Education for the higher educated

How to choose an MBA?

To make the most of your MBA, you need to consider a number of important things before making your choice. We've listed the most important questions for you to ask yourself.

Why do you want to do an MBA?

Your reasons for pursuing an MBA may differ - a change of professional venue, gaining an advantage in a rather tough market, a bigger salary or a better job placement. Now that you have made your decision, there is one important question you should ask yourself. What qualifications do you want to acquire? Making a realistic and a clear-sighted assessment of the professional skills that you want to develop or improve, will help you gain a clearer vision of your future career track.
The majority of MBA candidates have 5 to 10 years of professional experience on their CV and career plans do come foremost when they get down to choosing a business school. Some, for example, are happy with their job but still want to add value to their services by moving up the career chain and a part-time MBA often proves to be the best route for them. Others have already reached a managerial level and are good at what they do, yet the fact that they can juggle tasks blindfolded has turned into a demotivating factor. They have lost interest in their job and they see a change of career functions as a way out of the impasse. For them, a local full-time MBA with their company endorsement may be the best option. Finally, there are those that fall into the 'total makeover' category. They aspire to a clean start, a new professional venue, a complete change of company or sector. They want to move out and move on with their career and the best choice for them could be a well-known full-time MBA program with an active network of alumni in an international environment.

Where do you want to work?

A university may have top-notch facilities and highly renowned academic staff and still be the wrong choice for you. Research shows that location is a prime factor when it comes down to picking a business school. You need to think about all the places where you would like to live and work. Make sure that you are comfortable with the geographic area in which the university is located. For example, if you are bound by family or otherwise you may opt for a school that is closer to home. If you seek an international career and new cultural experiences, an overseas MBA may be a good option. On the other hand you need to take your career interests in consideration. Are you driven by the world of finance and investments? Then you might want to consider cities where the markets are based, New York, London, Frankfurt, Paris and Tokyo. Or, if you are attracted to the world of luxury and fashion, then you might look towards Milan, Paris, London, Los Angeles or New York.

It is important that you pick the geographic area that best fits your needs as you are likely to spend longer than two years there - a large number of MBA graduates decide to stay and pursue their career within the area of their business school or university.

What skills do you want to focus on?

Some people seem to know what they want to do almost from birth. Do you know what your strengths are? Whether it be in entrepreneurship, finance or general management, if you, more importantly, want to build on them, doing an MBA is an excellent means of achieving your goal.
Once you know which skills you want to focus on, you are in a better position to consider which kind of general management MBA is right for you. Nearly all general management MBA programs offer far more than the core management skills. London Business School, for example, is where you might apply if you want to work in finance. A program strength will enable you to tailor an MBA to your particular goals. Careful selection of modules may enable you to give your career a new direction. Furthermore, you will still be able to take advantage of the alumni networks that are the hallmark of general management MBA programs.
On the other hand, Specialized MBA programs often lead to opportunities in niche industries such as Healthcare or Hospitality Management or even the very select wine business. If you want to fulfill the dream of a lifetime and switch to a career in an industry in which you have no previous experience, then a Specialized MBA might be just for you.

Full-time or Part-time?

If you have decided to cross 'the point of no return' and change your career completely or if you want to stay within the same industry but change the location, a full-time MBA program may be the best choice for you. This kind of format requires full commitment. The part-time MBA is for those who want to advance their careers (without changing their professional venue and starting from scratch) but cannot afford to take 'leave of absence'. To sum up - a full-time program is designed for career changers, while the part-time option is designed for career enhancers. You can also choose between a 12, 15, 18 or 22-month program. The different length is determined by the pace and intensity of the teaching process.

Local or International?

To say the entire experience of an MBA is bigger than the sum of its courses raises the interesting question of what kind of experience is suitable for you.

Do you prefer a local business school to a foreign destination? The London Business School's slogan expresses the dilemma in four words: London experience. World Impact. Simply put, the experience must and will be located in one place but the lessons learned will have significance far beyond those boundaries. If you're aiming for the top programs, the choice of location will only make a difference to you if the qualities of the particular school are in line with your criteria. If one of your criteria is an MBA program with an international student body and an alumni network with chapters in 50 countries, you would then select among those schools matching this criteria.
But let us assume the above criteria are also conditioned on your staying where you currently live, whether that be in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, Africa or Asia. In this case, you can select from a wide range of business schools that offer global MBA programs, and provide a diverse cultural experience. Even if the same criteria were even further conditioned on your continuing to work, you could still choose a modular MBA program with campuses in different countries. At the very least, you could go for an online MBA program that is open to international students.

Is an MBA worth the money?

How to enhance the return on investment of an MBA is the million-dollar question among most MBA students. Fortunately, the return on investment is indeed rapid for the vast majority of graduates, with the average return being three to six years. In calculating the rate of return, candidates should also consider whether as a rule the business-schools with the highest tuition rates offer the best return on investment.

An MBA degree is undoubtedly a major investment and many students incur debts to pay for their one or two-year education. However, they do get their money's worth in the long run - not only do they hone their knowledge and qualifications but they also build a network of useful professional relationships. Finally, it is not only about money, there are non-financial benefits that should not be neglected - an MBA degree is bound to increase your professionalism, help you develop your potential, and teach you how to manage your work/life balance.

How about the rankings?

Rankings inform perspective students about a university's or a business school's prestige. They are a good starting point when searching for a suitable school and may give you a good idea of the global MBA market. The Economist Intelligence Group and The Financial Times publish ranking lists, but you can find more on the internet.
So how should you go about 'reading' the available rankings? First of all you should stay critical - do not take rankings at their face value but rather match them against your own personal needs and goals. Always read the survey methodology, i.e. how the data is collected and presented. You are also advised to look at ranges, check rankings from earlier year. Don't forget to look into the university's connections to local industries - many business schools have strong ties to important local companies and these ties often translate into employment opportunities for the graduates of these schools. But most important of all, look for what is best for you, rather than which business school ranks first.