Getting an MBA degree for career advancement – Part II

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Trinity College by Infomatique

My first post was intended to be a general introduction to the MBA application process. In this post, I will dive into a much more specific topic: School Selection.

Selecting the right MBA program is a critical part of one’s overall application strategy. Identifying the right programs at the beginning of the application process can make a world of difference later on. Everyone has their own preferences but here are some things to consider:

Program Format:

Unlike a decade or two ago when most schools offered only one type of MBA program, there are many ways to obtain a MBA today.

Full-Time:

  • The full-time program is the most traditional of all MBA programs. It is offered by virtually all schools, domestic and international. US full-time programs typically last two full years and European programs, with the exception of London Business School, lasts a single year. Full-time programs are ideal for career changers, especially those looking to get into banking or management consulting. Bulge bracket banks and management consultancies tend to hire graduates who have relevant work experience, whether it is pre-MBA work experience or a summer internship. For career changers, a summer internship is often the only way to break into their target industry.
  • Out of all the programs, the full-time programs provide the best access to both summer internship and full-time recruiting. Full-time programs are also a great option for those seeking an enriching experience outside of the class room. Most top MBA programs offer a myriad of social activities and events. At Wharton, for example, students have the opportunity to join a student club, travel to Africa on a leadership venture, organize a career trek to Hong Kong, etc., and full-time students are in the best position to take advantage of these opportunities.
  • The main disadvantage of the full-time program is the cost and time commitment. With loans drying up quickly for domestic students and disappearing altogether for international students, a full-time MBA is becoming increasingly difficult to finance.

Part Time:

  • The part-time evening and weekend program is another popular option offered at some schools. In the US, reputable part-time programs are offered by University of Chicago Booth, NYU Stern, Berkeley Haas, and Kellogg, among others.
  • Part-time programs are a more versatile alternative to full-time programs. Unlike in a full-time program, students can work while they earn their MBA through a part-time program. With tuition at business schools now averaging 40-50k a year, part-time programs provide a cost-effective option for professionals who don’t have a particular desire to change industry or job function.
  • The disadvantages of the part-time program include limited access to recruiting as well as limited opportunities for networking and socializing.

Accelerated:

  • The accelerated program is a shortened version of the full-time program and typically lasts one year. Accelerated MBA programs are offered at schools like Columbia and Cornell.
  • Like the part-time program, accelerated MBA program offers students a cheaper way to complete a MBA degree. The biggest difference between an accelerated MBA and a full-time MBA is the lack of a summer internship.

Executive:

  • The executive MBA is a relatively new program that caters to professionals who have extensive management experience.
  • The executive program provides senior managers an opportunity to update their business skills and network. However, justifying the need for a business degree at the senior management levels may be more difficult.

Online:

  • Online MBAs are usually offered by smaller or lesser known programs to professionals who otherwise don’t have the means to pursue a graduate business degree. A good online program can enrich a student’s business knowledge, but it is severely limiting in terms of recruiting and networking opportunities.

Location:

The location of the school is an important factor to consider. From a career and recruiting perspective, it is best to target schools located near one’s target industry. For the finance oriented, schools in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are good choices. For VC and high-tech, Stanford GSB and Berkeley Haas are obvious candidates. UCLA is particularly strong in media and entertainment, and schools in the Midwest have strong ties to the auto and manufacturing industries.

Location also affects a school’s social dynamic. Students at Tuck, for example, are more close-knit than students at schools like Columbia and Chicago, who are often distracted by the sights and sounds of their host city.

Reputation:

The reputation of a school is hard to quantify and mostly subjective. For a general guide, one can research annual rankings published by BusinessWeek, US News, Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Generally speaking, to get into the more competitive industries like investment banking and management consulting, it is crucial to get into a top ten program.

US or International:

Most prospective US applicants apply to domestic MBA programs. However, there is a great opportunity to pursue a MBA at a top international business school. London Business School and INSEAD both offer great programs with a strong international focus. At an international business school, one can expect to meet people from all around the world and even learn a new language. Some schools also come with unexpected perks. As one friend said of her experience at INSEAD, “not many schools can boast of having parties in medieval French castles”.

Class Size:

Business schools vary greatly in size. Smaller programs like those at Tuck, Stanford, Berkeley and MIT only enroll around 300 students a year while large programs like those at Harvard, Wharton and Columbia enroll close to 800. Class size makes a difference when it comes to student culture and recruiting. Students at Stanford, for example, have the luxury of attending more intimate social and recruiting events. Larger schools, on the other hand, offer the chance to meet more students and recruiters.

Academics:

One can expect to receive a great education at any top business school, period. However, over the years, schools have built up a reputation in different areas of specialization. Wharton, Chicago, and Columbia, for example, are known as finance schools. They are located close to financial centers and have top-notch finance professors. Harvard, meanwhile, is great for general management. Their case-based education philosophy has produced some of the best general managers today. Stanford and Berkeley, due to their ties to the Silicon Valley, are good choices for prospective venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, and Kellogg is well-known for their marketing program.

Academic rigor also varies from program to program and some schools are known to be more academically demanding than others. Kellogg and Stanford are typically thought to be the least rigorous, while MIT, Tuck, and Darden are thought to be the most.

Career Service:

On-campus recruiting is arguably one of the most useful services business schools provide. An effective and well staffed career services center will become indispensable during recruiting season. To learn more about a particular school’s recruiting and career services, the school’s career report is a good starting point.

Social:

Student culture can vary drastically between schools. It’s important to learn as much as possible about a given school’s student culture since being able to demonstrate a clear social and cultural fit will be crucial for a successful application. Visiting a school and talking to alumni is the best way to learn about a school’s student culture.
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