Thinking about an MBA? You’re not alone- approximately a quarter of all masters degrees conferred this year will be in Business Administration.
But in an educational environment saturated with options, how can you choose whether or not it is the right time to pursue an MBA, and where you should look to earn one? I recently attended a conference with admissions officers from top Northeastern Business Schools, and it became clear throughout its duration that applicants were facing very similar roadblocks when committing to a program. Consider the following factors – structure, opportunities, alumni and reputation (SOAR) – during the decision making process to streamline your methods and make this transition period as productive as possible.
- Curriculum: Is the curriculum tailored to your interests? If you are light on quantitative skills, would you prefer the challenge of a program that can help fortify them, or a program that enhances your already solid qualitative abilities? This is especially relevant for applicants looking to make an industry switch – make sure that the schools you are targeting will equip you with the skills that will make your time spent as a business student worth the investment.
- Flexibility: Do you intend to work during your studies? Full time? Part time? Are there courses available online for the commuter student? All these could determine whether or not a program fits your most basic scheduling needs, and is a realistic lifestyle fit for the next two years
- Are there parts of your preferred program that can help cater to your needs? A common complaint among top-tier programs is that women are greatly underrepresented in the business school sphere. Taking advantage of mentorship opportunities and networking events can be uniquely beneficial to this demographic of potential students. It is important to understand your position in the application process – whether you are a minority applicant, have limited work experience, or applying from an unusual industry- and seek out programs that can help provide the most opportunities for someone in your position.
- Location, location, location – the old real estate adage holds true for business school students. If you are planning to work during your MBA, location can be crucial. Location can also help you break into your target industry. For the more adventurous applicant, overseas studies can be very enticing, while the finance aficionado may want to be in New York and the startup guru in the Bay Area.
- Perhaps the most lucrative benefit of a business degree is entering into the ranks of a school’s alumni network. Ed Batista, a California-based career coach, writes in the Harvard Business Review that upon starting his post-graduate career, and then again when becoming an executive coach, he found the most success and support from his fellow Stanford GSB alumni. While a superficial return on investment of an MBA can be estimated by increase in earnings versus tuition cost, alumni connections and the opportunities provided from them can be considered invaluable. Before choosing a business school, it is useful to factor in whether these connections are worth the cost of a particular degree.
- Alumni can also serve another, important role. They can help you estimate what your career can look like 1, 5, or 10 years after graduation. This can be particularly important for the industry-focused applicant. Kellogg may be thought of as the ‘consulting MBA,’ but where can someone in the oil industry go to further their career? Looking at the industries and positions of alumni can help an applicant determine whether or not a degree will be useful in their field.
- When considering business school, reputation can be a double-edged sword. The prestige that can follow attaining an MBA from a top business school can add immediate recognition to a job candidate’s profile. Earning an MBA from a top program can signal that you have what it takes to out-compete your peers to be accepted to an elite program. This is corroborated by a recent study conducted by Ivy Exec, in which we found that the #1 attribute our members consider in choosing a business school is the prestige of an institution.
- On the other hand, as Batista points out, certain industries view an MBA with skepticism. There are arenas in which it is more important to prove yourself as an individual or through production, rather than through a degree. This is an important metric to take into account when deciding whether or not you wish to invest in a business degree – will it open doors, or cause doubt?
Congratulations on your decision to consider business school! It is certainly not one to take lightly- but remembering the SOAR metrics will help decide the crucial questions of “when”, “where”, and even “if.”