Important factors to consider when choosing a program that’s right for you

You’ve got your bachelor’s degree and some work experience, and you want to take your career to the next level. Like many others, you might want to get academic credentials that help to legitimize your past experiences, such as travel abroad or your work in a specific field.  Perhaps you are trying to switch careers. 

Here are some important things to consider when selecting the right business school or MBA program for you.

  • Reputation of the Institution
    To avoid diploma mills and other fly-by-night institutions, look for institutions that offer an accredited degree (such as an AACSB-accredited degree).  However, keep in mind that not all good institutions are accredited, such as those that offer executive-type certificates.  Look for an institution with a solid track record.  To validate claims made in promotional literature, visit the campus and ask to correspond with alumni or current students.
  • Location
    Consider the general location of the school, the surrounding neighborhood, and climate.   Think about this from your perspective as well as any family members who will accompany you to the area. As an alternative to relocating, online programs allow you to study where you now live.  Consider your area of specialization, if any. If your interest lies in international business, for example, you might consider an overseas MBA Program.  Many U.S. business schools have overseas partnerships or satellite campuses.
  • Costs and Financial Aid
    Measure expenses in tuition, travel and living costs as well as time costs (i.e., the cost of not working while you study). Ask the school about scholarships and other ways to finance your education. Given today’s economic landscape, more MBAs are paying their own way.  However, as part of a professional development program, your employer may offer corporate sponsorships or tuition help, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Program Length and Schedule
    Programs are either full-time or part-time.  Typical MBA programs are two years in length.  Other intensive MBA programs are as short as a year.  Even shorter certificate business or leadership programs range from a week to several months in length.  Some programs hold classes in the evening, on weekends, or online to accommodate the schedules of working professionals.
  •  Program Purpose
    Consider how the business program will allow you to build upon your skills, experiences, and interests. Some business programs offer a “plain-vanilla” (generic) MBA.  Others allow you to specialize in a functional or geographic area.  Still others offer a focus on an area of specialization, such as social entrepreneurship, or knowledge management and innovation.  Align the MBA program’s purpose with your personal and professional goals.
  • Program Approach
    Check with the school about their philosophy and pedagogy.  For example, some business programs might be skewed quantitatively (more math) or qualitatively (less math).  Some programs may emphasize theory, while others may emphasize practice and application. Some business schools offer capstone projects or experiences such as internships as a culminating experience.
  • Program Size 
    Consider the size of the classes (large lecture sections with labs or smaller interactive classes), and the program structure (core, electives, concentrations, etc.).  In general, business program classes tend to be smaller than undergraduate college classes.
  • Class Composition 
    Business schools often offer a cohort-type program, where students take most, if not all, classes together.  Consider the composition of the student body with regard to nationalities, ethnicities, gender, areas of specialization, etc.  A diverse student population will offer you a variety of valuable perspectives and opportunities for developing key relationships.
  • Admission Criteria
    Examine the student profile of the program and see how you compare. Consider your GMAT, GPA, and TOEFL (if you’re an international student) scores, your academic track record, and work experience.  Admission committees want to be sure you meet the minimum requirements.  But ultimately they are looking to see that you have the aptitude and motivation to successfully complete the program.  Over and above that, in competitive situations, your admission is sometimes influenced by professional and personal connections, or by your possessing an interesting background.  Read this Forbes blog interview about one person’s take on admissions to Harvard Business School.

  • Career Support
    The scope of career support services vary by program and school.  In general, career support should start while you are in your program (but you must take the lead and be proactive about making the most of what the school offers). Ask about career counseling and networking opportunities. Practical experiences such as internships can help you explore or help get your foot into the door of a department, company, industry, or country.

Business and MBA programs come in all shapes and sizes.  You may, as many do, opt to apply for admission at more than one school.  When possible, attend an information session about the program or visit the campus.  Use these 10 factors as a guide when choosing a business school or MBA program.  Do your “homework” well and you’ll find a business school and program that leverages your skills, interests, and experiences – one that will propel your career to the next level because it’s perfect for you.