Factors to consider when choosing an MBA

 Choosing the right MBA Programme at the most appropriate school is a daunting challenge for any would-be MBA candidate. As well as course material, performance and employability, location, culture and ethos also have important parts to play in making the all-important decision about where to apply. Leah Carter, Head of Events at AMBA, spoke to three leading Business School admissions professionals to find out what MBA applicants should consider before applying to any course.

What factors should you consider before applying for an MBA course? 

Luis Jover, Associate Director, MBA Admissions, IESE Business School

The key thing I’d like to mention about what to consider before you do an MBA is: ‘why do you want to do it?’

There are many things you can get out of an MBA but what is it you’re looking for? Is it getting a holistic perspective of the business world? Is it acquiring new skills and knowledge? Do you want to expand your business network? Do you want to explore new career opportunities? Or is just that you would like to earn more money?
You need to reflect on your true motivation because this is what the admission people want to know from you. They will want authenticity in your reasoning, so it’s important to be sincere with yourself.

Another important factor to think about is whether or not it’s the right time. The MBA is a great investment if you do it at the right time in the right place. It is not good to do it if you don’t have enough experience or if you’re too old. If you’d like to say in your own industry, it might make sense for you to wait a little bit longer, but if you’d like a career move, it might be better to do it sooner rather than later.

You’ll have to talk to a lot of people to ascertain whether or not it will address your career goals. I tell candidates that if you live in a tiny village and apply there, your aspirations are unrealistic. Honestly and transparency will be key.

Think about fees and culture. Culture and community vary between Business Schools. There are open days and events for you to experience if it’s the right school for you. I’d also look at rankings per sector as this is a good indicator of how companies value a particular MBA.

Some schools are particularly strong in marketing or entrepreneurship, for example, so be really clear about what you want from your MBA.

Location is vital, because you’ll have to spend a lot of time in that place and build a network there and international scope is important as well because you’ll learn as much from your peers as from faculty.

Michael Wort, Assistant Director, Marketing & Recruitment, INSEAD

It’s really important to think about what your objectives are when you come to do an MBA programme. For some people in their current role, that they’ve hit a glass ceiling and they want to make more of their potential and take their development on a new trajectory.

Others want to change the environment in which they’re working, be it function, geography or industry. Because of the nature of the programme, you’ll get a lot of perspectives and this will help you with both these issues.

The network is important as it can help you both professionally and on a personal level. People make lifelong friends – so you’ll meet really interesting people and be exposed to new ideas. In terms of an example, think about it like a radar; be aware of yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. You might be an expert in one particular area, but the MBA will give you exposure to new experiences and information.

The length of the programme will be something you might want to consider; also return on investment – given the investment you’ll spend both in terms of time and money.

Most schools publish graduate career statistics, giving breakdowns of students, so you can see the people with whom you’ll be studying in class. You’ll see where they’re coming from and where they’re going to – this is also useful.


It’s really important to think about what your objectives are when you come to do an MBA programme. For some people in their current role, that they’ve hit a glass ceiling and they want to make more of their potential and take their development on a new trajectory.

Michael Wort, Assistant Director, Marketing & Recruitment, INSEAD


Stephanie Thrane, Senior Admissions Manager for the MBA, London Business School

There are two things to consider. Every business school will ask you about your motivation: why do you want to do an MBA – so it’s Worthing considering this in advance. For most people this is about career advancement or career transitioning. It’s important to go into your research knowing why you want to do an MBA and what the motivation is behind it.

The other thing to consider is commitment. This is a huge investment in your career and in your life. It’s not just something to add to your CV. It’s a lot more than that. It’s a big commitment over one or two years, with a very rigorous academic programme going on behind it. It’s a brand new network with lots of recruitment activities on top of the academic work.

The main thing to think about when choosing a business school will be about fit. Business Schools have different personalities depending on what students they want to attract or where they’re based. When you’re researching Business Schools, it’s a good idea to visit the school as this will give you a good idea of campus environment, maybe sit in a lecture to get an idea of the dynamics of the students and faculty on the programme. Speak to alumni if you can to get an idea of how the MBA has helped them in their career. Speak to students to find out about their current experiences of the programme – and also decide whether these are the sort of people you’d like to spend one or two years of your life with. Also consider the alumni network as these are people you’ll be in touch with for the remainder of your career.

What is the difference between an MBA and an executive MBA?

Stephanie Thrane

It’s important to remember that an executive MBA is not a ‘part time MBA’ is an ‘executive’ MBA for people with a lot more experience than those on the full time MBA. Exec MBAs stay within their companies (either sponsored or not) but are going back to their companies in a more senior position. In exec MBAs the curriculum is tailored more towards strategy and professional development. There is not a recruitment area because most of our students will return to their own companies.

Michael Wort

I think often, people considering an exec MBA have often already ‘proved themselves’ especially if they’re in a functional senior level. Many are moving to more general position, so want to focus on their leadership and soft skills to be an effective general manager.

Luis Jover

Full time MBA people want to change career, but exec MBAs want to progress internally, so they have a plan to work and study at the same time and they don’t intend to quit their jobs when they complete the MBA.

 


The other thing to consider is commitment. This is a huge investment in your career and in your life. It’s not just something to add to your CV. It’s a lot more than that.

Stephanie Thrane, Senior Admissions Manager for the MBA, London Business School


How does an MBA compare with a Specialist Masters programme?

Luis Jover

Again I think it’s important to think about what you want to attain? If you’re in finance and you want to stay in finance, a Master in Finance is enough, but if you want to acquire a broader view of the business world, then an MBA is more suitable.

Stephanie Thrane

With a Masters in Finance, someone who is not from a finance background but wants to go into finance, might not be the right fit for this, because it’s so specialised and will have lots of students from finance. On an MBA those who are not in finance, will receive a generalist overview of business and this will enable you to embark on a career in finance.


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How will schools help students with the recruitment process and how are connection made with employers?

Stephanie Thrane

Recruitment is a machine that happens from day one and finance careers kicks off in the beginning of the academic year. Lots of companies will visit campus, have coffees, interview people, present and offer internships. Consulting comes next, then throughout the first year we have FMCG, healthcare and tech. It’s something we manage in the school with a careers department.

Some jobs come on the back of internships, but otherwise the machine kicks off in the second year, for full time hires. More and more jobs are sourced through our alumni community.

Michael Wort

Pre-programme, you should be thinking about your reasons for taking an MBA, reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses; you have some kind of idea of the direction in which you wish to go. Have plan A, plan B and plan C. Do some research and be clear if your objectives are realistic. Lots of MBA students are exposed to so many new things after just two weeks and this reshapes your thinking. You’ll quickly know what you’re good at and what you enjoy and this will frame your career goals. The you’ll look at the market, understand the key players. It’s no longer about just uploading your CV onto a website.

It’s definitely advantageous to be located within interview distance. Many recruiters will visit campuses globally, but it can be good to build a network in the area in which you want to work.

Luis Jover

All schools have professional careers services, but it’s up to you to take ownership of your career. Your ultimate responsibility is to land the right opportunity - reflect on what you’re good at and exploit that…

Although full-time MBAs are more geared to people that want to change career and executive MBAs are for those that want to continue working, what would your advice be, to someone who wants to change careers but is worried about the cost of a full-time MBA without working alongside it?

Luis Jover

If you want to change careers, make a decision and think long-term. There is no other programme like an MBA that will enable you to change careers, so I think it’s worth investing in a full-time MBA if this is the case. Main message: look long term.

Stephanie Thrane

Look at rankings and alumni research to find out how salaries compare five years after MBA completion – but for most people, it works out very well.

Are there differences between MBAs between the US and Europe?

Stephanie Thrane

All European programmes have a truly globally experience with an international cohort. We attract local talent. US programmes are amazing and have great reputations but have a very domestic approach and I would claim the class profile there is mainly American. That’s right for a lot of people, but it’s not what we offer.

Michael Wort

I agree. Diversity of students leads to diversity of ideas. The cultural backgrounds build a map of the world and you’ll learn how you fit into that. People who are different learn how to work together and challenge each other on assumptions and this can be interesting when discussing ideas such as protectionism. People of different backgrounds can provide a rich source of learning and debate.

Regarding teaching methodology, some US schools tend to accept people onto MBA programmes quite soon after doing an undergrad, whereas in Europe there is more work experience. US schools are keen on the case method for teaching, but in European schools there is more of a mixture of different approaches – discussion, group work, varied and interactive.

There is a need to be adaptable and change direction and try new things. The diversity allows you to fit in with cultures and travel post MBA.

Luis Jover

The MBA is an American product, so there is no doubt about the quality of teaching there, but on diversity, we have people countries and they have people from 50 different states. The richness of discussion and its beauty would be missed without this diversity.