How to Choose an MBA Program

October 27, 2010

An MBA program is a great addition to almost any career. Combine any other skill set (engineering, biology, computer science, etc) with business school and it can give you a big career advantage.

But which MBA program should you apply to? How do you know the school you select is really the top MBA for you? After going through the selection process myself I can share what I learned when comparing programs. I received my degree after completing a part time MBA program over a two year period at a local university.

Since I went to night school I was able to keep my job (and get tuition assistance!) while also furthering my education. Here’s a list of things to consider to help you find the best MBA program for your needs.

Is the Program a Goal Match?

Goals. You need to have them. If you’ve got a specific goal centered around furthering your education you can target your MBA program search toward that goal. Do you want to keep your day job and go to class at night? That has a huge impact on your choice. Are you looking for an intense program with the best professors and facilities? That’s a different program than the first.

Get your goals together first then continue down the list.

MBA Program Cost

The cost of an MBA program didn’t use to be as big of a deal because you had a more certain return on investment.  There were fewer people earning the degree and the market demand was high. If you could get a high enough GMAT score to get into a top tier school like Duke, Vanderbilt, or Northwestern you were pretty sure you’d quickly make back your money.

This was back when you could graduate from a top MBA program, get a guaranteed job at a big bank on Wall Street, pay off your loan in less than 5 years, and find yourself sitting on a healthy salary and maybe even a big bonus.

If you hadn’t noticed, those days are gone. Unemployment is rampant, big banks have failed and been bailed out, and competition is fierce. That’s not to say an expensive program isn’t worth it, but again, it needs to line up to your goals.

School Location

It’s pretty simple: the further away the MBA program the harder it is to attend. Is this a local university with an easy commute? Or do you have to move across the country? Do they have an online degree program or offer a distance learning MBA?

Instructors & Facilities

What is the overall quality of the program? Are you being taught by people with Ph.Ds from the best and brightest universities in the world? Or are you dealing with folks who don’t have real world experience, maybe instead a Masters degree, and are working on their Ph.D? You don’t want to pay premium prices for lower quality professors. Interview several of the professors (and pick them yourself — don’t let the school “assign” their best professors to interview with you).

The same can be said for the facilities. Ask to take a tour. What makes this program stand out from the others? Does everything seem to be well maintained? Is the latest technology in the classrooms? Or are they still using overhead projectors and Windows 95?

Specialty Areas & Course Options

This was an area that wasn’t super important to me, but you will run into it. Obviously you need to be concerned with what the school offers. Is this a basic degree that is designed to give a business degree to non-business undergraduate majors? Or is it a well respected program that is known for producing top talent in the business field?

Do you want to focus heavily on International Marketing? Then look for a program that fits that goal. Are you looking for a program where you go to class two nights per week and work online two nights per week? That’s a unique request — so try to filter your schools with that criteria.

Networking & Career Development

I think this is the most important aspect of choosing an MBA program. No matter how awesome the teaching is or how much you learn, you will never conquer the world alone. You need teammates, colleagues, and friends.

Picking a “B+” school that excels as networking and career development over an “A+” school that doesn’t know a thing about networking would be a wise move.

You want to not only be able to work with and get to know the people in your class, but alumni and friends of the program as well. The woman that graduated four years ago might be a Vice President at a company you’re targeting. A good school will find a way to connect the two.

This was a flaw in the program I ended up going to. Career development wasn’t working with the program at all because about 50% of the students were going while working. Of that group of students a large portion had their tuition funded by their employer. The school didn’t want to encourage students to leave their employers (who are happily paying the university) to get you a better job.

I guess the lesson there is to ask about those kinds of things ahead of time. It’s much better to find out ahead of time when you’re trying to choose an MBA program rather than later down the road when you’re already in the middle of your MBA courses.


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Kevin Mulligan is a debt reduction champion with a passion for teaching people how to budget and stay out of debt. He's building a personal finance freelance writing career and has written for, Discover Bank, ING Direct, and many others.

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