What's In a Name? How to Choose the Right Business School for You

When picking a business school to pursue a Masters of Business Administration (MBA), applicants might feel as though they'€™re choosing blindly. Everyone has heard of the top schools, but what if those select few are out of your reach for the time being?

Does the name of the business school matter more than the skill set you learn from the business school?

In short, yes.

What Else Is There to Consider?

But a great name isn'€™t the entire story. When picking a business school to pursue a Masters of Business Administration (MBA), applicants might feel as though they'€™re choosing blindly. There are over 2,500 business schools in the U.S. and a number of different rankings to choose from, including U.S. News & World Report, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities. Everyone has heard of the top schools, but what if those select few are out of your reach for the time being?

A prestigious name carries weight. If that'€™s what you're going for, keep in mind that after a while the piece of paper that details all of your experience will outweigh the piece of paper that names your alma mater.

A name-brand school, such as Harvard, Stanford, or UPenn, may help narrow the gap between you and your intended field, but it won'€™t do the work for you. Try not to fall into the trap of thinking that an MBA is worth more than actual work experience, in most cases it'€™s meant to amplify existing experience or knowledge. A recent BusinessWeek article stated that millennial MBAs are more impatient and hard to please than their predecessors and often expect to earn six figures right out of school, without having the work experience of their older counterparts.

Undergraduate classes differ from graduate classes. Many of the students in grad school are working professionals going back to school to further their career. This is especially true in business school, and it'€™s not uncommon to see programs mixed with people continuing right on from their undergraduate studies and professionals attending classes at night.

For this reason, incoming students'€™ expectations should be tailored to their specific situations. Graduate students with work experience returning to school with an MBA are in a much different position than those going straight through from undergrad.

Who Recruits From the School?

It'€™s important to know if the graduate school program will help position you for the job, or at least the field€” that you want to break into.

The business school's connections are equally as important as their programs. If the career services department has strong connections with companies that you'€™re going to be shooting for at the end of your graduate career, that's a good thing to keep in mind.

Take a look at the school€'s career services department, website, or profile on BusinessWeek to see which companies the school feeds recent graduates into. This should help you understand if the school will give you a better shot at getting you where you want to go.

Three Main Factors to Keep In Mind When Thinking About Business School:

1. The School Itself

Tuition, class size, geographical location, faculty, and course offerings are a few of the factors that help determine if a school is the right fit. Once accepted into the school of business, there are often different concentration tracks you can opt for during your MBA.

2. Whether or Not to Specialize

Some education experts speculate that the growing trend of some schools offering specialized MBA programs to students is a result of heightened competition between students and schools and the desire for business students to create their own personal brand.

Specialized MBA tracks such as healthcare management, finance, marketing, and IT are just some of the routes that a student seeking to zero in on a specific skill set can use to market themselves to certain employers. There are also less-conventional concentrations, such as Dominican University'€™s Green MBA for Sustainable Enterprise. Many of these specialized programs are new, however, and don'€™t have the established connections with recruiters as the conventional MBA programs. Specialization can help in certain fields, but can have a limiting effect later on in a student's career.

3. Gaining Improved Skill Sets

Regardless of which MBA program you choose, there are some universal truths to a graduate business program:

Team Work: Working well in groups is key. MBA programs seek graduate students that have the fundamentals to be leaders of organizations, who have the wherewithal to coordinate with others, and strategize effectively. Expect to spend a lot of time working with groups both on the ground and online.

Reading and Presentations: Business cases are 10 to 30 pages of dense narratives of exemplary business dilemmas that managers have faced. Get used to reading, dissecting, and analyzing them.

Math: There'€™s no way to avoid it. Businesses exist to make a profit and that profit is calculated in numbers. Brush up on those fundamental finance, calculus, and accounting courses before it'€™s too late.

Networking: Don'€™t forget to socialize. It'€™s not all pie charts and calculations. Business school is a great time to get some credible work experience via internships and conferences. Your professors and your classmates are all people who you'€™ll want to know and connect since they may be your peers and colleagues years after graduation.

Sources:

deChesare, B. (n.d.). Can You Really Use Business School to Re-Brand Yourself and Break Into Finance? Mergers and Inquisitions. Retrieved May 5, 2014, from Mergers and Inquisitions

New Research Indicates Which MBA Brand Name Value and ROI Analysis. (n.d.). MBA Brand Name Value and ROI Analysis. Retrieved May 5, 2014, from AdmissionsConsultants

Levy, F. (2008, July 25). The Spread of Specialized MBA Programs. Bloomberg Business Week. Retrieved May 5, 2014, from Business Week

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