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Selecting the Right MBA Program – 6 Factors to Consider

Last updated on June 13th, 2019

Reading Time: 16 minutes

Did you know that there are more than 2,300 business schools worldwide that accept the GMAT?

Selecting the right MBA program out of so many options is tedious work!

The fact that you’re reading this article means you need help figuring out how to select the right MBA program for yourself. We understand the feeling of being completely lost and not knowing where to start. After all, choosing the best MBA program is not as simple as doing a Google search!

Actually, you know what?

It can be that simple if you know what you need to take into consideration.

In fact, that’s what we will discuss in this article – six things you need to consider while choosing MBA programs to apply to. Here are the questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Does my profile match the MBA class profile?
  2. Is the B-School’s location right for me?
  3. What are the specializations the MBA offers?
  4. How can MBA Rankings help in selecting the right MBA program?
  5. Should I choose a 1-year MBA or a 2-year MBA?
  6. How do I calculate the ROI of an MBA?

Let’s discuss some ways to answer these questions.
 

1. Does my profile match the MBA class profile?

Your classmates play a huge role in determining the quality of your MBA experience.
 

Profile match

 
That’s why you need to ensure you fit in well with the kind of people you’ll have as classmates. The best way to do that is to see if your profile matches with a B-School’s class profile. You can usually find the profile of the school’s most recent batch on their official website.

The ideal MBA program for you is the one where you fit in with the class.

Here are some of the aspects you need to think about regarding profiles:

a. Age
The average age for the IIM-A PGPX program is 31 while the average age at Stanford is 28. Which one resonates better with you?

b. International Students
The percentage of Indians at a typical International school is under 10% while close to 99% of people in Indian MBA programs are Indians! Where do you want to be?

c. Diversity
Business schools abroad work hard to ensure that there’s a good mix of people from different educational and professional backgrounds, while Indian MBA batches will mostly comprise of engineers. What kind of a cohort would you rather be a part of?

To figure out the answers to these questions, you need to understand the pros and cons of being in a class full of people just like yourself. Make it a point to read up on selecting an MBA program based on your profile to get a better idea of how this works.

In the subsequent section, we will discuss the importance of geography in MBA program selection.
 

2. Is the B-School’s location right for me?

Considering the geography of a B-School is not as one-dimensional as checking up on profile matching. There are many aspects involved in the geography of a given school that you need to think about.
 

geography

 
You can start out by figuring out whether you want to do your MBA abroad or in India.

That is a critical point which will help you narrow down your options significantly. But there are a few more things related to geography that will affect what you gain from your MBA. For example:

a. Future Plans
If you plan to stay in the country where you get your MBA, you need to consider your odds of getting a work visa there. Also think about the country’s social and economic stability and whether it is sustainable for you to live there in the near future.

b. Proximity to Industry
Think about it – business schools in Manhattan will inherently have an advantage when it comes to post-MBA careers in Finance. The same goes for Silicon Valley B-Schools and careers related to tech and entrepreneurship. In short, remember that the industry surrounding a school makes a difference to what you could gain from doing an MBA there.

c. Language
Studying abroad in the US and UK is, luckily, straightforward – you only need to know English, which you obviously already do. But if you’re going to Germany, Italy, Spain, or some other country, you will need to know the national language. Don’t dismiss this factor – it is critical in more ways than one!

d. Culture
We often fail to consider the food habits of a different country, and this is likely to affect you whether you’re a vegetarian or not. Surviving without your staple food is harder than you might think! And food is only one aspect of culture; there’s a lot more to it beyond that, too.

e. Climate
It is critical not to underestimate the difficulty of living in a place significantly colder than what you’re used to. For example, nothing in India can prepare you for Canadian winters. You’ll have to invest a fair amount of time, money, and grit into coping with harsher weather than your homeland.

Let it suffice to say that a LOT rides on the location of your B-School.

To understand in detail how the location of a B-School can affect your MBA experience, read up on how to select B-Schools based on geography.

The next section talks about how specializations should help you decide which MBA program to choose.
 

3. What are the specializations the MBA offers?

Now this section is very closely tied to your post-MBA career plans. That means you need to have those in place before you start thinking about choosing B-Schools based on specializations.
 

specializations

 
You may have noticed that a B-School’s location can often affect what it is known for. However, it does not limit a school’s expertise.

For example, look at the Stanford MBA program. You could take up any of the specializations on offer and you would still thrive. Stanford’s expertise isn’t limited to tech and entrepreneurship in spite of being in the heart of the Silicon Valley.

The idea is to look for something that a school is renowned for.

Selecting the right MBA program based on specializations takes into consideration the available electives as well as the school’s expertise.

There are many ways to find the leading business schools for a given specialization. Look up business schools that are recognized as Centers of Excellence in a given field. You can even take a look at different publications’ MBA rankings according to your choice of specialization.

The point is to balance what you want with what is available and what the school is known for.

You may want to, for example, get into the MBA program at UCLA Anderson and specialize in Supply Chain Management. Doing so may not be in your best interest if UCLA Anderson offers Supply Chain Management but is better known for its HR specialization.

In essence, we’re encouraging you to do your research here.

Go ahead and read up on how to choose an MBA program based on specializations.

The next section talks about a great tool that can help you in selecting the right MBA program.
 

4. How can MBA Rankings help in selecting the right MBA program?

MBA rankings are published every year by leading publications across the Business sector. They are meant to help candidates, students, faculty, and recruiters to get a grip on the approximate lay of the land as far as B-Schools are concerned.

Almost all publications use nearly the same data points to come up with these rankings. Yet, their results are often quite different from each other.

This is because of differences in two major aspects:

a. Weightage Assignment
All the B-Schools on a publication’s list are scored on various parameters. A certain weightage is then assigned to each aspect, and the school’s final score is a combination of raw scores and weightages. Every publication assigns a different weightage to each aspect based on its own priorities.

b. Data Verification
All the data taken from B-Schools for MBA rankings is self-reported. This leaves a massive amount of space for ‘fudging’ the data, which is expected thanks to the value of a high rank for every B-School. Some publications take meticulous measures to get the data verified from secondary and tertiary sources while some others don’t.

We highly recommend that you look at each school’s aggregate rank across publications to get a fair picture of it’s real standing.

Doing this will eliminate outliers like CEIBS, a Chinese B-School that appears within Financial Times’ Top 10 but ranks significantly lower on the other publications’ lists. Comparing ranks across publications also ensures that your decision doesn’t depend on any single publication’s priorities.

Actually, the best thing to do is to come up with your own rankings based on parameters that are important to you.

However, if you can’t do that, at least read up on the methodologies used by the MBA rankings you plan to consult. Maybe you’ll find a publication whose weightage distribution reflects your own priorities. Even if you don’t, you will know how seriously you should take these rankings.

We have compiled a list of which MBA rankings you can trust. Hopefully, those will help you in selecting the right MBA program based on rankings.

The next factor is something you may have already thought about, but it’s worth discussing anyway.
 

5. Should I choose a 1-year MBA or a 2-year MBA?

Most candidates have a major one-year vs. two-year MBA debate to grapple with while selecting the right MBA programs.
 

Program duration

 
Some of you may be aware of the basic differences between a one-year MBA and a two-year MBA. But just to ensure we’re on the same page, let’s get into some preliminary details here.

Here are the primary differences between 1-year vs. 2-year MBA programs:

a. Opportunity Cost
In case you’re not sure what this means, opportunity cost is the amount of money you could have earned if you had chosen one option over the other. For example, let’s assume your annual salary is ₹8 Lakh. This means the opportunity cost if you opt for a one-year MBA program is ₹8 Lakh and if you choose a two-year program, it is ₹16 Lakh.

b. Pace of Learning
A two-year MBA program lets you learn at your own pace. It gives you time for things like case competitions, networking events, seminars, and immersive learning. On the other hand, a one-year MBA program is very to-the-point and fast-paced. It doesn’t afford a lot of time for co- or extra-curricular activities no matter which B-School you’re a part of.

c. Choosing Specializations
In a two-year MBA program, you have an entire year at least before you need to pick your electives. It allows you to get a good understanding of what the syllabus is like and what each elective entails. One-year MBA programs require you to make your choices within one semester.

Typically, if you have a fair amount of work experience and you know exactly what you want from your MBA, the one-year MBA is for you. That doesn’t go to say that you can’t do a one-year MBA with limited work experience or goal clarity, it’s just that it will not yield optimum results if you do that.

Either way, the impact of program duration on the outcome of your MBA is quite subtle.

We strongly recommend that you read up on selecting the right MBA program based on program duration before making a decision.

Nothing makes as much of a difference as the ROI a program has to offer you, so in the next section, that’s what we will discuss.
 

6. How do I calculate the ROI of an MBA?

The ROI of an MBA is not easy to calculate, irrespective of the duration of the program.

You may be led to believe that it is a simple calculation. Just enter the amount invested into getting your MBA and the average post-MBA salary, and voilà – you have the ROI of an MBA. Now, that would work if the salary hike is all you got out of an MBA!

However, there are at least three intangible benefits that you get from your MBA. Let’s take a look at them:

a. Knowledge: You will learn about new concepts and industry norms that will help you navigate your way up the corporate hierarchy.

b. Network: Having business contacts all over the world is something that can help you throughout your life.

c. Perspective: Being able to look at problem-solving from a holistic, global perspective will help you be innovative in your approach, always.

These are assets you gain from an MBA that will give you benefits throughout your life. But it is impossible to calculate how much money these benefits translate into, so it’s tough to factor these things into the ROI of an MBA.

While getting a substantial salary hike in the post-MBA career of your choice is important, it isn’t the only thing to consider as ROI.

Our recommendation is that you should consider these factors as well while selecting MBA programs based on ROI.
 

These six factors should help you come up with a list of B-Schools that you can apply to. Do note that these factors are not arranged in any particular order of importance. That changes from person to person, so you can go as per your preference.
There’s one last thing to do before you start applying: prioritize business schools based on your chances of getting in.
There should ideally be three types of B-Schools on your shortlist:

  1. Reach Category
  2. Stretch Category
  3. Dream Category

The schools in the Reach Category should be those that you stand a great chance of getting into. Let us explain how this works with an example. Suppose you’re a 28-year-old Indian male IT professional with a 720 on your GMAT.

Based on this, something like the PGP at the Indian School of Business would fall in the Reach Category for you. Their average GMAT score is 700, the average age is 27, and 67% of the class comes from an engineering background. Statistically speaking, you have great chances of getting in.

In the Stretch Category, place those schools that you may not stand great chances of getting into. You should need to put considerable work into building your application to stand a chance of getting an admit from these schools.

A school like the Tepper School of Business should fall in the Stretch Category for you.

Now, this is a bit tricky. If you check on Tepper’s official website, you’ll find that the average GMAT score is 690.

Why would we ask you to put this in the Stretch Category, then?

Here’s why:

At many B-Schools around the world, the expected GMAT score is higher for Indian and Chinese applicants than for applicants from the rest of the world. This is an unsaid rule, though, so it’s tough to know what exactly this “higher score” is.

To be on the safe side, look at the score range of the middle 80%. At Tepper, this range is from 640 to 742, meaning there are students at Tepper who have scored above 740. That is primarily why we would strongly suggest that schools like Tepper should remain in the Stretch Category even if your GMAT score is higher than the class average.

Finally, let’s talk about the Dream Category. Every person who has ever thought of getting an MBA has surely dreamt of studying at Harvard Business School, Wharton School of Business, and the likes.

Needless to say, all these go into the Dream Category.

You can work super hard on creating an outstanding profile and application, but your chances of getting into these schools remain next to zero.

What’s the point of applying, then, you ask?

Well, it is to try your luck. There’s a one-in-a-million chance that you might get an admit if the school really likes your application. It’s worth a shot!

This is all that we think you need to think about while selecting the right MBA programs to apply to. We hope that this article has helped you find your way! In case you still have questions or queries, do leave a comment in the section below and we will be happy to help you out.

If you’re still wondering whether your profile is good enough for an MBA, get it evaluated right away!