Enrolling in an MBA marks a key turning point in your life. Not only is business school a huge investment of time, money, and effort—it’s a tremendous opportunity to carve out a brand new professional identity.
Whether you’re seeking advancement, want to branch out into a new field, or just getting started in your career, an MBA can be a very powerful kick-starter.
But where you do your training is just as important as the degree itself.
Each business school comes with its own set of pros and cons, leaving students with the challenging task of researching, sorting, and comparing the many options out there.
How do you find your ideal MBA? Which school features and characteristics matter most?
The truth is, it depends on your particular needs, preferences, and career goals. This is a highly personal decision.
Start by considering these 6 key factors when evaluating prospective B-schools and MBA programs.
1. Location: Will you travel for your MBA?
There are literally thousands of MBA programs worldwide. One way to quickly narrow down your search field is to consider your willingness to travel to attend business school.
If you have a family, a job you want to keep, or a lifestyle you’d rather not relinquish, you might quickly rule out travelling for your MBA. This will probably leave you with just a handful of options to choose from in your immediate area.
Keen to study abroad? Consider which destinations best suit your area of study/industry, which foreign languages you’d like to immerse yourself in, and where you’d build the most advantageous professional connections.
2. Program Flexibility: How much time do you have for study?
Flexibility is a top issue for many MBA students, specifically those with busy careers and/or kids at home.
If this is you, you’re probably prioritizing innovative part-time programs that offer weekend and evening classes, so attending school won’t compromise your work performance or family responsibilities.
On the other hand, you might be looking to fast-track the process with an accelerated, one-year MBA program.
When evaluating B-schools, consider your time constraints and scheduling needs, and see which institutions offer the best solutions for those requirements.
3. Industry connections: Need work experience with your MBA?
If you’re trying to climb the corporate ladder, break into a new field, or launch a business career from scratch, you’ll probably want to prioritize MBA programs that offer real work experience.
This might take the form of an MBA with co-op, or an “applied learning” curriculum that offers domestic and international field work, live client projects, and other ways to enhance your CV while studying.
This way, you’ll graduate with experience in your field, industry connections—and may even attract job offers before you finish your program.
4. Specialization: Looking for a niche MBA?
Many of the world’s top business schools are known for a particular area of speciality. Stanford for IT, Wharton for finance, Kellogg for marketing, etc.
Consider your career goals. Are you looking for a general MBA, or a program that focuses on a particular niche, such as health care, international management, or entrepreneurship?
Niche MBA programs are increasingly popular, with an ever-expanding array of options to choose from, including MBAs in real estate, art and design, and sports management. Take a look at this list of 7 highly specialized MBAs for more examples.
If you’re looking for a niche MBA, you’ll want to prioritize schools known for their expertise and industry partnerships in that particular area.
5. Reputation: How are alumni doing?
When you’re evaluating factors like reputation and prestige, it’s important to look beyond rankings. While you certainty want your business school (and program) to be well-respected and internationally accredited, you’ll find added value by considering the success of alumni.
Look at reviews, online forums, alumni networks, and if possible, connect with recent graduates (LinkedIn is a good tool for this).
Specifically, investigate alumni outcomes for the MBA program you are considering (part-time/accelerated/niche/co-op, etc.)
Contact admissions for statistics on alumni starting salaries and positions. Look carefully at the companies and organizations who have partnered with the B-schools you’re considering.
This information will be important as you evaluate the cost of each MBA and calculate your projected ROI.
6. Learning environment: What kind of school culture will motivate you?
Every business school has its own unique culture. Some are known for competitiveness, others for teamwork and community.
Some MBA programs attract students and professors from across the globe, while others are more local.
Never forget that your B-school experience is as much about classroom learning as it is about building your network. Plus, you’ll need to consider your own learning style when comparing campus environments.
Some students thrive in small, close-knit environments that feel personal and supportive. Others want a fast-paced, highly-charged campus where they’ll be driven by an atmosphere of competition.
One is not superior to the other; it all depends on how you learn best, and what you’re hoping to get out of the B-school experience.
Book a tour, enroll in a trial class, or sign up for an admissions appointment to get a feel for life on campus.
Now that you’ve considered some key criteria for choosing a B-school and MBA program, it’s time to rank these factors according to your own, very personal goals and needs. What is most important to you?
List your priorities and match them with the programs you’re eligible for, and you’ll be much closer to finding your ideal business school.
Made your choice and need help honing your application package and interviewing skills?