Most top business schools offer a world-class education. However, they have uniquely different cultures, management curricula, strengths and specialisations, and community vibes, among other distinctions that will influence the next two years of your life. So, what factors are most important for your decision-making in selecting a business school?

Your individual motivations and future ambitions are the first filter for discerning the information that is most relevant and useful to you. The first things the MBA admission committee wants to know are, “Why do you want to go to business school? And why our school?” Your ability to respond with clarity and confidence starts with your honest introspection about your values, needs and priorities.

1. Length of Program

The duration of your chosen program sets the pace of your studies, as well as the speed of re-entry into the job-market. You can expect to spend roughly six hours a day in class during accelerated programs, and roughly half that in standard ones.

A fast-track program is attractive if you have focused career goals and want to speed up your skills before quickly returning to the work. Accelerated programs at top schools enable you to get your degree in one year. An MBA from a top US school follows the traditional two-year format, which some candidates prefer for the opportunity it affords to delve deeper over this extended period.

2. Location

Geography influences the community environment as well as school strengths and recruitment ties. For example, London Business School and Columbia enjoy excellent reputations in finance. Schools in California benefit from being immersed in the tech and startup scenes in Silicon Valley. Programs in Asia and Latin America are on the doorstep of the globe’s most dynamic, growing economies, while Europe offers a gateway to fields like biotech, luxury brands and aerospace.

At the same time, there are benefits to escaping an ultra-urban environment. B-schools in small towns, like Dartmouth Tuck in Hanover, New Hampshire, are known for creating tight knit, supportive communities. Cornell Johnson touts the best of both worlds with a scenic location in upstate New York that’s a short train ride from a New York City tech campus.

3. Strengths and Specialisation

Many programs have reputations in areas such as real estate, technology, non-profit, entrepreneurship, luxury goods or finance. They might offer immersion-learning internships with NGO experience or have an incubator luring venture capital for entrepreneurs.

Some programs have a flexible curriculum that allows you to explore experiential or elective opportunities. For example, LBS offers more than 70 electives and applied learning options, as well as flexible exit points. Think about whether a school’s strengths, as well as its teaching style and curriculum, align with your areas of interest.

4. Network

The strength of a program’s alumni network offers a resounding endorsement for a program’s career opportunities. Some alumni networks are more geographically concentrated than others.

For example, INSEAD will give you an unmatched international breadth, while Stanford GSB will give you a fantastic Silicon Valley network. Other barometers of alumni strength are how students rank their alumni network, a program’s ratio of alumni to current MBA students and number of overseas chapters. 

5. RoI and Cost

Return on investment (RoI) goes beyond those coveted starting salaries and is inherently individual. For example, Forbes rankings are based exclusively on RoI and drawn from pre- and post-MBA compensation, location and career choice.

Forbes examines the five-year gain for MBAs across a host of key factors, while other media, like The Economist rankings, measure RoI in terms of one-year gain to determine early value from first-year salaries against tuition. If you are tempted to pursue a lower ranked school because of tuition cost, consider that ROI may also be lower. Better programs have heftier price tags, but usually pay greater long-term dividends.