Individual choosing MBA on an interactive screen

In the last MBA Life blog post, I wrote about determining if an MBA is worth the investment. In this article, I am going to discuss how to choose an MBA or a master of business administration degree.

We learned last time that an MBA degree can provide a very solid return on investment and accelerate your career. Now that you have decided to apply to MBA schools, how do you choose which one to attend? Some articles I have read describe it as similar to selecting a car, but I would say choosing an MBA program is far more important to your life. A car is a depreciating asset. An MBA degree is a true investment in your future and the right MBA program can give you the skills, confidence and network that will truly change your life. Let’s take a look at some ways to help you make this important decision.

Unlike many consumer items we shop for, it is difficult, if not impossible to try before you buy, test drive, or buy a “different one” next time, when it comes to an MBA degree. Attending an MBA program is something you do once in your life. I can recall having to make this exact decision when I applied to an MBA program a number of years ago. When I first thought about it, I had assumed that school prestige might be the first thing to consider. In reality this was not even a consideration for me. I came to the realization that I could not afford, travel to, or expect to be accepted to business schools such as Harvard, Kellogg, Wharton, or Columbia. Now if you are in a position to be accepted to and attend a Top 10 business school, this may be a key driver for you and I would encourage you to consider one of these MBA programs, but for most of us, this is not an option. This article is targeting the rest of us, that cannot attend these prestigious programs,

When MBA students are polled the attributes they consider important are often quality of teaching, their own personal ability to be accepted to a program and their ability to attend their chosen business school. Quality of teaching is a very important attribute for a business school and there are ways you can get a general idea about the quality of teaching at a specific school. You can check the Princeton Review, ask current and former students of the MBA program, and you should review the teaching faculty to see how much real-world experience they have. After all, if you are going to increase your knowledge and performance after going through an MBA program, that’s only going to happen with faculty that can help you build real-world business skills.

One other thing to keep in mind, in regards to teaching, if you are a student that likes to have access to instructors and get personal support when required, smaller private universities are often rated higher in student support than larger, or public universities. Location of the business school use to be a major issue, but not as much now. High quality MBA programs are now fully online. Universities like mine, Lourdes University, can offer you a high quality program no matter where you are in the country.

In regards to your ability to be accepted and attend a specific program, universities will list their requirements to be accepted to their MBA program. You may also want to consider applying to two programs, if you have any concerns about being accepted at your first choice. Last, but not least, is consideration of price. Some MBA programs have a total cost of over $100,000 and there are some, like the program I direct, that are under $30,000. Clearly the total cost may limit the schools you apply to. However, once the total program cost is within a few thousand dollars between programs, price is no longer a significant factor in your decision. Speaking of price, to be sure you are comparing “apples-to-apples,” ask each university about their fees. At our MBA program at Lourdes University, there are no additional fees. I’ve seen some schools where extra fees such as technology fees and resource fees can add thousands of dollars to the cost of a degree. Be certain to ask about fees upfront.

If at all possible you should always try to speak with current MBA students at the business school you are considering. You also have the option to visit schools and speak with an advisor. I did this when selecting my university and it was a great experience. This gives you a feeling for schools ethics and values, which should be an important consideration. When you consider some of the significant unethical business behavior we have seen in corporate America over the last twenty years, seeking a business school that focuses on ethics can help make you not just a more successful business person, but also a better person.

One other item to consider is what your expectations are after you obtain your degree. What industry or function are you currently working in and where do you want to be post-graduation. You might also evaluate a school based on specialization. Many MBA programs offer concentrations, or areas of focus, such as leadership or operations management and they have faculty that support these specializations. While not essential, it can be a benefit to attend a school that has a concentration that closely matches your interest, desired goals and aspirations.

Once you read this article and others, it may be worthwhile to create a written list of what things you feel you must have in an MBA program, what would be nice to have and what do you not need at all. Once you have created this list, it may help you with narrowing down your choices. This really helps you define your priorities, as these are different and personal for everyone. Programs that lack the elements you consider essential can just be taken off of your list. The same goes for programs where you feel you do not meet the qualifications and will not get accepted. With this narrower list of business schools in hand, you can now consider your final choices.

The process can be exciting, stressful and even exhausting at times, but there is a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction once you have applied to the MBA programs you think are the best fit for your needs and qualifications. For me, I ended up applying to one MBA program and was accepted. This was not by chance, as good research should result in a great match. Having an MBA opened doors for me that would have been closed otherwise. As you begin your MBA journey, I encourage you to begin with the end in mind and remember just what an MBA degree can do for your career.

Stay tuned for the next MBA Life blog post. Until then, feel free to email me with any questions about the MBA degree or questions about our MBA program at Lourdes University – asinger@lourdes.edu, Professor Andy Singer.