been working as an engineer (MSc, DIC, PhD) for over twenty years. I had my one man band company for over a decade in the UK and for a while in Spain and I now work for a start-up company in Oman.

After much deliberation and after attending a few sessions at business Schools (LBS, Chicago, IE and IC), I have come to the conclusion that I need an MBA to understand the language of business and converse with management!

I feel it in my bones when I say that I am built for a start-up company, one that has vision. I am preparing for my GMAT and I am going to score better than 700. Whilst in employment, I am going to study for an EMBA this year.

Once I get the MBA, I will look for a job to fulfill my ambitions. I would like to think that I know where my strengths and weaknesses lie. Which school provides the best opportunities to meet their alumni from such a sector like start-ups? Many thanks.
Ali Sedaraty, Oman

Della: Here is my question: If you have 20 years experience working in the UK, Spain and Oman; academic qualifications as long as your arm; and you already know where your strengths and weaknesses are.......why do you think you need an MBA?

Chioma: You have a very impressive CV. There are a few things that are unclear to me. Why the EMBA? Why not take some classes in entrepreneurship through a business schools’ executive education programme? Is your company sponsoring you? As for schools with support for entrepreneurship, I recommend you start by looking at the FT EMBA rankings.

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I am working as a manager doing business planning in a leading Islamic bank. I have six years work experience with an IT background and little knowledge of finance. Do you think my MBA will help me boost my career financially? Thanks.
Rajkumar Rana, Qatar

Della: I think the general rule about an MBA is that is can either help you change your job sector or function or it can help you move up the career ladder in your current job or sector (particularly in consultancies or investment banks). Changing sectors is unlikely to result in a salary hike straight away, but will probably do so in the long-term; leap-frogging your peers at work if you remain in your current sector will almost certainly boost your salary.

Fiona: Perhaps in your case an Executive MBA might be worth exploring. However, I wonder whether it might be worth thinking about the question in a different way; what is your long term career goal? If you are hoping to change direction then a full time MBA might be the best platform to gain new skills and contacts. If you plan to stay in the same sector, then an executive MBA might boost your existing career path.

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I have two years work experience. Is this the right time to study for an MBA? I have completed my BE in mechanical engineering in 2009. Shall I look for an Indian University or go to the UK because the same course can be completed over there in 15 months?
Rajat Nihalani, Delhi

Chioma: The question of whether this is the right time for you to study for an MBA is a personal decision that only you can make.

US schools tend to see more applicants with fewer years of work experience compared to the European schools. Having said that, schools do look at the quality of experience and so you may still be a strong candidate if you are coming from a professional environment where you have had significant responsibility and you have had an accelerated career path.

If your work experience is not very strong, it may make more sense to work for another year or two before embarking on an MBA. Another factor worth considering is the fact that there is severe competition for jobs after your MBA. How will you stack up compared to your competition when applying for jobs? If there is any question about the strength of your work experience prior to attending business school, then it is in your best interest to strengthen your career profile so you will be a more compelling candidate when you seek employment post business school.

Della: If you want to study at a top school, then you need up to two years to prepare - take the GMAT, prepare references etc. So you probably need to start preparing now in order to matriculate in 2012/2013.

As to where you study, that would depend on finances, where you want to work on graduation and - increasingly important in the UK - visa issues, but student visas and employment visas.

Thomas G: From a classmate’s perspective, the more experience the better. Students who have seen various incarnations of the problems and inefficiencies that the MBA should help us to solve are likely to add more to class discussion, and to get more out of it. I have classmates with two years of work experience who have picked up enough of that anecdotal detritus to meaningfully contribute, but in general three/ four years seems to be a better interval. It very much depends on the nature of those two years.

Speed, incidentally, should not be your primary concern. This is a rare opportunity to step back and take stock of yourself as a leader and a person. Embrace that chance - six months here or there will matter little in the course of a 40+ year career.

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One-year MBA, quite common in Europe, versus the two-year MBA? Thank you for your time.
Rafael Fernando Linde Bielza, Madrid, Spain

Tom R: We believe at Wharton that the value of a two year programme lies in the opportunities presented beyond the classroom, whether that is the opportunity for a summer internship experience for long-term career goals or the importance of exploration academically and personally through student life throughout the two years on campus.

We also believe that global business leaders of the future can expect enormous change over the course of their lifetimes. For these leaders to stay abreast of the changing business landscape, business education has to change. Wharton has a strategy of lifelong learning that presents a radically new vision of business education as a lifelong “knowledge partnership” between Wharton and its graduates.

After years of fundamental training, Wharton graduates will be poised to enter industries of their choice and, as they advance professionally, they will continue to have opportunities to develop their knowledge through the school’s numerous touch points for post-graduate learning, including specialised executive education tuition-free courses once every seven years for the full length of an alumni’s career. At Wharton, the value of your business education goes much beyond the MBA.

Chioma: Deciding on a one year versus a two year MBA programme depends on many factors. Career changers fare well with the longer option by capitalising on the internship and several independent projects to develop a track record that they can then use to transition into the new career.

One year programmes make it a bit more challenging to make drastic career changes. Financial considerations as well as family obligations may also make the one year programme the best option for many candidates. While most programmes in Europe are one year, there are a few that offer a longer programme with London Business School and Iese being a couple of examples that come to mind.

Fiona: The one year MBA is quite popular in Europe, although you would need to think about the advantages of the shorter time versus the disadvantage on not having an internship. Most hiring by large banks, finance houses, consultancies are predicated on the successful completion of an internship the summer before (on the try before you buy principle). That means that one year MBA students can be disadvantaged in this very competitive labour market.

A two year course also gives you more opportunity to explore different electives, network with your classmates and pursue leadership opportunities through student clubs etc. That said, if you know exactly what you want to do, and already have a lot of work experience, then the one year option is a good one.

Della: Hmm, I think we could probably write a book on that. What interests me most though is the increasing number of US schools that are potentially looking at one-year programmes as costs escalate - Kellogg, for example, has a very well-established programme. Plus, of course, two of the best MBAs in Europe, from London Business School and Iese in Barcelona, are two-year programmes.

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While the cost of MBA studies continue to rise, and employers reluctant to sponsor full-time MBAs in this uncertain economic climate, does the spotlight move towards EMBAs, which are more cost friendly to the student as well as the employer? In today’s scenario, can EMBA students expect to get similar market value and importance as an MBA, in terms of salary hikes, better responsibilities and value addition etc? Many thanks.
Irfan, UK

Fiona: In my view, an EMBA is designed for different students and may not result in the same “bump” in salary as traditional MBAs might experience because they remain in the same job during the programme. The value of the EMBA will depend to an extent on the support from the current employer. If they support the student then they are likely to give more responsibility because of the additional knowledge and skillet that an EMBA brings.

Chioma: The MBA and the EMBA are different types of programmes that target individuals at different points in their lives - the MBA focuses on people who are in their mid-twenties to early thirties while the EMBA focuses on individuals with over a decade of work experience and significant management experience.

I do not expect to see a blurring between the programmes with one receiving greater or less attention in the marketplace. As for the salary increase, greater responsibility and value addition elements you mentioned, I would argue that these are major factors that draw applicants to pursue the EMBA and I do not expect that to change.

One interesting trend that has emerged in this downturn is that some employers have pulled back from sponsoring EMBA degrees. Some statistics reveal up to 30% of EMBA students are self-sponsoring their education. Having said that, individuals who are committed to investing in themselves continue to view the EMBA as viable options for career growth and development.

Della: I suspect the answer to this is quite complicated because EMBA students tend to be at least a decade older than full-time MBA students. What we know from all the data we have collected here at the FT over the past 13 years, is that the higher your salary is on entering the MBA, the higher it will be three years after graduation, the point at which we survey alumni. But, your salary hike will be lower than for your peers who earn lower salaries.

So, take a school like Insead as an example, the full-time MBA students on average earn $147,974 three years after graduation and have experienced a salary hike of 108 per cent between starting their MBA and the survey date. If you look at comparative data for Insead EMBAs, the salaries are much higher - $227,080 - but the percentage increase is just 75 per cent. This rule applies to all schools.

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We are entering into an age of sluggish economic growth and the economic outlook is definitely much subdued. How would an MBA be relevant in the future? As someone sitting on the fence, I am evaluating deeply the cost of the MBA programme and its utility in the coming decades. What kind of skillsets would differentiate me in the workforce in the future?
Chandan

Tom R: If the events of the past few years have taught us anything, it is that the “rules of business”-and therefore business education - can change rapidly. Global business leaders of the future can expect enormous change over the course of their lifetimes. For these leaders to stay abreast of the changing business landscape, business education has to change. In the legal and medical professions, continuing education is a requirement to practice - so it should be for business.

Wharton’s strategy of lifelong learning presents a radically new vision of business education as a lifelong “knowledge partnership” between Wharton and its graduates. After years of fundamental training, Wharton graduates will be poised to enter industries of their choice and, as they advance professionally, they will continue to have opportunities to develop their knowledge through the school’s numerous touch points for post-graduate learning.

Wharton produces knowledge - vital knowledge that contributes to business practice all over the world. With ongoing research in areas such as finance, healthcare management, insurance and risk management, management, marketing, and legal studies and business ethics, Wharton consistently offers new and timely knowledge across a variety of disciplines, including many that are still emerging - and many more that have yet to be invented.

The menu of options is vast and customisable. It is exactly Wharton’s scale and scope that position the school to make a significant, and unique, contribution to lifelong business education.

Chioma: Despite the recent economic challenges of the past few years the MBA continues to prepare many professionals across the public, private and non-profit sectors. This applies to individuals seeking more traditional tracks of general management, consulting and finance as well as entrepreneurs and those engaged in social enterprises.

Three skills that will continue to differentiate business leaders in the future are innovation, adaptability and the ability to lead/ manage a global workforce. I suspect that schools that are effective in developing their graduates to be able to manage across borders/ cultures, foster creativity and cutting edge solutions to society’s needs, and have the agility to change/ adapt quickly will continue to stand apart from the pack.

You are wise to take a long hard view about your business school prospects to determine whether it is the right option for you and to assess how you can leverage the degree towards accomplishing your life goals. From my experience in admissions and evaluation, applicants who have thoroughly thought through why they need the MBA and how the programme will help them achieve their goals in the near and distant future are more likely to succeed in the competitive application process than those who have not invested in this careful introspection.

Besides the question of whether the MBA is necessary for you, it seems that a natural follow up to that is also the type of MBA programmes that might be worth considering. With many options available, from full-time to part-time programmes, from accelerated programmes to EMBAs as well as online options, there are numerous business school options worth exploring to figure out what the best option will be for you.

Thomas G: The core lessons of an MBA are not technical, though such technical abilities are doubtless extremely useful, but fundamentally people-focused. Some modules directly focus on the soft skills of leadership, organisational behaviour, communication etc., but more important than any given item on the curriculum is the day-in-day-out opportunity to put theory into practice with your classmates and study groups.

Whatever will be necessary in terms of skill in the workforce two decades from now, it seems a fair bet that the ability to bring together and empower a cross-cultural team will be a core component of most of our jobs, whether corporate or entrepreneurial.

Fiona: Interestingly, even during the downturn, major employers kept hiring from business schools to ensure that they kept a class and did not face the hole in their organisation that resulted from the withdrawal from campus seen in earlier recessions.

Also the market for MBAs recovered far faster than most of us predicted, and today it is pretty buoyant with MBAs in significant demand across all sectors, including banking and finance. So while we are not quite back to the heady ‘war for talent’ days before the crash, the market for MBAs is good, despite a subdued economic outlook.

Della: What we do know, is that many of the jobs on offer 20 years from now do not even exist today. So, flexibility and adaptability are key. A couple of the top schools - Wharton and Haas - have just announced lifelong learning initiatives, which means you go back to school five or seven years in the future, to retool and refocus. I expect to see a lot more of this.

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I am based in South Africa and I would like to study for my MBA at a South African business school. What is the international community’s perception of South African b-schools like UCT and Wits Business School? Are they considered less valuable than schools in the West or is it that they are not on par in terms of curriculum?
Njongo Mazamisa, South Africa

Della: At the FT we rank one South African school - the University of Cape Town. But this is not the only South African school that is well-known outside the country. I know very little about South African business schools, but I certainly get the impression that things are changing very quickly there, so if you want to work there on graduation, it would seem the obvious place to study.

Fiona: I think it depends on where you want to work when you graduate. If you want to stay in South Africa or the region, then a South African business school will be well recognised. If on the other hand you want to operate on the global stage, and might want to work in Europe, the US or Asia soon after you graduate, then a top ranking business school might help.

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I am a law graduate and currently working at a decent law firm in New Delhi. The work I do includes corporate litigation and court procedures.

I am content with being in the legal field but in the long run I do not want to stay in the legal profession entirely, but plan to step into management as well. In fact, I want to use my law degree as a secondary one and a management degree as the primary one. I want to have a job in which my law degree could be of help, but basically relates to the management of the organisation I am in. Thus, I want to pursue a management degree from a reputable institution.

I am confused as to what all factors should I look into while deciding whether I should pursue the course from India or abroad. How much work experience would be sufficient or required before going forward? What kind of jobs would suit my interests? I have an inclination towards creative advertising, marketing and also HR but do not want to restrict myself to issues related to labour law (this is what many of the law graduates switching to management get into I reckon, as far as my limited exposure goes.)

Please help and clarify as to what are the benefits of having a management degree from abroad and what are the limitations, for example, such as the difference in monetary terms and whether an Indian legal degree will be recognised abroad.

I am planning to sit the CAT and maybe GMAT too this year, so I want to start preparing seriously. Please, also recommend other sources to help me guide myself. A frank and straightforward reply would be appreciated.

Thank you for your help!
Akshay Pare, New Delhi

Fiona: Whether to study in India or abroad depends on where you envisage being based in the long run. Law degrees tend to be most recognised in the jurisdiction of the qualification. As you say you are content with being in the legal field in the long run, then you may want to consider staying in India in the longer term.

However studying abroad would widen your scope, and could make you more attractive to Indian organisations that have a transnational presence or aspirations.

I wonder if a part-time route might be appropriate, as it would give you exposure to many different fields while allowing you to keep your day job.

Chioma: It is not unusual to see lawyers interested in an MBA. It sounds like you are still exploring different areas you may eventually want to focus on.

From my experience I have seen lawyers make effective transitions across multiple functional areas in business as well as sectors. The fact that you wish to ultimately work in a management capacity while benefiting from your legal background justifies the desire for an MBA.

The challenge you will have to overcome in the application process is to present a cogent case for why you want the MBA and you will need to be specific. How has the corporate litigation work you have done tied to the long term career that you wish to have? What business skills are you lacking that would be helpful for you in the long term? Creative advertising, marketing and HR may be seen as being a bit all over the place. I recommend starting with the long term interest and then working backwards to figure out what skills are missing and how you can fill in the holes whether through an MBA programme or a different option. So for instance, if your vision would be to start your own business that provides legal and business consultancy services, then that is a clear long term goal that you can present to the admissions board.

You will then need to clarify what shape that would take, why you have this passion, what you wish to accomplish with it and why it matters to you. Then making the connection to where/ how an MBA fits in is a lot easier a case to make than a general idea of wanting to go into more of a business role which many admissions board members will find to be vague and unconvincing.

I am not convinced that you necessarily need an MBA from abroad. There are some solid MBA programmes in India including ISB and IIM. Deciding on whether you want an international MBA depends on where you want your career to be focused on (outside India or within the country), your financial situation, and how competitive your overall profile is with regards to gaining admission.

It is good to see you are planning to take the time to prepare for the GMAT. It is an important factor in admission as well as all other parts of the application (your essays, recommendations, resume, etc). You should expect to invest several months to complete strong applications and the earlier you start with your research and preparation the better. I wish you all the best.

Della: I think one useful contribution I would make is to recommend looking at the new breed of business LLMs that are now emerging - that is, masters level law degrees that have a strong management focus. I think this is one area that has become really exciting. For example, Insead is providing the management teaching for an LLM degree being launched later this year by the Sorbonne, in Paris and Singapore. The FT has a listing (not a ranking) of these types of programmes.

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What will be the most required major for post-graduates for the next coming years - is it risk management or economics?
Basma, Kuwait

Fiona: Business schools value diversity, and our applicants come from a wide variety of majors and professional backgrounds, ranging from journalists and civil servants to investment bankers and consultants. What matters is your motivation, work experience (and what you have made of it) and your academic qualifications.

Tom R: At major business schools there are no required majors. Students have the ability to move in directions in line with their interests and competencies. The core curricula covers the fundamental tenants of what is required for any business major - economics, risk management, finance, marketing, leadership, communications and ethics, etc. It is not our objective to encourage students toward any one major.

Moving forward, we are seeing an increased interest in clean technology, careers that marry business and government, entrepreneurship, and new media. Our curriculum includes 200 elective courses which meet this range of interests on a global basis.

We recognise that many of our students will work in industries that do not exist at the present time. Our graduates from 20 years ago now work in such fields as private equity, hedge funds, internet-based business, biotechnology, and personalised medicine. It is the responsibility of top business schools to provide students with flexibility to move in new directions in a changing world.

Chioma: Anecdotally speaking I have seen a lot of interest in risk management especially since the last few years. But having said that, a lot of applicants to graduate school come from an economics background. I do not anticipate that changing.

Della: Or ethics? Or leadership? Or entrepreneurship? Or environmental management? Or global strategy?

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I completed my MBA from a regular b-school, in India, but do not have international exposure. So, I am planning to apply for a Masters degree in international business. Which b-schools and country are the best for this?
Ganesh, India

Chioma: Congratulations for completing your MBA - not an easy feat! Many of the business schools in Europe, Asia and America offer international MBA programmes. The trick would be to find out which programmes are open to applicants who already have an MBA. Some schools do not consider applicants who already have MBAs while others do. You may also be able to approach the admissions director to make your own case for why you need another MBA.

Della: The world is your oyster!

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I will be graduating in mechanical engineering in June 2011 from a reputable engineering college at an India university. I want to know when is the right time to take the GMAT? Is two years of work experience enough? I want to work in the same field which is manufacturing and I have entrepreneurial aspirations too. Will an MBA help me to stay in the same field and pursue my aspirations?
Harsh Joshi, Mumbai, India

Della: Both the GMAT and GRE test scores are valid for five years. So if you take it now while you are still accustomed to study, you might well get a higher score than if you wait a couple of years.

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