How to choose the best MBA program for your career goals
Not every MBA program is the same, and many MBA programs have reputations for excelling at different specialties. The first question you should ask yourself is, “What are my career goals after completing my MBA?”
How you answer that question will determine which MBA programs you should target. If you want a job in a specific field such as finance or consulting, look up programs that have the best employment statistics in those fields. Some programs will emphasize financial fields such as investment banking, while others will emphasize operations and logistics.
Once you’ve settled on a particular field, narrow down your target schools to those with the best reputations in your desired field. Then you can research those programs further and take into account factors such as location, cost, and the strength of their alumni network. Here are some other factors to consider:
- Full-time vs. Part-time
The biggest question most people face is whether to continue working during the MBA program or to take time off.
Full-time MBA programs typically take two years to complete, although there are some accelerated programs that can be completed in as little as a year. The early semesters will be comprised of core courses in accounting, finance, and economics, while later semesters will offer a variety of electives around which you can tailor your concentration.
Part-time MBA programs can take three or more years to complete, but they can be attractive for other reasons. Many companies will subsidize part-time MBAs, and you will still have access to the same faculty as the full-time students. Part-time MBA programs will also involve evening classes with a more flexible schedule as well.
- Defining your career goals
MBA candidates who know what they want from their program will get more out of their MBA experience. Someone who is looking to move up to a management position in their current field will take a different path from someone looking to change careers.
Graduate certificate programs are becoming more common, and they have the advantage of providing specialized training within a narrow field. However, certifications are not degrees, and your career goals will determine whether or not certifications are worth your time.
Dual-degree programs are also becoming more popular, and they will often allow you to save time and money. A program that combines a law degree (J.D.) with an MBA can take as little as three or four years, whereas getting those degrees separately could take as long as five years.
Where you get your MBA can also have a big impact on your future. The elite MBA programs will give you opportunities all over the world, but there are also MBA programs with a more regional focus that have strong relationships with particular companies and markets.
If you are attending a full-time program, you will also have to consider what kind of city or town you want to spend two years in. Some MBA programs are located in the middle of metropolitan centers while others may be in small college towns. The network you build during your MBA program can have a big impact on your future, so take that into consideration when choosing a program.
- What culture does your school have?
MBA programs have a wide range of different cultures. Some are extremely competitive while other programs offer a more collegial atmosphere. Also, the level of interaction you have with faculty can determine the availability of future career opportunities.
Employment opportunities may be the single most underrated statistic when choosing an MBA program. Many applicants simply rely on the U.S. News rankings, ignoring more relevant information such as the number of people employed at graduation in the field you are pursuing. Do the research that is relevant to your career goals.
- Think long term when doing the cost benefit analysis of an MBA
The cost of an MBA is rising, and many people are turned off by the price tag of a particular program. Rather than thinking of tuition as a cost, think of it as an investment in your future. That means that it is especially important to get into the best MBA program possible. Having Wharton on your resume could give you more than twice the return on investment as having a second-tier school that costs half of what an elite program costs.
Investing in an MBA is a big decision, so make sure that you do all of the relevant research before choosing a program. Don’t simply rely on general rankings of business schools. Instead, look deeper into how each program can help you achieve your particular career goals.
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