“I’m getting an MBA.”
It’s a pretty common phrase, and may just be the reason you’re considering business school yourself. But it’s not a decision to be taken lightly, and comes with a significant array of considerations. Whether you’re still just thinking about business school, or are ready to start applying, you’re probably curious to know whether or not you’re selecting the right business school for you.
So how do you go about it? First, it’s important to think through your reasons and goals for going to B-school. Then the question becomes what degree level you’ll be pursuing, whether you’ll be attending classes in-person or online (or a mix), and a variety of other factors affecting your choice, such as location, timing, cost and more.
You should also take into account the culture of your school, potential financial aid and admission requirements. We will talk through these factors and more in the following sections, so feel free to read them below or browse through the options at the side of the page.
Business School: Golden Ticket
Business is everywhere, and it defines everyday life from travel to groceries, homes to workplaces and well beyond. It is literally woven into every aspect of our lives, and therefore needs a raft of good people helping it thrive. For this reason, many people think of business school as their ticket to a better career and a better life.
This is certainly true. Business school can enable you to move up the ladder at work, make a major career change, start a business of your own or join a nonprofit industry. A business degree can also help you make more money, earn more responsibility and find more interesting opportunities. While you may be able to make these shits anyway, business school gives you the skills and credibility to get there faster. Nevertheless, it’s only worth doing if school actually aligns with your goals.
There are many reasons to attend business school, but some of the most common include:
- Increasing your level of education: Many people decide to attend business school because they simply want a greater level of education and business is a focus applicable to a huge variety of industries.
- Changing career: You may also attend business school to change your career. Moving laterally into a different field is often difficult, because you lack the skills and experience needed to jump in at your current salary and level of expertise. Business school can provide that experience and skill set. See 50 Great Things You Can Do.
- Find international opportunities: Business school can teach the necessary skills to help you work in another country, which is becoming more and more attractive to workers today.
- Build a bigger network: Oftentimes, people want to advance their opportunities and connectedness, and build alumni relationships. Business school is a great enabler of that, but probably shouldn’t be the main goal.
- Starting your own business: Many factors go into starting a business, and business school can help you learn them all, from managing others to financial responsibility to inventory and more.
- Helping people in need: Business school also offers the skills to join or start nonprofits, help people in remote locations launch their own businesses or market artisanal skills, and raise funds for charities.
These are all good arguments for attending. There are, however, several reasons for heading to business school that aren’t as favorable. For instance, advancing your social status isn’t a good reason. If you simply want to attend school because it’s “what everyone is doing,” you may find yourself floundering and unfulfilled.
Similarly, going just to make more money might not be the best idea; instead, you can likely find other ways to increase your earning potential, such as continuing education through your work or at a community college, open-source online classes and professional associations.
Not only do your goals influence whether or not you will go to school at all, they will also inform your program choice. We will discuss this further in the sections “Other Factors” and “Culture.” For now, though, let’s talk briefly about how business school programs differ depending on degree level.
Degree level is not so much a decision you need to make as it is a factor that will influence where you apply and what you focus in. If you have not yet completed an undergraduate degree, you will not qualify for entrance into an MBA program – Master of Business Administration. In that case, you should look for undergraduate business programs.
Typically, however, “business school” refers to MBA programs. If you have completed your undergrad, you will choose from the huge wealth of graduate degree programs available in the United States and around the world. There are even doctoral programs in business administration, although this is a very advanced career move and one you should consider carefully before embarking on.
Next up: Will you attend classes in person, or will you complete your degree via distance education? Online school is typically a great option for people who have other duties such as work and family, and need the flexibility of completing classes during the evening or on weekends. Plus, online MBA degree programs are typically cheaper. Keep in mind, however, that many online programs do have an on-campus component, often grouped into a month-long requirement in the summer, say. You’ll need to research online schools and assess their requirements individually if you hope to complete your degree online.
Business schools vary widely in their specializations. If your focus is in leadership, for example, you may choose prestigious Harvard. If marketing is your goal, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern is a better choice. Other focuses include global administration, finance, startups, nonprofit, sales and information systems. Again, your career goals will influence how you choose programs by specialty.
Lastly, many smaller determinants will influence which school you choose from the many available. These include:
- Admission Requirements: Can you get in? For obvious reasons, this is one of the most important factors. Schools range from allowing students with a 3.0 from undergrad or high school to setting a 3.75 as their bottom requirement.
- Flexibility: Will your school demand full-time classes during the day, or will you be able to work around other duties?
- Time: How much time will you need to invest in the program? Can you afford that time, either around your current job or instead of your current job? Can you wait 1 or 2 years to see the career improvements you desire?
- Location: Can you afford to move to the school of your choice, or do you need to pick one in the area due to a spouse’s job, continuing to work or other obligations?
- Skills: What skills do you need to come away from school with? Does your chosen program support their development?
- Opportunity: Similarly, will the program give you the opportunities you desire to, for instance, learn a language, travel abroad or start a business?
- Program Quality: Is your program held in high esteem? Is prestige important to you, or are you happy just getting the degree?
- Alumni Associations: What kind of network will you emerge from school with? Do your career goals depend on having a strong base of connections? Is this important to you?
Some experts say to forget these factors and simply attend the best possible school you can get into. For obvious reasons, this isn’t possible for everyone. You will have to decide what is most important to you, but either way, shoot high! Even if you don’t get in, it’s always a good idea to apply to the best possible schools that meet your requirements.
Similar to specialization, the culture of a school is important. The experience of professors – for instance, in research or global travel – will impact the type of experience you have. Similarly, the school’s focus on working abroad or startup business or any other focus will influence how closely your school experience will align to your goals.
Business school comes with many costs: tuition, books, room and board, travel and more. Luckily, for serious business students, many funding opportunities are available for both traditional and distance education. Before you take out student loans, make sure you explore all of these options:
- Grants: A grant is money from the government or a private institution to fund education or research that does not need to be paid back. You may qualify based on need or merit.
- Employer Subsidies: Oftentimes employers will pay for you to attend school on a part-time or full-time basis, in exchange for a promise to work there for a certain length of time.
- Scholarships: These are other merit- and need-based gifts that enable you to go to school without having to pay the money back. Although need may help you qualify, scholarships almost always have a merit-based component.
- Federal Aid: The government will typically help subsidize your education. Grants are often available, but more commonly, you can obtain loans at lower interest rates than are available from private institutions.
If you exhaust these channels and still need funding for school, then and only then should you turn to aid from private institutions such as banks or major lending companies like Sallie Mae. These are still reasonable ways to pay for the costs associated with school, but will cost more in the long run.
Once you’ve considered all of these factors, you will have most of the information you need to make a solid decision about the business school you’ll choose. The next step is to start checking specific programs to see if they meet your goals, then begin applying. Completing a program that works for you will expand your opportunities, increase your salary and help you meet the global need for competent leaders in business for decades to come.