Any reputable MBA is a coveted distinction on a resume, yet not all programs are alike. So where should you apply? How do you find a program aligned with your goals? What factors are worth considering? We’ll break down key factors here, outlining some points you should bear in mind while choosing an MBA program.
One of your first tasks should be to identify your core motivation. What skills do you want to gain? What networks do you want access to (i.e. what alumni will you want to be able to connect with)? Is your goal to increase your salary potential, or are you looking for international experience? Five years from now, where do you see yourself with this degree? As you begin to answer these types of questions, you’ll gain clarity about what fundamental needs your chosen MBA program should fill.
Length of Program
Degree duration is actually a valuable factor to consider, as it relates to where you are in your current career. If you’re heading into a career you already have experience in and want an MBA to supplement your knowledge, a fast-track program might be preferable. If you’re new to the world of business or need to work a part-time job while you’re in school, an extended program will give you more time to delve into the program and build foundation.
Budget and Location
These are perhaps the two most crucial factors in your decision-making process. How much are you willing to spend? And how far are you willing to move? For many, these two decisions will narrow down options significantly. If you know where you plan to base your career after the MBA, you should look at the programs offered in that location. Proximity to your school can be useful for networking, internships, and alumni engagement. When considering your budget, also be sure to research the cost of living in the area. Some cities are more expensive to live in than others, and that might be an important factor in your decision.
Average Student Age
At some business schools, age can actually be a factor in your admission. While there is no “correct” age to enter any graduate degree program, there are trends of admits. If you’re interested in a program, take a look at their Class Profiles to get a better sense of their students’ average age.
Why is this important? It will impact your experience as a student, but it will also tell you something about what an admissions committee may be looking for. Say the average student age is early 30s, but you’ve recently graduated from your undergraduate institution: such schools will likely ask whether you’ve had enough experience to maturely engage with the program. In this case, proving your maturity via your application, essays, and interview will be an important part of your application. But remember, even if your age doesn’t fit the school’s mold, your admissions panel will be most interested in your intention, story, and potential: so never feel deterred from applying to a program of interest because of age differences.
With such high demand for this degree, MBA programs are incredibly competitive. Be sure you have a balanced list of reach and target schools, with backup schools or career options should you not gain admission to your preferred programs.
How do you determine the competitive level of a program? Admissions rates will tell you the most general information about how many people are applying vs. how many are admitted, but this doesn’t tell you anything about the applicant pool. For more clarity, you’ll need to break down expectations on objective and subjective application elements.
Objective factors include test scores and undergraduate grades, and you can typically find these averages released as public information under the Class Profile. Subjective factors include your essays, interviews, and even whether the school has the correct faculty to support your goals. The best way to test your competitiveness and increase your potential in these areas is to practice with others! Have friends edit your essays, and ask your family to run through a mock interview with you. The more prepared you are, the more competitive your application will be. Aim to have several schools on your list for which you are less likely to get accepted based on objective factors (your reach schools), several schools you think you are likely to get into (your target schools), and a couple of programs for which your objective factors are stronger than average (your safety schools).
You’re pursuing an MBA for a career advantage, so scrutinize the placement trends of the business school you’re targeting. Look at social media and networking sites like LinkedIn to get a sense of where alumni find jobs post-graduation. You can also reach out to a recent alum. Try to get an informational interview with someone who holds an MBA from the program you’re interested in. Ask about what types of jobs were advertised to students. Try to find out if there are job fairs, and investigate how students who attend these programs typically find jobs.
Speak with alumni and current students
The best insight you can get will be from a recent graduate of the program you’re looking at. These are the people who will tell you the ins and outs of the experience: they’ll share what they loved and what they hated. They can tell you which professors to connect with, and even which to avoid. We always recommend that you prepare a list of questions before connecting with a graduate, as this will give you more clarity about your passions and interests. Ultimately, asking the right questions will give you a better chance of choosing the right program.
These are some of the crucial aspects you should keep in mind while choosing an MBA program. Remember to take a holistic view of each program: none will be perfect, but every program has something special to offer. Best of luck with your applications!