Nov 8, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

It’s easy to get caught up in a shiny, bright, “big name” business school. After all, an Ivy League pedigree certainly has its allures.  However, the reality is that just because a b-school is famous doesn’t mean its MBA program is the best one for your individual needs and goals. Read on for a roundup of five questions to ask before picking a business school.

1. What kind of curriculum does it follow?

Not all b-school curricula are created equal, but they do typically fall into two categories: fixed or flexible. The first approach comprises an initial year of core classes followed by a second year of elective coursework. The second approach is flexible from the outset.

There are pros and cons to each option. While the former delivers a helpful understanding of business fundamentals, the latter allows students to immediately pursue their areas of interest. The takeaway? If you’re entering business school with a non-business background, a fixed program may be a more appropriate fit, while incoming students with backgrounds in finance or business may find fixed programs initially lack the level of depth they’re seeking.

2. Where does the teaching staff come from?

The mark of a top business school? Highly qualified, diverse, and international teachers and researchers. However, truly exceptional b-school faculty bring something else to the table: the ability to translate complex, theoretical material into understanding which can be applied in the real world. One way to know how faculty members measure up? Talk to current students about their experiences: Are teachers both inspired and accessible? These factors will help you stay engaged in the classroom -- not to mention connected outside the classroom.

If you have interest in working in a particular field or industry, meanwhile, make sure prospective schools have faculty with backgrounds in that specific area.

3. How large and dynamic is its alumni network?

Between faculty members and your classmates, you’ll have ample opportunities to build connections during b-school. But the size and nature of a school’s alumni network can vastly enhance the opportunities available to you -- both in the short- and long-term.

There are many different ways to leverage the power of a thriving alumni network. As one senior associate director for admission told FT, “If a candidate aims to work in the US right after graduation, of course, they should look for a school with ties in that region. But in the long term, perhaps, work will take him or her to Latin America, thus a well-rounded network is essential.”

If you have aims on working for a particular company, meanwhile, choosing the right school can also make a difference. A recent MBA grad told FT, “Check out LinkedIn or corporate profiles of people at the companies you are interested in pursuing. If they all attended a select group of schools, it is a great sign the school has close ties to the companies’ human resources departments.”

4. Does the program align with your goals?

From changing career directions to striking out as an entrepreneur to increasing your job prospects to building your network to developing international experience, there are many different reasons to attend b-school. The right MBA program can help you fulfill these goals, while the wrong one can end up feeling like squandered time, money and effort.

Advises US News and World Report of the school selection process: “Only apply to programs where you can clearly see how its core and elective courses over the next two years will thoroughly prepare you to reach your post-MBA professional goals.”

Echoes The Economist, “Beyond the generalist nature of the MBA qualification, schools have carved reputations in certain areas such as entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, nonprofit, real-estate, it management or health care. The schools not only work hand in hand with the related industry, but also have faculty who have developed an area of expertise. They might have an incubator to attract venture capital for entrepreneurial business plans, or offer work-study programmes that give students a hands-on experience of working with ngos.”

The Economist recommends checking out the profile section at the back of Which MBA? to learn more about specific school strengths.

5. Where is it located, and will you need a visa?

Business school is two years of your life. Choosing a school in a location that appeals to you can help make the experience more fulfilling. A UK student doing his MBA in Australia told FT, “It’s a wonderful balance, and ultimately leads to a far more positive and productive life.”

But the location of your b-school can also have a huge impact on your future work options. Particularly if you’re hoping for an international career, doing your MBA in a country with progressive visa and immigration policies can vastly enrich and enhance your professional prospects.

Ultimately, while choosing a school based entirely on reputation can be tempting, it may also be short-sighted. Taking the time to ask -- and answer -- these five questions can help you make the most informed and auspicious choice.

 

 

 

 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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