Deciding on the right graduate business program for you can be an overwhelming process — with over 2,000 MBA programs across the world, how do you choose the right one?
While there are a variety of online guides and printed resources to help answer that question, the following considerations can help provide a starting point for sorting through the host of MBA program offerings.
What are your goals?
There may be a variety of reasons you are now exploring an MBA — your boss is considering you for a promotion but wants you to have an MBA, you have discovered a new passion and want to pursue a career change, or maybe you love learning and see the MBA as an opportunity for personal enhancement. Whichever your reason, every MBA program should have resources and faculty support for specific areas of study — finance, supply chain, entrepreneurship, and marketing to name a few. The alumni network and business community is also a powerful resource that should be aligned with those focus areas. If you’re wanting to launch your own tech start-up or work as a director of a non-profit, explore programs that will align with those goals in both program curriculum and co-curricular opportunities, and external network.
What if I’m not fully certain of what I want to do? What if I have a variety of career ambitions that don’t fit one specific field?
The MBA is a great opportunity to do important self-reflection by evaluating what you’re passionate about and want to pursue long-term. If your current career objective is a question mark or a page-long list, take the time now to connect with a career advisor or seek out informational interviews with individuals that are in positions or fields that excite you. In doing this research, you can also confirm if now is the right time to pursue an MBA or if there is another graduate business degree that better aligns with your career goals.
Where do you want to complete your program?
Once you’ve determined what goals you want to accomplish through the MBA, a second consideration for your program selection is where you want to study. Some candidates see the MBA as an opportunity to study in a new state or country — explore new industries, meet and engage with new cultures, or pursue their passions in a region that more closely aligns with their values and interests. Other candidates may have personal or professional obligations that root them more permanently to their current region. So, whether you are ready to travel abroad or stay in your current city to complete the MBA, do your research on what each program location may offer you for both your program experience and career pursuits.
Here are some helpful questions to get you started:
- Are alumni and business community connections easily accessible?
- Do you want to study in an urban or rural setting?
- What are the cultural experiences and travel available in the program’s region?
- Is the program near companies and organizations for job and internship opportunities?
What do you want your student experience to be like?
This is, in many ways, a catch-all as the student experience encompasses all aspects of a program, but there are a few important ones to pay special attention to:
- Class Size and Structure: Small, medium, and large class sizes can all provide different benefits to a student environment. From one end of the spectrum, with a class of 25 students, you may experience deeper relationships across that group, and facilitate rich discussions, addressing and learning from the personal and professional backgrounds of your fellow students. Larger class sizes, at the other end of the spectrum, can equate to a larger professional network, and increased diversity. Take note if you are more successful in one of those learning environments over the others.
- Classroom Diversity: Business is global and diverse. Your learning experience should reflect that. Most programs will seek to incorporate diversity into their student populations — you can utilize a class profile, student blogs or direct connections with students to hear about the different mix of students who pursue each program, and which mix is one that you think reflects your aims.
- Student Resources: Applied learning can be one of the best methods for comprehension. Student resources support that aim by putting learning into practice. Want to launch or advance your career in finance? Check if your preferred list of schools have an investment group that allows students to manage a portfolio. Want to grow your current business or launch a new venture? Check if the school has a business accelerator that works with business community members to build a business plan or for mentorship opportunities. This part of the student experience should also address career resources — internships and jobs are significant ways for students to gain necessary experience in a field that they may be pivoting into or building a connection that can lead to job growth post-program.
Selecting an MBA program can be overwhelming, but these essential questions should start narrowing your list of top options.
Abby Messenger is a recruiting specialist at Portland State University. You can connect with Abby via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 503-725-2291.