There is so much to consider when choosing a college MBA program. It might be tempting to just apply everywhere that interests you and then choose from the places where you are accepted. There are some obvious flaws in this approach, though. For starters, it’s simply not cost effective. Some of the top business schools charge upwards of $300 just to apply, meaning that it could potentially cost thousands of dollars in application fees alone.
More importantly, graduate business programs are looking for students who are interested in their program and know exactly how they can benefit from that specific experience. You must be able to articulate why that school is best for you and how it will help you achieve your goals, and when you’re applying to a dozen or more schools, that gets pretty hard to do.
So how do you whittle down your list of schools to 4-5 good options? Here’s a guide on how to choose an MBA program.
Basics to Consider when Choosing an MBA Program
Depending on your situation, there may be factors that preclude you from applying just anywhere. Before you begin looking at schools, then, answer a few questions:
- Can I move, or do work or family responsibilities require me to stay put and look at nearby schools, or study online?
- Am I going to continue working, or earn my MBA part-time? Am I in a position to earn an Executive MBA?
- What is my financial situation? Are there scholarships available? What can I afford?
For many prospective students, factors like location and cost automatically take a lot of B-schools off the table. That being said, with the growing number of online MBA programs, your choices aren’t nearly as limited as they once were.
What do You Want from Your MBA?
Once you have a basic idea of what type of program you want to apply to, it’s time to do some soul-searching. What do you want from an MBA? Why do you want an MBA? What are your career and personal goals?
All too often, prospective MBAs get caught up in the reputation of certain programs or looking only at schools that are “known” for specific programs. While the conventional wisdom is that you should attend the best school that you can, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you should only apply to certain schools because they are well-known for one specialty or another. Do your homework and explore all aspects of the programs that meet your criteria.
Some of the things to consider when choosing an MBA program include:
- The course curriculum, including required and elective course offerings
- The instructors teaching the courses and their backgrounds – are they diverse and highly knowledgeable in their fields?
- Alumni networks and where graduates go on to work
- The resources available to students; for example, internship and career services, academic support, extracurriculars
- Reputation and rankings
You should also spend time researching the “typical” student profile for each of the schools that you are interested in, meaning the average GMAT scores, age, work experience and background of the students. While schools don’t necessarily admit students based on their profiles, and not fitting the mold exactly doesn’t mean you won’t get in, knowing what each program tends to look for can help you better determine where you will fit in.
Speaking of fitting in, don’t overlook information and rankings related to the culture of the MBA program. Some programs are known for their uber-competitive cultures, while others are more focused on collaborative learning and building teamwork skills. You need to decide which type of environment is more appealing to you, and where you think you can thrive. Not everyone is cut out for a cutthroat, “every man for himself” environment, and choosing a college where that’s the norm isn’t going to create a positive experience.
Know Your Personal MBA Goals
Knowing why you want an MBA and what you hope to achieve after graduation is extremely important when evaluating programs as it can help you eliminate right away those that don’t align with your goals. Most MBA programs have similar core curriculums, giving everyone the same basic foundation in business skills.
What differentiates programs is their focus beyond the basics and how they prepare graduates for specific real-world situations. Having a clear vision of what your goals are and where you want to go allows you to identify the programs that will help you get there. For example, if your future plans include owning your own business, an MBA program with an emphasis on entrepreneurship is likely to be a good choice.
One of the things to consider when choosing a college is the alumni network. Not only is building a network a key part of earning an MBA, but existing alumni can help guide you toward the right choice. For starters, how involved are the school’s alumni? Generally speaking, the more satisfied someone is with their MBA experience, the more involved they are, so it could be a red flag if that involvement is low. Check out alumni employment rates as well, and where people are working and what they are doing. When the majority are employed and working in a wide range of industries and roles, especially those similar to your own goals, it’s a good sign that the school will prepare you for the realities of the business world.
Making Your Top MBA Progam List
Most experts recommend applying to four to five business schools, up to a maximum of seven. This allows you to apply to at least one “stretch” or dream school, a few where you have a decent chance of getting in, and one or two “safety” schools.
Remember, don’t apply to any school that you wouldn’t actually want to attend, and don’t give up on a dream because you don’t exactly meet the profile of the typical admitted student. You don’t know who else is applying, and you might have just the right combination of skills and qualities that the admissions committee is looking for.
And if you are applying to one of the top business schools, remember that about 90 percent of applicants don’t get in, so if you don’t receive an acceptance letter, you are in good company.
Taking time to thoroughly research potential business schools and identify the ones that are right for you can help remove some of the stress from the MBA application process and ensure that you end up in the right place – even if that place isn’t the big-name school you originally thought you wanted.