How to Choose a Business School

How to Choose a Business School

Applying to business school can be a challenge. If you are truly committed to acquiring an MBA, the application process may be exciting. While choosing the right business school, you are faced with numerous considerations, and what works best for your friend may not be the best option for you.

Not all MBA programs are created equal. Different programs have different characteristics. Some are extremely competitive, while others are easier to get into. Most require attending classes on campus, but a growing number of colleges offer programs that can be completed entirely online or through a blend of online and on-campus coursework.

When it comes to selecting a business school, there is "no one size fits all" approach. Do your due diligence to find the programs that best fit you. Once you have your list, your next step is to create a memorable, effective application that leaves a lasting impression.

As you build your application list, consider the following factors:

1. Prestige

In a Forbes survey of about 750 GMAT test-takers, prospective students were asked which consideration was most important to them when selecting a business school. Prestige was the most common answer, and the best measure of prestige at a given school was said to be the proven success of its alumni. Students believe that being affiliated with a particular high-ranked school will give them a foot up in many areas and help them stand out from the crowd.

To be more specific, students tend to associate higher-prestige business schools with enhanced opportunities for career and business networking, and in many ways the association is justified. Checking the top five rankings of MBA programs - Forbes, Businessweek, US News & World Reports, The Economist, and The Financial Times - provides you with an indication of which programs are most prestigious.

2. Affordability

Obviously, it makes sense to borrow as little money as possible for business school, as you will more than likely be committed to pay it all back, with interest, somewhere down the line. MBA programs generally aren't cheap, so the trick is to not only find a school that you can afford, but uncover one that offers the biggest return on your investment (ROI).

In addition to tuition rates, review any additional fees that contribute to the total cost of attendance, such as room and board (if applicable), textbooks and technology needs (for example, laptops and so on) and personal living expenses. Carefully assess the likelihood of receiving financial aid and merit scholarships to help offset expenses.  Also, consider the wages you give up while you attend a full-time program.

Ultimately, ROI comes down to whether the amount you spend for your MBA, including the lost wages, will be less than the salary increase you receive as a result of enhancing your academic credentials.

3. Selectivity

You have to get into an MBA program before you can graduate from it. Check with admissions to determine a school's mid 50 percent and top 25 percent qualifications regarding accepted GPA and GMAT scores. Your application list should include at least one or two programs where your numbers - grades and test scores - fall within the top 25 percent.

4. Specialties

As with undergraduate programs, some MBA programs specialize in a particular business concentration. Do your research. If your focus is finance, apply to programs with a strong finance curriculum. If your goal is to increase your management opportunities, find programs that specialize in business management. Some universities offer dual degree programs.

5. Special Programs

While traditional MBA programs consist of a full time, two-year commitment, you will find a variety of options that stray from this model. Some schools offer part-time programs that allow you to work while you earn your degree. Other programs may integrate online learning or may be offered entirely online to accommodate different schedules.

You may seek a program that offers more practical application opportunities, or you may be more interested in a program with a more theoretical approach. Investigate programs to find the ones that best fit your schedule and goals.

6. Location

Geography plays a big role in deciding where you pursue your MBA. Location may also be a factor in overall cost. For example, living in Palo Alto, California, is more expensive than residing in Columbus, Ohio.

If you are fresh out of college and don’t yet have a family, you may have more flexibility choosing a business school than you might if you own property and have children or other responsibilities that require you to stay close to your home base. Additionally, it is wise to think beyond graduation when determining where to attend business school. 

Often, MBA programs have tight links within their communities, meaning your best bet at landing a job through networking, interning, or networking with alumni may be in the same neighborhood as the institution. Choosing a business school may also mean choosing your future hometown.

7. Public or Private

MBA programs may be found at state university systems or in private universities. Many public schools charge less for tuition than private ones, especially for in-state residents, but more financial aid and scholarship possibilities may exist at private universities.

8. Average Starting Salary

You are probably considering business school at least in part because you hope an MBA will boost your ability to secure gainful employment or command a higher salary. An MBA from a highly ranked, selective business school, such as Stanford, Harvard, or Wharton, can considerably boost your ability to earn a substantial income.

The average MBA starting salary is also important if you are accruing interest on student loans. Checking program rankings based on starting salary may help give you a rough idea of how long you will be indebted.

9. Quality of Life

Some business schools are known for being competitive; others embrace a more collaborative atmosphere. Examine your personality and be honest with yourself. Does competition challenge you or defeat you? Are you more comfortable working in groups or individually? Talk with current students and alumni to get an accurate assessment of a program's character to make sure it fits with yours.

10. Alumni Network

You are going to spend much more of your life as a business-school graduate than as a business-school student. The connections you make as you earn your MBA may last a lifetime, and a strong alumni network can be a valuable resource throughout your career. Consider the depth and breadth of a program's alumni when you draw up your application list.