It’s autumn. Thousands of prospective MBA students are out there canvassing campuses, studying for their graduate management admission tests, and asking former colleagues to write them recommendations that could possibly change the direction of their lives. They are in pursuit of the dream embedded in glossy brochures that a MBA degree will lead to better futures.
But somewhere along the way, these applicants discard their own interests and become seduced by blindly applying only to schools that are high ranked by MBA guides. They forget that a MBA is an investment in one’s education. The cornerstone of measuring the success of any investment is return on investment. In other words, will this investment of time and money provide the appropriate direction to further a career?
At the start of my journey, I believed that all MBA programmes were created equal. But they are not. The MBA is an experience, and for all prospective students I can only advise that one should apply to schools that will provide the type of experience that justifies the exorbitant cost. I advise you to put the rankings aside and spend significant time researching the school’s alumni, resources, professors, and most importantly, its depth of career services.
Professors and alumni: Are they any good?
Ask yourself: Do you like the structure of the programme? Is there depth in the academic department of interest? Are faculty members liked by students and respected professionally by their peers? Never underestimate this factor. If professors don’t have appropriate connections, neither will you.
Are alumni supporters of the programme? Will they spend time talking to students offering advice? Interviewing? Contributing to the endowment? If alumni aren’t contributing, then this business programme did not advance their careers financially. Are alumni actively advocating for you to attend, or are their answers obscure, as if to warn you about the choice you are about to make? Remember alumni do not want to make their schools look bad, so they will struggle with communicating decisions that they regret.
The myth of job placement statistics
If the point of business school is to further one’s career and obtain a better job to justify the cost, understand the ability of career services to fill that role. The glossy brochures highlight fancy statistics about job placements, but what’s really behind those numbers? Examine them, ask questions, and more importantly, understand how they are calculated.
How many “successful” placements were just students who returned to their former employer, some of whom may even have been sponsored by their former employer? How many alumni recruit students? If alumni aren’t recruiting from their own business school, run away as fast as possible.
Will the MBA actually help you get a finance job or is it set up to serve other sectors?
Lastly, understand a school’s true purpose. Is it a feeder for finance, consulting, marketing, or management?
As much as I loved my classmates, my school was a parking garage for consultants and a feeder for would-be consultants. McKinsey, Bain, and BCG dominated my daily life in a way no firms should ever be allowed to. I had no interest in entering consulting and found myself attending boring consulting dinners simply to socialise.
For the dozen or so people in my class aiming to enter finance, it took the entire term to realise that the top financial firms did not take graduates from our programme seriously. In hindsight, many of these people tucked their tail between their legs in regret. They should have only applied to and pursued degrees at one of the schools that breed armies of talented financial professionals thanks to their deep finance departments.
Remember a MBA programme is a business too. Make sure you know the school’s motivations and incentives before you invest your time and money.