How to Choose a Business School: 8 Key Factors

May 29, 2019 | by Caroline Diarte Edwards

chose between mea offers

Getting an MBA from one of the world’s top business schools will provide you with a coveted distinction.

Because no two programs are alike, exploring your options effectively and efficiently means deploying a strategic research process. So, what aspects are most important for your decision-making and how do you create a target list of schools?

First, your shortlist of MBA programs should reflect your individual priorities and needs. All b-school admission committees are trying to identify why you want to go to business school and why their program. You’ll need to take the time for honest introspection to be able to reply with confidence and authenticity.

To do this you’ll need to reflect on your strengths, values, motivations and career goals. Your future objectives and individual ambitions are the first filter for distinguishing the information that’s most relevant, useful and practical to you.

Doing your homework is paramount, which is where things can get tricky. Many candidates are misled and rely too much on MBA rankings, which can be subjective and vary in terms methodology. So, you need do thoughtful research to find the right MBA for you.

8 Essential Factors For a Successful MBA Research Process

1. Location
A school’s strength, community and recruitment are strongly influenced by geography. Unsurprisingly Columbia and London Business School have strong reputations in finance. Schools in California have advantages of being submerged in the tech and startup scenes in Silicon Valley. Programs in Asia and Latin America are on the doorstep of the globe’s most dynamic, growing economies, while Europe offers entry to industries like luxury, biotech and aerospace.

There are also benefits to urban versus rural environments. Schools such as Dartmouth Tuck in Hanover, New Hampshire, are known for their tight knit, collaborative communities. Cornell Johnson enjoys the best of both worlds with a scenic location in upstate New York that’s a short distance from a New York City tech campus.

2. Program Length
The length of your desired program sets the pace of your studies, as well as the speed of re-entry into the job-market.  Expect to spend approximately six hours a day in class in accelerated programs, and roughly half that during two-year programs. If you have clear career goals and want to strengthen your skills before quickly returning to the workplace, you might be best suited to a fast-track program. Some applicants prefer the traditional two-year format that most top US b-schools offer as it allows you to delve deeper over a longer period. Whereas top schools like at INSEAD, Cambridge Judge and Oxford Saïd offer an accelerated program where you get a degree in one year.

3. Strengths & Specializations
Certain programs have reputations in areas such as entrepreneurship, finance, real estate, technology, non-profit, and luxury goods. They might have an incubator enticing venture capital for entrepreneurs or provide immersion-learning internships with NGO experience. Several programs have a flexible curriculum that permit you to explore elective or experiential opportunities. Think about aligning your areas of interest with a school’s strengths, as well as its teaching style and curriculum.

4. Network
A school’s alumni network strength offers major validation for a program’s career opportunities. Certain alumni networks are more geographically condensed than others. Stanford GSB will give you a strong Silicon Valley network, while INSEAD will provide an unmatched international scope. Additional measures of alumni strength are how students rank their alumni network, a program’s ratio of current MBA students to alumni and how many overseas chapters they have.

5. Prestige & Brand Recognition
Prestige is naturally subjective, but in terms of opening doors, a school’s brand recognition can be a key differentiator. How might a school’s network,  reputation and strength , support your career ambitions and post-MBA job placement? Sure, Wharton, HBS and Stanford GSB have strong brand recognition, but a world-class program like MIT Sloan permits grads unique access in to their university’s superior engineering school. Meanwhile, INSEAD or LBS are more globally focused in terms of curriculum, student body, and working abroad.

6. Culture & Vibe
What’s the overall  “personality” of the school? Who is attracted to its environment? Do you feel a more collaborative or competitive vibe when you interact with current students or alumni? By visiting the campus, you will no doubt get the best sense of the school’s culture and feel. Try to also engage with students and alumni that have similar interests to yours either through networking, MBA fairs or information sessions. Keep in mind, it’s not just about whether you’re a fit for the school, but also whether the school is a good fit for you.

7. Price Tag & ROI
Return on investment (ROI) goes much further than those coveted starting salaries and is fundamentally individual. For example, the Forbes rankings are based solely on ROI and derived from pre- and post-MBA compensation, career selection and geography. Forbes assesses the five-year gain for MBAs across many factors, while other outlets, like The Economist, measure ROI in terms of one-year gain to conclude early value from first-year salaries against tuition. If you’re contemplating pursuing a lower ranked school because of tuition cost, consider that ROI may also be lesser. Better programs have higher price tags, but typically pay greater long-term dividends.

8. Career Prospects
To advance your career goals and aspirations, you want confidence in the school you select. Interact with those that have walked the walk to learn about their experiences with recruitment events, which companies visited campus, and how helpful the career services team was. Make sure to review each program’s career and employment reports, then look past starting salaries and the list of employers to scrutinize career statistics and recruiter info.

Remember that it’s not just about post-MBA salaries, number of job offers or reputation. It’s about defining the qualities that are most important to you in an MBA program and envisoning the professional you want to become. Your diligent research and discerning approach can help ensure you’re focusing your time and effort on programs that will be the best fit for you. Ultimately, your chances of admissions success will be much higher the better you get to know the business schools of your choice.

Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and senior admissions professionals from 18 of the top 20 business schools. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.

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