Friday, June 4, 2010

Shopping for an MBA

In speaking with prospective students on a daily basis, I often find myself educating them on what they should be thinking about when looking at MBA programs. I think people forget that this is a shopping process. Would you buy a $300 item without researching your options? Maybe you would. Would you buy a $50,000 plus item without researching your options? I sure hope not. Yet I often find people making uninformed, impulse purchases when it comes to which MBA program to attend. Yes, my job is to represent the Terry MBA program, but that doesn't mean it's the right program for everyone. We want students who are a good fit for our program; the relationship needs to be mutually beneficial. We want to know what you can add to the Terry MBA community, and you should want to know that you'll benefit the most from attending our program. So what should you be looking at to make that decision?

Academic Strengths Do not assume all MBA programs are the same. Do you want to focus your MBA education and career in the human resources area? Then you should go to a program that has a strong reputation and curricular offerings in that area. Just because a program says they have an accounting concentration doesn't mean they have a good one. Look at the courses they offer, the faculty teaching in that area, and the employers of alumni in that functional discipline.

Program Network You are actually in your program for two years, but you're a graduate of that program for the rest of your life. Many people choose the "best" name or the highest ranked program because they value the way it reflects on their own personal reputation. That reflection is most powerful as you look for your first job, post-MBA. Then its power wanes. While a name can sometimes get you immediate respect, if there's no support for you beyond that name, then you're on your own. Does the school have an active, engaged alumni group? Does that group reach beyond the area where the school is located? Are alumni willing to talk to students? Are alumni involved in the recruitment process? Is there a sense of alumni loyalty and pride? I know plenty of people who went to top schools and felt totally alone. Don't let that happen to you. A program's network is something you should be able to tap into for the rest of your life.

Job Search Assistance You'll notice that I didn't use the word "placement." That's because no program "places" a student into a job. You're not assigned an internship and handed the paperwork for your first post-MBA position at graduation. YOU have to get the job. A program's career services office is there to help. Look for personalized services. Will someone help you with your resume rather than just give you a sample to copy? Will you be able to meet with a career advisor? Are mock interviews available? Will you receive help identifying companies and/or positions to target? On-campus recruiting is great, and so are job postings, but if you're not prepared you're not going to land the job.

Student Experience Do you want a cutthroat community or a collaborative one? Do you want a diverse student community? Do you want to be challenged by your classmates? Do you want to be involved in student clubs? What about social activities? Where will you be living? If you have a spouse/partner, what does that community have to offer him or her? This program is your life for the next two years- you want to enjoy it.

Financing Unless you are lucky enough that finances are not a concern for you, the cost of attending a program has to figure into the equation. Do want to graduate debt free? How much debt are you willing to take on? What kind of financial awards can a school offer you? I find many people rule out full-time programs due to perceived cost without even really looking at the actual figures. Full-time programs are generally far more generous when it comes to merit-based assistance (the kind you don't have to pay back). With an assistantship that covers tuition and a stipend toward living costs, it might cost a lot less to go back to school than you think.

These are certainly not the only things to consider, but it's a start. Here's another piece on this topic worth reviewing:

Bottom line: make sure you get the information you need. Read the school's website and ask questions. You only get to make this choice once. Make it a good one.