The most common advice you hear about choosing a business school for your MBA studies is to look for the “right fit” between yourself and the school. If you are interested in corporate governance, then look for an institution that is strong in this subject. Choosing a school is a personal experience and candidates must have a set of criteria to suit their needs.
Alumni and recruiters network
Pilar Vicente Maese, senior associate director for admissions at IE Business School, in Spain, explains that a school’s alumni network and links to companies are key considerations. It is important for applicants to have a network that can help them in their short-term and long-term career goals.
“If a candidate aims to work in the US right after graduation, of course, they should look for a school with ties in this region. But in the long term, perhaps work will take him or her to Latin America, thus a well-rounded network is essential,” she adds.
Ask yourself what type of classmates you wish to mix with in terms of professional experience and cultural backgrounds. If you want to be part of a very international community, then find out the percentage of overseas students as well as faculty.
MBA student Sebastian Schmitz, at Ceibs in China, explains why student diversity matters to him: “Throughout the MBA you interact a lot with your classmates, for example, in case discussions, group projects, case competitions and club activities. From my point of view, the overall learning experience from these interactions is most valuable when students have different cultural and professional backgrounds and bring different viewpoints to the discussions. This diversity broadens your horizon and helps you improve your cross cultural teamwork skills.”
The quality of teaching is another criterion to think about. Discover more about the instruction methods of the school, learn more about the faculty and their achievements. For example, are they well-known experts in the fields you are interested in? Are they practitioners in the industry you wish to work in?
Location, costs and visas
Location is obviously a significant factor when choosing your school. For example, if you wish to work in a particular country, studying there can help you get an understanding of the local job market and work culture.
Importantly, find out about the cost of living in the area. Can you afford to study there for one or two years? If cost is a concern, see what financial aid is available from your chosen schools.
Check out work visa regulations if you intend to seek employment in that country after completing your studies. For example in Australia, an applicant must have completed a degree of at least two academic years to be able to apply for a work visa. While in Canada, a three-year work permit is available to those who graduate from a two-year masters degree even if they have not secured a job.
Big cities such as London have the advantage of being near the headquarters of global companies and having easier access to business leaders if these appeal to you. According to Oliver Ashby, senior manager of recruitment and admissions at London Business School, their location makes it easier for big-name recruiters to come to campus and interview for internships and full-time jobs. It is no coincidence that Boston Consulting Group - management consultancy company - which is near the campus, recruits heavily from the school, he says.
Even moving to smaller cities can open up opportunities, as it did for Matt Barnett, who is an MBA graduate from Australia Graduate School of Management (AGSM) in Sydney. He comes from the UK and previously worked in London and is now chief executive of a tech start-up in Sydney. He mentions that the city appeals to him as there is a vibrant tech start-up community with close links to Silicon Valley as it is becoming the gateway to Asia for the US.
Mr Barnett also advises prospective students to consider studying in a different country or culture to your native one: “If you surround yourself with new experiences, you will naturally find many more unbeknown opportunities.”
Partner and family friendly
If you plan to study with a partner and or family in tow, then it is worth finding schools that are partner and family friendly. At Insead, in France and Singapore, about 30 per cent of students bring their partner or spouse with them, according to the school’s website. There are services to cater for their needs, such as family rooms for those with young children and the Insead Partners’ Club where individuals can socialise with other partners.
There are plenty of resources to consult when assessing a brand or reputation of a school such as school accreditation. Look out for accreditation bodies such as AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) in the US and Equis (European Quality Improvement System) an international accreditation body of the European Foundation for Management Development.
Associate dean of Ceibs, in China, Shimin Chen says: “International accreditation…indicates global recognition of a business school and is a useful guideline in ensuring that it meets and maintains globally accepted standards. Applicants use it as one yardstick when selecting a school. It is also a factor when decisions are being made about which schools to partner with for exchange programmes and other collaborations.”
In addition, Sebastian Schmitz, MBA student at Ceibs, points out: “Recruiters have to make their decisions based on limited information and an MBA degree from a school with a good reputation can give you a competitive advantage over other applicants.”
What makes it special
Find out the school’s unique selling point (USP), advises Anna Farrus, head of admissions at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK. Some business schools such as Saïd form part of a well-established university. At the school, MBA applicants can take advantage of the collegiate system and become members of one of 35 colleges, meaning that you have the chance to meet students from other disciplines.
You have access to a wider university community and take part in speaker events organised by the Oxford Union, for instance. Speakers include WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and actor Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame.
Niki da Silva, director of recruitment and admissions for the full-time MBA at Rotman School of Management, in Canada, believes that MBA applicants should be more future-focused. Part of their school selection should be based on the vision and the direction of where the school is heading, as opposed to primarily where the school has been in the past, she adds.
For example, Rotman is on a growth programme which includes the development of a new building and increasing their intake of high-quality students to make the school more competitive. The aim is to expand beyond the local recruitment market and attract more global recruiters they can form partnerships with, explains Ms da Silva.
Do your research
It goes without saying that it is essential to do your research – school websites and third-party information such as rankings are the usual resources to consult. Luke Peña, associate director of MBA admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business, in the US, explains that the most prepared candidate has taken time to collect information directly from the school. In particular, candidates should consider speaking to alumni who have pursued careers in which they are interested in, he advises.
Take advantage of school open days and if you are unable to visit, ask if there are webinars and virtual tours. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction, so enquire about opportunities to meet current students, faculty and attend MBA classes to get an insight of what student life is really like.