How to Choose an MBA Program That’s Right For You

March 03, 2023 | by Fortuna Admissions

choose an MBA
How to Choose an MBA Program That’s Right For You


You’ve made the decision to pursue an MBA. Now the question is, how to choose an MBA program that’s right for you? Today, MBA programs come in many flavors and varieties: full- or part-time, executive, accelerated, specialized in a particular field or sector. And what about location? Should you apply for a program in the US, Europe…or online or hybrid?

There are so many options it may feel like you need an MBA —or at least a crash course in how to choose an MBA program — to determine what’s right for you.

Never fear: Fortuna Admissions coaches know that a good fit between you and the school and program you choose is key to getting in and getting the most out of your MBA experience. So we have some solid advice on how to consider this choice. First, start with the fundamental question.

Are You Ready to Pursue an MBA?

There are so many good reasons to pursue an MBA: to gain quantitative and management skills, advance in your field, take your career in a new direction, forge partnerships and more. But before you start to reflect on which program is right for you, it’s wise to consider if you are truly ready to pursue an MBA.

Getting an MBA is a significant investment of time and money. You may need to take out a loan. It can mean two years out of the job market. You do want to make sure that you are prepared for the intellectual rigor of an MBA program ready to get the most out of it. Here are some of the questions you need to ask yourself:

1) Do you have a fairly good idea of what you want to get out of an MBA?

Are you seeking to make a career switch and need an MBA  to do so? For example, perhaps you’re thinking about moving out of tech marketing in the short term to join a management consulting firm, so you’d like to build your analytical and problem-solving skills to make yourself a stronger candidate. Or are you looking for a way to fast track your career in your current sector and are therefore looking to build your leadership skills? Knowing why you want to pursue an MBA is an important factor in deciding if the time is right and which program you should apply to.

2) Are you financially prepared to take on the investment?

While it’s an important investment in your future, it is no secret that MBA programs are expensive, and while the return on that investment can be large, that is certainly not guaranteed. It’s important to consider your own situation and how you intend to finance your MBA. If you want to do a full-time program, that means sacrificing one or two years of your salary while you’re in school. You’ll need to do the calculations and research how you can finance the program and your living costs. There are many options for loans and scholarships that you can investigate. Candidates often find it very helpful to talk to current MBA students or recent grads for advice. Reaching out to members of the admissions committee is also a good idea to enquire about their scholarship opportunities.

3) Are you ready for the academic challenge?

MBA programs are very intense academically and involve a lot of quantitative coursework. That is why the schools look so closely not just at your overall GMAT or GRE score, but even more closely at the quantitative results to assess whether or not you’ll be able to handle the program. Perhaps you should consider taking a math prep course so that you’re more comfortable with the quant work from the start of the program. Rest assured that most people find that once they start the program, even after they have been out of school and working for several years, they end up loving the academic challenges and being back in school.


Why Should You Consider an MBA?

Obtaining an MBA can be a real game changer for your career. That said, it’s not necessarily the best route for everybody. Here are the main and most valid reasons why you should choose to pursue an MBA:

·       Career pivot: For those who have been working in one field and want to change industries or sectors, an MBA is an ideal way to make that happen.

·       Salary increase: MBA grads benefit from a noticeably higher salary upon graduation. While the percentage increase varies per school, the averages for M7 schools range from a 99% increase for MIT Sloan to 125% for Columbia Business School.

·       Accelerate promotion: Across most sectors and industries, having an MBA allows candidates to move more quickly up the ladder into management roles.

·       Access to leadership roles: An MBA is also an investment for the long term. Graduates find that even much later on in their careers, the investment allowed them to be considered for the most senior roles in their organizations that would probably not have been possible without an MBA degree.

·       Networking and professional development: An MBA provides access to a network of ambitious individuals in different industries and functions. The people you meet may become a life-long resource for developing your career and business ambitions


Do You Know About the Different Types of MBA Programs?

Each type of MBA program is built to cater to the different needs of people in different life circumstances and phases of life. Here are the five main types of programs:

Full-Time MBA

The full-time MBA is a very intense program for students with an average of three to five years of work experience. These programs generally run two years with time do an internship during the summer. There are some accelerated one-year programs. The full-time MBA is ideal for someone who is looking to make a career switch, dramatically increase their salary levels, and gain access to an important professional network. Full time MBA candidates must be prepared to leave the workforce for two years.


Part-Time MBA

Part-time MBAs are available, both in person and online, for people who want to carry on working while pursuing their degree. In-person programs offer evening and weekend courses. For online courses, you can pace yourself, although attendance at lectures is not optional. The part-time MBA appeals mostly to people who are looking to develop in their companies or fields. Part-time programs offer flexibility but are not the best option for professionals looking to expand their networks or make a career switch.


Executive MBA

For candidates with ten years or more of work experience who want to continue working while pursuing their degree, an Executive MBA is a great option. These programs generally run over two years with courses held in person every other weekend or for multi-day sessions once a month. Candidates are generally looking to pivot their careers or prepare for senior leadership roles. “The quality of the education and the faculty is superior, but it is possible that because of the limitations on time, the program is more core-based than elective-based,” says Fortuna cofounder and director Judith Hodara. In these programs, you also have the benefit of learning with and from a more experienced cohort of students.

Specialized MBA

Over the last ten years, there has been a growth in specialized MBAs for candidates who want to dive deep in a specific field, such as entrepreneurship, the tech industry, quantitative finance, healthcare, or non-profit management. These programs offer the opportunity to study business with a focus on your area of specialty with people in your field. You’ll want to be sure that this is the sector you plan to work in both short and long term to make the investment worthwhile. Specialized MBAs come in variety of formats including full-time, part-time, online and in-person. As Hodara says “A specialized MBA gives students almost a whole other set of curricula to dive into – in addition to the core curriculum – and to do so with people who are also thinking about the same kinds of questions.”

Global MBA

For those who dream of leading a business overseas or taking on a company with a worldwide presence, a global MBA maybe the right choice. Global MBAs allow students to study business through an international lens.


These degrees, sometimes referred to as International MBAs (although programs names vary), attract a larger proportion of students from overseas and are usually full-time. They may also have study abroad requirements or offer travel opportunities. There’s a heavier emphasis on global programs at European business schools compared with those in U.S.

How to Choose an MBA Program That’s Right for You?

All schools, and all MBA programs are not alike. And it’s not just a question of reputation. If you don’t take the time to really consider what’s important to you and understand the culture and focus of each school, you may end up in the wrong program. Choosing an MBA program is a rigorous process that involves different steps.

A List of All the Factors That Might Come Into Play

The first step is to consider the different factor to take into consideration. As Caroline Diarte Edwards lays out in her essential article, there are eight critical factors to consider.


School Culture

Visiting the campus of any school you’re interested in is ideal, but it is not possible for many people. There are though a lot of other great opportunities for getting to know the subtle nuances of different schools and their programs. MBA fairs and school networking events are a great option for getting a good feel for a school’s DNA. Learning about the school’s culture from those who have lived it is incredibly important for distinguishing between the right program for you, so do connect with alumni.



It’s not a surprise that a school’s strength is often linked to where it’s located. Schools such as Columbia and London Business School are strong in finance. Stanford, located near Silicon Valley, is very strong in entrepreneurship and technology. Schools in Europe offers great opportunities in biotech, aerospace, and luxury brand management. Or perhaps you would be more comfortable at a school with a reputation for a very close-knit community, such as Dartmouth’s Tuck.


Strengths and specializations

Some MBA programs have become particularly well known in specific areas such as technology, healthcare, real estate or social entrepreneurship. Some programs have a flexible curriculum that allows you to specialize in more than one area. London Business School, for example, offers flexible exit points and more than 70 electives and applied learning options. Think about whether a school’s core competencies, as well as its curriculum and teaching methodology, match your areas of interest.



The  prestige of being admitted to and attending Harvard Business School, Wharton, and Stanford GSB is undeniable. But beyond the schools ranking and brand recognition is the overall experience and what you want to get out of it. You should consider what the school is famous for: its strengths, culture and focus as well as the network and experiences that will support your career ambitions and future job placement. For example, a world-class program like MIT Sloan provides exceptional access for its graduates to the university’s top-notch engineering school. The globally focused curriculum at schools like LBS and INSEAD, along with their diverse international student communities, are ideal for working in a global context.



The strength of a program’s alumni network is a powerful indicator of its career opportunities. Some alumni networks are more geographically concentrated than others. Stanford GSB will give you a fantastic Silicon Valley network, while INSEAD offers unmatched international breadth. How well students rank their alumni network is another barometer of alumni strength, as well as the number of overseas alumni chapters and a program’s ratio of alumni to current MBA students.


Career opportunities

When you are exploring different programs, you want to be sure to check out their career and employment reports. Who is recruiting at their schools? What do their career stats show beyond salary increases and employed at graduation, or shortly thereafter. This is another area to discuss with alumni, especially if they are recent graduates. What was their experience like with career services? What kind of recruitment events did they attend. If it’s a school at the top of your list, make sure they will be able to help make your post MBS dream job a reality.


Program length

While most MBA programs are two years, there are a number of strong options for accelerated programs. If you’re looking to make a career switch, you will be better served by a longer program. If however you want to develop your skills but are not looking to change paths, a shorter program may make more sense. Shorter MBA programs are nonetheless much more intense in terms of time in class and work load. Accelerated programs at top schools like INSEAD, Columbia J-Term, Cambridge Judge, and Oxford Saïd run between 12 and 18 months. The traditional two-year format affords the opportunity to delve deeper over an extended period and complete a seasonal internship, as found in programs like the US M7.


Cost and ROI

Calculating return on investment (ROI) for an MBA is a tricky affair, and various measures are available. Forbes rankings calculate ROI based on pre- and post-MBA compensation, location and career choice. The Economist rankings measure ROI in terms of one-year gain to determine early value from first-year salaries relative to tuition. When considering ROI, the short term is not the most important factor.  The investment you make is for the long term. Choosing the school that is the best fit for you will pay off most for you in the long run.


Determining Your Needs & Wants and Setting The Priorities

Choosing a business school is much like other important choices you will make in life. Once you gather information on your options, you must evaluate, reflect and prioritize. You will not find everything you want in one school, so you need to set your priorities. Is it program length? Location? What are the two or three key factors for you? What factor matters most in the long run?  What can and can’t you live without? Once you have determine those priorities and parameters, the whole exercise will get simpler.


Putting Together an Initial List of MBA Programs

When you have your priorities set, you can start building an initial list of roughly ten to fifteen schools that you want to find out more about. You can use rankings to help you get started. Fortuna’s in-depth school profiles are a good place to start. Articles on Poets & Quants can also be very helpful.

How to Do Your Research?

As Caroline Diarte Edwards, the former MBA Admissions Director at INSEAD explains in her article,How to Research MBA Programs, “Most MBA admission committees are obsessed with fit, and you should be too. That’s why you’ll want to adopt a fit-centric mindset to optimize your time and effort when narrowing down your short list of target schools.”

There are four main aspects to focus on while doing your research.

First, get introspective.

Think about what’s important to you. Identify your strengths, your weaknesses and what you want to achieve. Don’t skimp on this part. It will feed the rest of your research. And if it feels like you’re spending too much time on this, think again. This part of your journey will make doing your applications all that much easier. Think about the question that will certainly come up in your interviews. Why do you want to do an MBA and why now? For more help on this, check out Fortuna cofounder and director Matt Symonds ‘tips on an outcomes-oriented process of self-reflection.)

Respect the information hierarchy

Start with the school’s program web sites. These are generally the best sources of information. Check out their student profiles and employment reports. That will provide you with a good sense of where their students are coming from and where they go after graduation. The employment report is a great source of data that is well worth your time to review. When evaluating schools, ask yourself: “How can this program help me achieve my career goals? Can I picture myself thriving here?”

School-hosted blogs are among the best sources of timely and accurate info. In addition to keeping applicants apprised of news, changes and opportunities, a blog’s tone and content are revealing about its personality and priorities. Same for its social media channels, where you can follow the latest and often get the swiftest response to your queries. These and other online resources are part of each school’s “MBA Cloud” — and everything that isn’t part of this cloud should be considered in context: Who’s giving the advice and what’s their agenda? Are they a student, alum or experienced consultant? How can you fact-check the information?

Weigh each program’s strengths & culture

Pay attention to the school’s values, curriculum strength, community vibe, connectedness of its alumni network, and opportunities for career advancement in the areas you care most about. You’ll also want to consider program length, cost and location.

And when you do review rankings tables, keep in mind that each publication uses a different methodology. Understand what’s being measured and then assess how relevant it is to you.

Spend time networking

As said previously, there is no better way to get a feel for a school and whether it is the right fit for you than by visiting the campus, attending class and meeting with students. Nothing beats it! But even if that’s not possible, make sure that your research includes a rich experience.

Invest serious time and energy into reaching out to people online who have been there. Put on your investigator had and find the students and alumni who share similar interests. Don’t be shy about asking them frank questions about the school. Over time those authentic conversations will allow you to determine if a program is the right one for you.

“Whether you send messages on LinkedIn or other social networks, ask for 15 minutes to glean advice and learn more about someone’s experience,” said Fortuna’s Judith Silverman Hodara. “When you’re sincere about asking for an alum’s insight and perspective, especially in demonstrating a point of connection or synergy, it’s very likely they’ll say yes.”

Narrowing Down Your Options

Now you have created a list of 10 to 15 schools and it’s time to narrow down your options. Here you want to look at classifying your schools. In your final draw, you will want to consider schools in three categories: Dream/stretch schools, reasonable possibilities, and safe schools. How do you determine the right category? First consider your GMAT/GRE scores. How do they stack up vis a vis the averages of your school? Next, take into account your academic record (GPA and school ranking) and professional achievements. If you’re applying to an M7, extracurriculars and clear capacity for leadership will also come into play.

How Many Schools/Programs Should You Apply To?

Candidates always wonder whether there is a secret optimal number of schools to which they should apply. Generally, it’s five or six:  You want to make sure that the schools you choose are appropriately spread across the three categories of dream, reasonable, and safe schools. If you’re an older candidate and don’t want to miss the entering next year’s cohort, you may bet more on the safe schools. A younger candidate might choose the opposite, rightfully assuming they can aim high wait a couple of rounds out trying for their dream school.


Final Thoughts

Choosing the right business school is time-consuming but very important task. There are so many strong programs out there, and you need to find the right fit.

Start by considering what your overall objective is and if you are truly ready, personally and financially. Applying to schools with the right culture and vibe is critical. Ask yourself what are the top two to three factors that will drive your choice, such as location and specialization. Finally, do your research. Connect with alum. Spend ample time on the websites of the schools in your top ten. And finally, establish as list with five or six schools that cover your three categories – dream/stretch/, reasonable and safe.

It may seem complicated to choose which MBA programs to apply to, but if you give it the time and energy it deserves, it will pay off in the long run and go a long way to helping you develop stronger applications.


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