First steps for choosing the right business school
Over 100,000 people a year choose to study for an MBA worldwide. With young professionals recognizing that there are no “jobs for life”, an MBA can provide skills to make an individual more marketable and to provide greater career choice. In particular, an MBA develops technical and interpersonal skills which are particularly important in a recession.
If you are interested in becoming an international manager you may soon join the ranks of qualified MBAs. But business schools are not all the same; you need to carefully research your choice of school to ensure that it matches your personal requirements.
A systematic process for making your business school choice should be adopted. The QS World MBA Tour and topmba.com conduct annual research of 400 business schools, 50,000 MBA applicants and 500 MBA recruiters to assist you. Some of the findings are summarized below.
Step 1: Why should I take an MBA?
The very first step is to analyze your personal motivations for taking an MBA. Are you a career switcher, or a career progresser? Do you want to carry on working while you take your MBA, or do want to focus on your studies and consider your options? Is a jump in salary what matters most, or do you seek international experience? Is your primary goal to broaden your education and horizons, or to develop specialist skills for career enhancement? An honest self-assessment will save you a great deal of time and energy and help your selection of schools to be more focused.
QS research (see table 1) demonstrates that MBA applicants around the world take an MBA for career related reasons, to learn new skills and to build a professional network. Though ‘enabling a career change’ has increased noticeably in importance in recent years, this is more difficult in a recession when employers place an emphasis on prior relevant experience. Boosting salary remains only the fifth most important factor; comparable with starting one’s own business.
Reasons: (Source: topmba.com Applicant Survey 2008)
- To improve career prospects (in 2008: 70%) - (in 2007: 69%)
- To Learn New Skills (in 2008: 58%) - (in 2007: 54%)
- To Build a Professional Network ( in 2008: 45%) – (in 2007: 41%)
- To Enable a career change (in 2008: 43%)- (in 2007: 34%)
- To boost salary: (in 2008: 32%)- ( in 2007: 27%)
- To Star Own Business (in 2008: 25%)- (in 2007: 24%)
- Primarily for Education (in 2008: 23%)- ( in 2007: 21%)
Step 2: Identify career goals
The second thing to do when considering business school is to try to narrow down the types of career you might like to pursue, balanced by a realistic self-assessment of your current abilities and skill base. Examining your motives carefully and determining where you want to work after graduation should be a major part of this process.
Why ask these questions? For practical reasons, most business school application forms ask for your career aspirations. They want to see a clear, cogent explanation of where you want to be in the future and why that school can help you get there. For example, if you think you want to become a management consultant or an investment banker with a starting compensation of over US$130,000, there are only 50 or 60 international business schools where these companies actively recruit, of which half are in the US. If you wish to work in a particular country, you may well be better off taking your MBA in that county and accessing the school’s local recruiter and alumni network.
Step 3: Budget and study mode
The full time MBA is still by far the most popular program in terms of candidate numbers. Part time and executive MBAs are growing, but are still quite small by comparison. The standard period for an international full time MBA in the USA is two years. In Europe, London Business School (LBS) and IESE offer a two-year program, whereas IMD, INSEAD, IE, Cambridge, Cranfield, Warwick and other leading programs are one year.
In Europe, the annual cost of an MBA can be as little as £5,000 or as much as £34,000 for tuition, with books and living expenses a further cost. However, financial aid opportunities exist that can make the most costly programs affordable. Scholarships are offered by a variety of organizations, and many local banks offer low-start loans for the period of your study. Individuals are advised to apply to the school of their choice and to make specific enquiries about funding options.
If you wish to carry on working during your MBA, this will narrow down your choice of schools very quickly. Part time, executive MBA and distance learning study become the only options. For example over 25,000 people are now using distance learning for an MBA or similar diploma with British institutions alone. Average costs for distance learning vary from £10,000 to £30,000 spread over two to eight years.
Step 4: Determining the criteria for your choice of school
Despite the media frenzy surrounding rankings, our research suggests that candidates vary significantly in terms of the criteria which matter to them in selecting a business school. During the QS World MBA Tour, candidates can review TopMBA Scorecard – a radically new applicant research tool which will allow them to apply their own weightings to a detailed set of selection criteria. Our research indicates that the most popular selection criteria for choosing a business school are international reputation and career placement record, though return on investment and availability of scholarships are important too; rankings come only seventh.
Business School Selection criteria: Rank in 2008 (2007)
- Career Placement Record: 1 (1)
- Quality of Academic Staff: 3 (6)
- School Reputation: 3 (3)
- Profile of Students / Alumni: 5 (6)
- School Specializations: 5 (4)
- Recent School Ranking: 7 (7)
- Accreditation Status: 8 (7)
- Scholarships / Financial Aid: 9 (8)
- Convenience of Location: 10 (11)
- Teaching Style: 11 (10)
- Course Length: 12 (13)
- Affordability: 13 (12)
Career placement record is a priority for the majority of applicants; helping candidates in their job search is a key component of the MBA. Each business school has a career service department. Some schools attract companies to come on campus to interview students. The Wharton School in Philadelphia attracts as many as 400 companies to campus, of which roughly 300 are US-based and 100 are international recruiters.
INSEAD and LBS attract between 100 and 200 companies onto campus, most of which are international recruiters. Today, the majority of MBAs find their jobs through an off-campus search and over 100 business schools subscribe to TopMBA/Careers, the leading online jobs network for MBA students.
Knowing your motivations, whatever they are, is the most important first step to business school success. It will get you through the interview process and stand you in good stead for your MBA and post-MBA experience. As it is such an involved process, getting it right from the start is essential. Do as much research as you can; visit the QS World MBA tour, look at Scorecard, read websites, talk to as many alumnae and admissions people as you can and move forward confidently with your choices.
Step 5: Which information sources should I use?
MBA Applicants are faced with a large range of rankings and information sources. Rankings are a popular method for determining school reputation, but with so many of them, all producing different results, it is becoming quite complex for applicants to judge which are the best schools. Our applicant research identifies the following usage of rankings and guides. Business Week rankings and TopMBA were the most popular sources of information, followed by the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Economist.
- QS TopMBA Career Guide / topmba.com (% of Applicants in 2008: 60.4%)
- Business Week: (% of Applicants in 2008: 59.7%)
- Financial Times: (% of Applicants in 2008: 53.8%)
- The Economist: (% of Applicants in 2008: 33.4%)
- Wall Street Journal (% of Applicants in 2008: 30.5%)
- US News & World Reports (% of Applicants in 2008: 27.2%)
- THES - QS World University Rankings (% of Applicants in 2008: 15%)
- America Economia (% of Applicants in 2008: 4.2%)
- Far Eastern Economic Review (% of Applicants in 2008: 1.6%)
In the context of our MBA applicant research, respondents were also asked which research methods they found very useful in their search. School websites proved to be the most useful information source for MBA applicants, followed by face-to-face meetings with representatives of the schools, and then MBA fairs (97 per cent of respondents found the QS World MBA Tour to be either useful or very useful).
Next Steps for MBA Applicants
For more information on business schools:
- TopMBA Career Guide & TopMBA.com/Scorecard (topmba) compares and contrasts key facts about 400 different MBA programs: costs, specializations, entry requirements, reputation etc. The Guide is available at all World MBA Tour fairs. Scorecard allows candidates to create a personal ranking based on the criteria which matter to them.
- QS Global 200 Top Business Schools Report asks MBA employers to identify the schools they target for MBA hiring. This helps identify the most popular schools in the US and Europe as well as Australia, Asia, Africa, Middle East and South America. In addition, a detailed report on MBA salaries, recruitment trends and school specializations is provided. The report is available at topmba or at the fairs.
- QS World MBA Tour 2009: One of the best ways to choose the right school is to actually meet with admissions officers. Admissions officers of over 300 leading business schools will visit over 72 cities on five continents with the World MBA Tour (in the spring and fall). Cranfield School of Management says, “Schools rely on MBA fairs to reach the growing international audience, and for candidate and school alike this remains the most important tool in the application process.” Rose Martinelli, admissions director at Chicago Business School agrees that “…these fairs attract the types of candidates [they] seek.” For more information on the QS World MBA Tour and the fair nearest to you, take a look at the website of topmba
Written By Nunzio Quacquarelli
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