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Beyond The MBA Rankings: Mid-Tier US Business Schools Give Specialized Careers Support

Mid-tier US business schools with smaller classes have more time per student and access to specialized industries that top-ranked schools can't always match

Thu Jun 8 2017


Part two of Barbara Coward's 'Beyond The MBA Rankings.' Read part one.

By Barbara Coward

One of the factors to consider when choosing a business school is the school’s mission and how it aligns with a prospective student’s values.

“If you want a career that drives social change and environmental sustainability, there are schools that can open many opportunities not available at a top-ranked school oriented toward more traditional business careers,” said Carolyn Sherwood Call, interim dean at the Lokey School of Business & Public Policy, Mills College in Oakland.

Jon Kaplan, assistant dean of full-time MBA programs at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine encourages prospects to identify what is most important for them regarding their MBA program early in their search and list these factors out.

“Once identified, rate your schools of interest in these areas to narrow your choices down to the group to which you want to apply,” he said.

Former operations analyst at Credit Suisse, Nicholas Alberino, who joined Poole College of Management at North Carolina State University, ranked #52 in U.S. News and World Report and #35 in Bloomberg Businessweek, also recommends that prospects make a list of possible career paths and try to be as specific as possible.

This approach helped him secure a global procurement services, category & supplier management MBA internship with Cisco.

“Some MBA programs will be better than others depending on the industry that you are targeting”, he said.

“For consulting, especially in strategy, it would be smart to go to a top program. A top program will have the contacts with the big consulting firms and will most likely have on-campus interviews. For other industries such as supply chain management, it is more important to focus on the program itself and the relationships the program has with alumni and employers.”

“Networking is probably the most important part of an MBA program,” he added. “So, knowing where the alumni are in their careers is extremely important.”


Mid-tier Schools Provide Equally Successful Careers

As an example of how someone can be just as successful graduating from a mid-tier program, Kaplan describes an alumnus who graduated just five years ago and now has an extremely high-level marketing job with one of the world’s major technology manufacturers.

“He has an enviable position that any MBA with a marketing focus would love to have,” said Kaplan. “How did he get there? By working hard, taking risks and standing out in his previous positions.”

Abdul Mahdi, Director of the Illinois MBA at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, mentions a recent graduate who entered the full-time MBA program as an accountant and now earns a six-figure salary at Amazon.

Then there’s a 24-year-old who grew up on a farm in Mason County, Illinois and co-founded Amber Agriculture while he was a student in the Illinois MBA program. His company was named top startup of the 2017 Consumer Electronics show.

The Knowledge on offer is the same

Another factor to consider is that many professors at mid-tier programs were educated at top-tier business schools. Moreover, they often conduct joint research with peers at top-ranked institutions.

“We know that general business knowledge transfer is relatively the same,” said Kaplan.

In today’s technological age, it’s also much easier for business leaders to connect with one another through the free-flow of information.

So, where you go to school may not matter as much for making influential connections as it did in the pre-social media era.

You don’t need alumni directories when you have access to LinkedIn.


Mid-tier schools try harder

Finally, there is also that extra level of commitment as described by Georgette Chapman Phillips, who was previously at Wharton for nearly twenty five years before her current role as dean of the College of Business and Economics at Lehigh University in Philadelphia.

“What do we provide at Lehigh that a marque brand might not? It’s like those famous Avis commercials – “We Try Harder.” We pay very close attention to the student experience, and we’re right on the edge of where we need to be. We have to try harder. We have to make people want to come to the school.”

All things considered, is a mid-tier school truly a better option?

“It depends,” said Kaplan.

“If you’re going after one of the handful of post-MBA jobs at top multi-national companies in consulting, banking or CPG where a highly-ranked school on the resume can make a difference, then choosing ivy-covered walls instead of reflective glass atriums may be a better fit.

However, for many – and especially when more and more MBAs are pursuing jobs at small to mid-size companies - this differentiation point is much less important and the mid-tier choice may be the best fit in the long run.”

Phillips agrees that it’s based on your individual career goals.

“If you want to go into certain very constrained fields, then it does make a difference. However, if you want to learn more and move up within your current employer or break into a new field or add credentials so people won’t always see you as a finance person or a marketing person, for example, then a mid-tier program makes sense. It all comes down to your end-game.”