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What to Look for in an MBA Program

Choosing a grad school to get your MBA can be daunting. There are so many options. And every school seems to offer something slightly different. It’s enough to make your head spin. Where do you even begin?

A good place to start is with you. What are your career aspirations? What type of role do you want to be in as a result of having gone to grad school? The more specific you can be, the easier it will be to narrow in on what’s right for you. Start with the end in mind, and let that be your initial guide.

Evaluate the curriculum. Is there a particular specialty you’re looking for? Are you planning to be a leader in a healthcare company? A consumer goods company? A financial-services company? An entrepreneur? Some schools have programs that cater to specific industries. Or they’re known for turning out successful graduates in your field of interest.

Get a feel for the culture and philosophy of the school and its program. How does the school you’re considering approach learning? Is it hands-on or lecture-based? Are the professors academics, or have they been plucked from the business world? Does it emphasize case-study reviews, visiting lecturers, capstone projects, something else? And why? Why has this school or program decided to teach in this particular way? Ideally, you’re looking for something that tracks with your preferences.

Talk to the professors. Want to know who’ll you’ll be learning from? Try to get to know them ahead of time. See if you can schedule a meeting, phone call, or maybe you can exchange emails. Also, check out their credentials. Where have they taught? For how long? Did they spend time in the business world? Where, and with which companies? And what responsibilities did they have?

Talk to graduates. Want to get an insider’s take on the value of the program you’re considering. Talk to some of the graduates. Ask them about the experience. See where they are now. Are they in the kind of roles or companies you want to be in? What did they think was great and not-so-great about the school or program? Searching for an MBA program’s grads is easy to do in the digital age.

Understand what the experience will be like. Will you be attending class on campus? Online? A combination of the two? How accessible will your professors be? How is the program set up? Will you be on a team, and of how many? Are their tests? Projects? Research or field projects? Again, you want to choose a program that offers something that fits with your style and your schedule.

Assess the reputation. This can be tricky. For instance, you could check lists and rankings. That can be helpful. But it’s not enough. Just because a school is ranked high on some list doesn’t mean it’s the best school for you. Cost can be another criterium. But again, higher-priced schools may not always deliver better results for someone with your career aspirations. Just as lower-priced schools may not be a bargain if they don’t get you to where you want to go.

Bottom line: try to know as much as you can about who you are, what you want and where you want to end up. Use that as your guide. And then do your homework.

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