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Choosing An MBA: Five Practical Suggestions

Get on campus, schmooze current students online and think about MBA Jobs: five tips for selecting an MBA program!

To lay my cards on the table straight up: I haven’t done an MBA myself. But please keep reading!

I did apply to Harvard Business School at the wise old age of 23 and hurriedly sat my GMAT following a surreal holiday trying to cram in test-prep whilst bussing around Albania and Macedonia.

Those of you familiar with the roads in the South of Albania ten years ago will appreciate they’re not conducive to serious revision.

I won’t bore you with the details, other than to say I was rejected from Harvard (rightly so) and stayed put in my very stimulating job at pharma company GlaxoSmithKline.

Various twists and turns in my career meant I never got around to grad school applications again. But instead I was lucky enough to embark on a venture four years ago that’s thrown me into the heart of the MBA community.

I launched BusinessBecause.com, the network for the business school world, along with two other (non-MBAs!) in 2009. Our mission has been to connect people before, during and after b-school, on an online network that functions a bit like LinkedIn.

We also energetically churn out daily business school news and source interesting MBA jobs – a constant flow of content that keeps our international members happy (and means we rarely rest).

As you can imagine, I’ve encountered my fair share of MBAs! We have 22,000 registered members on BusinessBecause, 150,000+ monthly visitors to the site and I’ve personally visited the campuses of more than 80 schools globally.

Every week I’m in contact with b-school staff, professors, current students, applicants, alumni and employers.

So, without any bias about a particular school or type of program, here are my five honest and heartfelt (and common-sense!) suggestions for those choosing an MBA:

Go and visit the campus.

I know this might be pricey but in the context of how much you could end up spending on your MBA, it’s a small price to pay to breathe the air and to imagine yourself in situ for a year (or two).

When you visit, make the most of your time. Schedule lots of meetings and coffees – with staff, professors, current students and local residents. Get a range of perspectives on the school and try to figure out if it feels ‘right’ for you.

Obviously this process is less relevant if you’re applying for a part-time, executive or remote MBA – where you’ll place a lower weighting on the specific campus location. But even so, nothing beats doing a recce in person

Schmooze some current students and recent alums

Most MBAs will be happy to offer advice based on their experiences, assuming you ask sensible questions and don’t waste their time. Connect with current MBAs (on LinkedIn, BusinessBecause or via the school) to find out why they chose the program, the highs & lows and their advice for you as an applicant.

Use the BusinessBecause Search Box or People Finder tool to find and connect with MBAs.

Think beyond the MBA

Most of you, if you’re the type of person to be considering an MBA, will be career focused. You’ll probably have an idea of how you’d like your career to transition or what type of job you’d love to do after b-school. Try to find an MBA program that can help you achieve these career goals.

Most general MBA courses will cover similar core management/ finance modules, but will any of the electives, special tracks or consulting projects enable you to explore specific careers you’re interested in?

Does the school have a strong success rate of channeling students in to your chosen career? How many alumni are currently working in the sector you’re interested in? Is the careers team well connected with your hit-list of employers?

Obviously a lot of this is difficult to pin down precisely – and maybe you genuinely don’t know what you’d like to be doing a year or two down the road – but it’s worth some consideration of MBA Jobs before you start your b-school application.

Class profile

It’s difficult to stereotype MBA cohorts, as they change each year. But some indicators (size of class, international outreach, age profile, GMAT requirements) provide a guide to the types of folks you’ll be mixing with.

Some people like the idea of intimate learning groups, others are attracted to bigger crowds – try to picture where you’d like to be. Your MBA classmates will hopefully become lifelong friends and business connections – it’s an important and life-changing decision! 

Your loved ones

Does your choice of MBA impact a wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend or other family members? Take them on this journey with you. An MBA is a big financial and emotional commitment – you don’t want any additional stress factors added to the mix!

You can read about different MBA programs on the handy BusinessBecause school profile pages!

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