|Author:||Association of MBA's|
The first MBA programme was established in the USA in the early 1900's and was introduced into Europe in the 1960's with the founding of IESE in Spain. London Business School and Manchester Business School followed shortly after. Thousands of universities and colleges around the world offer the MBA today. Increased globalisation and changing lifestyles, has led to schools offering more flexible ways of learning either via distance learning or part-time study. With so many programmes to choose from, there is a huge diversity in quality. Helping you to make an informed choice is one of our key roles here at the Association of MBAs.
1. What is an MBA?
The Master in Business Administration (MBA) degree is internationally recognised and is seen as a passport to a successful management career. The MBA is essentially a generalist qualification, designed to widen the horizons of business professionals. It takes into account all the major functions and practises of a business, including: production and marketing of goods and services, finance procedures, the economic and legal environment and the social framework, accounting, quantative methods and management information systems, human resource development at both the personal and collective level.
As well as a post-graduate degree, the MBA is also strongly post-experience. Students on an accredited MBA course will usually bring five to ten years postgraduate experience with them. For those without such experience, a Masters in Business and Management (MBM - formerly known as PEMM) may be more suitable. The MBA is the world's most popular postgraduate degree. Around 90,000 MBAs graduate in the US each year. The UK, with over 10,000 graduates annually, produces the highest number of MBAs outside North America.
The MBA opens doors and provides the modern manager with the tools needed to identify new business opportunities and threats. Options for the MBA-qualified manager have never been greater - provided that your qualification is from a reputable institution. The MBA is a postgraduate and post-experience egree for managers with several years' work experience. It provides skills and knowledge relevant for managers in both public and private sectors. MBA students may have technical degrees, liberal arts or traditional professional qualifications. They may be looking to move into a management role, and acquire the relevant skills. Some want to broaden their international business understanding; others are seeking a change of career.
The MBA widens horizons and provides an overview of business. Across Europe, the average age of the student on a full-time programme is 27 years, and 34 years for those studying parttime or distance learning. They will have a significant number of years work experience as middle managers. Not all MBA students have first degrees but they will have proven academic and management ability.
MBA students may have technical degrees, liberal arts or traditional professional qualifications. They may be looking to acquire the relevant
skills for a move into a management role . Some want to broaden their international business understanding, others are seeking a change of career. In order to determine if an MBA is right for you, you first need to take an introspective look and answer the following questions:
Can I manage the workload?
Be prepared to put in around 20 h/week in a distance learning course alone - part time and full time options require an even greater commitment.
Can I make the personal commitment?
Studying for an MBA is time consuming and will require the full support and understanding of your family and loved ones.
Is it the right time for me to start an MBA?
Keep in mind that accredited institutions will require you to have 3 to 5 years of previous work experience when you start. In investment banking and consultancy, the MBA is often a 'must-have'. In other areas it simply opens new doors and creates new opportunities. Whilst the MBA doesn't offer an automatic passport to promotion, it will help you maximise your chances of career success. Many MBA graduates want to move from a corporate environment into a smaller company. The real entrepreneurs often set up their own business or decide to go it alone. The length and quality of your experience, together with your personal motivation and preferences will determine the schools you apply to. Competition is strong for entry into the best schools and employers are equally keen to attract the best graduates.
There is no 'No. 1 business school', but there will be the best school for you as an individual. The media produces various business school rankings and league tables, but there are some grave concerns about these. The methodology and criteria used vary widely across surveys and results from one can often cause confusion. Many only compare full-time programmes. Schools that regularly feature in the morereputable published rankings are likely to have good
programmes, but do not pay too much attention to their position at any one time in a league table. Look for MBA programme accreditation as an indicator of quality and talk directly to the school and its alumni about their experiences and achievements.
MBA programme accreditation ensures the programme is of a certain standard. The Association's unique international accreditation service monitors the quality of MBA programmes and lies at the heart of our commitment to management education. There are many other accreditation bodies in different countries; some of which are more credible than others and not all of which look at standards. Established programmes are likely to be more well known than more recent courses and asking the schools which companies recruit from their programme will give you an idea of the school's position in the marketplace. You should also monitor the quality press and consult colleagues who have an MBA. If you can, visit the school you are thinking of studying at, even if this does mean air travel. Schools often host 'open days' where prospective students can view the facilities and meet faculty and students.
The MBA will be demanding no matter how you choose to study. On part-time programmes, the challenge is one of balancing work deadlines with study and personal time. For full-time students, the schedule of lectures, study groups and examinations will be intensive. Studying for an MBA can be extremely stressful on personal relationships. Your partner's and family's support will be important if you are to succeed in your studies). Ask business school admissions staff how the programme is structured (i.e how many contact hours per week to expect and how much additional reading is required) so you can gauge whether this suits your learning style. A good programme will be demanding but you will learn a lot from faculty and your peer group.
Some programmes demand a higher level of mathematical skills than others. In general, any graduate should be able to tackle an MBA and many would-be MBAs are unduly concerned about their level of numeracy. If this really is a concern to you, some remedial or refresher study might be a good idea. If you think you may have a problem, discuss this with the school to which you are applying.
To obtain the most from an MBA, we believe some work experience is required. Accredited programmes demand a minimum of 3 years work experience. In a worst case scenario employers might consider a 22 year old MBA over-qualified for the graduate trainee scheme, yet under qualified for the senior positions earmarked for MBA recruits. Business schools have developed useful alternative masters programmes for those without previous work experience. A more practical option for young graduates would be a generalist masters degree in business and management. These sometimes follow a curriculum almost identical to the MBA. They differ in that they do not require expert input from a well-qualified and experienced student body. This may be called a "Young Managers Programme" "Masters in Business & Management" or "Masters in Business Science" depending on where you study. An MSc offered at a school where the MBA provision is accredited is likely to be of good quality.
The GMAT is generally required for admission onto a full-time programme, but is often not needed for part-time and distance learning study. The GMAT is sometimes replaced by a school's own test. At some schools it is not required at all and the school prefers to assess applications using references, CVs and interview. Before sitting the GMAT you should first check that your preferred business school requires it. It would be pointless investing time and effort needlessly. If they do require the test then do not take it until you are fully familiar with the content. Most people benefit from some preparatory study.
The GMAT is designed to reveal those who may have difficulty in coping with an MBA and low scoring candidates may be eliminated from the admissions process. Average GMAT scores vary from school to school. Students at leading international schools have an average score of 600-650. At schools where the GMAT is used, the average student's score will give you some idea of the programme's quality.
To some extent it is a matter of supply and demand. The better schools charge high fees but still attract excellent students because of the kudos attached to obtaining an MBA with strong brand recognition. High fees do not always mean a first rate MBA. Some schools offer questionable value for money. MBA tuition fees sometimes bear little resemblance to the costs of running the programme or the value of the end result. Whilst a 'big brand' MBA may open many doors, an MBA from some other institutions may singularly fail to impress.
This depends on many factors and there is no simple 'yes' or 'no' answer. The Association's biannual MBA Salary and Career survey shows benefits in the medium to long term which are not achieved in other professions. Be realistic about your expectations. While the MBA will open new doors, you shouldn't assume the immediate premium will be enormous. Ask the business school you are interested in which areas their graduates enter into and whether they have a dedicated career service for the full-time MBA programme.
If getting a new job at the end of your programme is a priority, choose a school that has a good reputation among employers and which will provide you with access to these during the course of your time studying. Provided you are satisfied with the school's credibility then you should look at the programme content (the choice of electives for example), the teaching style and even the feel of the school. Schools are like people; they have personalities. The ambience and atmosphere of the place are important. You may also look at which industry sectors employ MBAs and the length of time it took them to find a job. If you have done your research thoroughly you will make an informed choice.