January 26, 2014 7:02 pm

How to choose the right business school and MBA programme

illustration of a man in a car looking at road directions©Nick Lowndes

Studying for an MBA requires a huge investment of time, money and energy, so it is crucial to ensure your choice of programme and business school meets your needs. Before making your final choice, you should visit the campus to get a sense of the culture and atmosphere and to see whether you would fit in. Talk to students, professors and alumni who work in jobs you are aiming for.

Student and alumni network

When it comes to class size, do you believe in less is more or the more the merrier? Check out the numbers, as they vary wildly. US business schools such as Wharton and Harvard generally have 800-900 candidates in one cohort, while IMD in Switzerland, for example, has 90.

Look at the profile of students in terms of professional experience, cultural background and gender, as classmates can also contribute to your learning and form part of your network.

Taking a long-term view, find out how active and widespread the alumni group is as you may want to draw on this network in future. Alumni can provide valuable careers information and advice and can help raise funds for that start-up you have in mind.

London Business School, for example, has alumni in more than 130 countries. “Once you have become an alumnus, you can join one of our local alumni communities, which are constantly organising networking and business events,” says Oliver Ashby, until recently the school’s senior manager of recruitment and admissions.

Academic community

Discover more about the diversity and calibre of the faculty, plus their expertise and achievements. Ask whether they are practitioners who can give you in-depth knowledge of a company or industry.

Learn which teaching methods a school uses, such as live case studies and consultancy projects with companies. Laura Bell, associate dean of academic programmes at Melbourne Business School in Australia, says one of the most popular sessions is “integration Fridays”, where faculty from different disciplines co-teach case studies, giving students multiple perspectives.

Location and costs

If you intend to study overseas, work out whether the cost of living is manageable. Consider whether you enjoy the bustle of a city or prefer to study somewhere with fewer distractions. Large cities are often home to a range of companies, which means access is easier to business leaders and venture capitalists. At Columbia Business School in New York, for example, recent guest speakers have included chief executives of companies such as Bloomingdale’s, the department store chain, and Godiva, the chocolatier, says Amanda Carlson, the school’s assistant dean of admissions.

Global experience

Employers often seek international experience and there are plenty of options to broaden your horizons. Studying and undertaking internships abroad can improve your understanding of job markets. Matthias Wichmann from Germany, for example, chose China Europe International Business School in Shanghai (Ceibs) for his MBA in the belief that studying in a fast-growing economy would enhance his career prospects.

If you do study abroad and aim to seek employment there, check visa regulations. For example, in Canada a three-year work permit is available for those who graduate from a two-year MBA programme, even if they do not have a job offer.

Consider schools that have overseas partnerships. Insead, for example, has campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, and students can take part in exchanges with Wharton and Kellogg in the US, and Ceibs in China.

Partner- and family-friendly schools

If you are bringing a partner or family with you during your MBA, investigate what services are available for them. Nick Hungerford, an MBA graduate of Stanford Graduate School of Business in the US, recalls: “We often used to say the ‘SOs’ [significant others] have more fun than us. A huge number of activities and groups are arranged for partners.”

Reputation

There are various ways to assess a school’s reputation. One is to check whether it is accredited by an internationally recognised body such as the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) or Equis (European Quality Improvement System), the international accreditation arm of the European Foundation for Management Development. When looking at rankings check the methodology to see whether it agrees with your values.

Programme format

Among the many options are general and specialised courses, one- and two-year MBA programmes and joint degrees.

Niki da Silva, director of recruitment and admissions for the full-time MBA at Canada’s Rotman School of Management, advises candidates to take a broader degree as they might not know what they want to do in, say, 10 years’ time; specialising only makes sense for someone who is certain they want to work in one field for their whole career. She says a two-year course is often a transformative experience that is suitable for those switching careers.

Esade Business School in Spain offers flexible routes for MBA students, who can decide whether to take a 12-, 15- or 18-month programme, says Mary Granger, regional director of Asia at the school. She explains that the short programme is suitable for those with very strong professional experience who have a clear goal compatible with this experience. Tuition costs are the same for each mode, but the 18-month programme can involve an exchange and internship, while on the 15-month course it can be one or the other.

MBA blog

MBA Blog

MBA students from business schools around the globe write about their experiences

It is also essential to check that the core curriculum and electives meet your requirements. At Stanford, it is possible to take electives outside the business school that count towards a degree. Tom Sayer, a joint MBA and education student, plans to take the “Launch Pad” course at the University’s Institute of Design, which involves designing and launching a product or service, to develop his entrepreneurial skills.

Careers

Check out the school’s employment record and see what sort of jobs, sectors and countries graduates go to. Investigate the reputation of the careers service and the support available, such as one-to-one career coaching, and whether this is also open to alumni in the long term.

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Read more on applying to business school:

How to apply for an MBA programme

How to fund your MBA programme

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