As you search for the perfect MBA program, you may have found there’s an overload of information to consider. What factors should you take into consideration? Should you be looking at the most expensive MBA programs in the nation, or ones with the most notable successful graduates? The ones known for prestige, or with the longest history? Though these may all be reasonable factors to consider and possibly in line with your career goals, there are ways to get a more nuanced view of what a graduate program has to offer.
To find the MBA program that fits your needs, there’s more to look at than brand recognition, pure selectiveness or high tuition fees. The ultimate goal is to pinpoint a program that provides the greatest amount of return on investment, not just on the personal development level but in demonstrating value to a current employer or employers in the industry you're targeting. To that end, we've put together this list of important factors to consider when deciding on an MBA program.
1) Make Sure the School is Accredited
Even before you consider any other factors, determine if the school is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). This accreditation will boost the credibility of your degree and will also ensure that the school has done everything necessary to adhere to certain essential standards. The AACSB is held as the industry standard for granting accreditation for business and management schools. After you determine that the MBA program has the necessary accreditation, consider these other factors as well.
2) Scope Out the Employment Stats of Your Potential Program
A recent article published by U.S. News & World Report, "10 MBA Programs With the Most Employed Graduates," offers the following details. They looked at the percentage of MBA graduates who were employed within three months of earning their degrees in 2014:
- The University of Kansas: 95.5%
- The University of Pennsylvania, the Wharton School: 95.6%
- Michigan State University: 95.6%
- The University of Washington: 95.8%
- Texas A&M, College Station: 96.1%
- University of Pittsburgh: 96.2%
- Washington University, St. Louis: 96.9%
- College of Charleston: 97.1%
- University of Chicago: 97.2%
- University of Tulsa: 100%
While these numbers can be helpful as you conduct research into MBA programs, they're not the only details to consider. Employability is important but is only one factor among many. Should you discount a school that "only" has 94 percent of its graduates employed within three months of graduation? Of course not. If the school has an extremely low percentage of employed graduates, however, then you might consider a different program. In general, a percentage greater than 80 percent can be considered as a strong choice.
3) Find Out If the Program Has a Good Reputation for Post-Grad Networking Opportunities
One of the most potentially valuable aspects of a competitive MBA program isn't related to coursework at all. Many business schools help their grad students not just through core classes, but opportunities to connect with business leaders, entrepreneurs and other experts from the business sector. Often times these experts are affiliated with local businesses or corporations, which adds a level of geographical specificity to take into account. For example, if you're interested in getting into business development for software products, it's worthwhile to prioritize schools close to technology hubs. These schools are more likely to have established connections with local tech sector players.
In addition to networking and guest lectures on campus, some organizations may give preference to graduates or current students of a local MBA program they have established ties with when it comes to job prospects and internship opportunities.
4) Leave the Door Open for Specialization
Many MBA programs will offer a similar curriculum of core classes. Yes, you should definitely look at the required courses. But you should also consider the electives, concentrations and specializations available, even if unsure now. While undergrad business programs tend towards generalized curricula that can be applied across different aspects of the business world, one of the strongest aspects of an MBA program is the potential to drill down on a professional specialty. By researching the areas of concentration available, you can find a program tailor-made for your career aspirations.
Take the following as an example:
- The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill offers a concentration in real estate and features faculty whose research and career experience is focused in this area of business
- University of Florida, Gainesville, you can pursue a concentration in global business and take advantage of their Global Immersion Experiences
Both these programs sound nuanced and highly competitive right off the bat, but the overall value can vary wildly depending on where the student wants to specialize. Someone wanting to pursue commercial property development may not be best served by the UoF program, while someone looking to work with international conglomerates may find less value in Chapel Hill's offering.
Being able to focus on a specialty can be especially important when re-entering the job market. A number of prospective students are working professionals who enter into MBA programs with the specific intention of using it to advance their growth potential in their organization. In fact, certain organizations may even have programs available to sponsor an employee's MBA program. Obviously, in that kind of scenario the need to find a program tightly aligned with your existing responsibilities or those you're planning to move into is vital.
5) Calculate Costs Carefully
In addition to considering the areas of specialization available, the ranking of the MBA program and the mode of delivery, consider, also, accessibility and cost. If the school is expensive but has a very low bar for admittance, you may want to be wary. Generally speaking the more rigorous the admittance requirements, the higher the likelihood the degree will carry the necessary value in the professional world. Of course Harvard and Stanford have extremely high standards for admission, but even if you are researching a local state university or private for-profit university ten states away, look at their tuition costs, their admittance standards and the success of the graduates to find meaningful employment.
When doing research on the school, determine how many applicants they get each year and how selective the admittance standards are. Also consider the costs not just of tuition and fees for individual courses, but to complete the entire program. Some programs offer a cost breakdown for credits while others list yearly tuition. Make sure you add up the costs of completing the whole program. Ask yourself: Am I going to get a return on my investment of time and money?
Make sure you consider the graduation rate and career success after graduation. Since an MBA can be quite expensive (tuition ranges from $10,000 to more than $60,000 per year) and students often need to take out loans to finance their education, finding a job with strong salary potential after graduation can be crucial.
6) Consider the Earning Potential or Salary-to-Debt Ratio You Can Expect
Another related question to ask: what is the average salary of MBA graduates? As mentioned, the cost of an MBA is typically high, so a key component of determining competitiveness is salary-to-debt ratio.
There are a number of resources available for determining MBA education costs as well as earning potential. The National Center for Education Statistics' College Navigator database is an effective tool for looking up average tuition fees for different degree programs at specific campuses. On the other side of the equation, resources like Poets & Quants, Monster and Business Insider compile data on things like the best-paying MBA specializations, business schools with the best ROI and the average annual salaries for graduates from specific schools. Cross-referencing these data sets can be a good way of finding a good ratio.
More specifically, U.S. News & World Report provides a ranking of some of the business schools out there with the best salary-to-debt ratios for MBAs:
- University of Tulsa (Collins) (OK) – 5.803
- Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge (Ourso) – 5.673
- College of Charleston (SC) – 4.366
- University of Washington (Foster) – 3.556
From California to Pennsylvania and from Texas to Michigan, there are countless MBA programs available that may help you advance in your career, land your dream job or develop your own business. Every program has unique characteristics and, by asking pointed questions, you can determine which unique program provides the greatest potential benefit for you.
To find out more about MBA programs that may be a good fit for your needs, be sure to check out some of the school listings below.
"MBA Programs Where Grads Can Afford Their Student Loans," U.S. News & World Report, April 28, 2015, http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/the-short-list-grad-school/articles/2015/04/28/mba-programs-where-grads-can-afford-their-student-loans
"10 MBA Programs With the Most Employed Graduates," U.S. News & World Report, April 16, 2015, http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/slideshows/10-mba-programs-with-the-most-employed-graduates
"AACSB Accreditation," AACSB International, http://www.aacsb.edu/en/accreditation/