Choosing an MBA programme - a checklist

You will want to begin by identifying those programmes that fit your basic requirements.

There are two aspects to this:

  • Your Needs i.e. what you want to learn and gain from the programme, the type of experience you want to have etc.
  • Your Circumstances i.e. the practical considerations.

Regarding your needs, you will want to ask questions like:

  • Is it the right programme structure for me?
  • Is the content what I want?
  • Is the focus what I want?
  • Are there electives that I will be interested in?

Regarding your circumstances, you will want to think about questions such as:

  • Does the programme run where I am or want to be?
  • Is the duration right for me?
  • Can I give it the time it will require?
  • Is the start date right for me?
  • Can I afford the fee, plus the other costs e.g. living expenses, materials etc?

Then, there are some other - more subtle - questions:

Will the programme have people like you on it?
Particularly on “taught” programmes - full time, part time and modular - a lot of what you will gain will be as a result of interaction with, and learning from, other participants. Therefore, you need to ensure that, in some respects, they share common characteristics - in particular, that they have a similar amount of experience to draw upon, have held jobs at similar levels to you etc. In other respects, you will want to ensure that there are some differences i.e. that there will be people from a range of backgrounds, cultures etc. The twin issues are, therefore, the level of the people and the diversity of the group.

What learning or teaching methods will be used during the programme?
People learn differently - so, will the style of programme suit you? For example, will there be a lot of group work and, if so, is that something you will enjoy and be good at? Will there be a lot of case study work and, if so, are you good at reading a lot - quickly absorbing information in this way? Will there be an emphasis on lecturing - will this suit you? Perhaps project work will be important - so, do you have experience investigating things, preparing reports and making presentations? Of course, you will be going on a programme to develop your skills - you’re not expected to be good at everything - but overall, you will want to ensure that the style of the programme will suit you.

How will you be assessed?
The assessment methods used on programmes differ i.e. exams (of various types), assignments, presentations, individual and group-based assessments etc. What will suit you? Are you good at writing exams under controlled conditions? Of course, it may be a long time since you’ve last had to submit to some form of assessment, therefore, you may want to think about the overall balance of the assessment in a programme e.g. the proportion represented by exams versus other forms of assessment. The point raised above, about going on a programme to get better at something, doesn't really apply in this case - so, try to be sure that the approaches used in the programme will suit you.

How much work will be required?
Naturally, you will want a programme that is demanding, but - nevertheless - achievable. Typically, how much time will you need to put in? How much time and how frequently will you need to be at the Business School? Can you cope with these requirements? Will it fit your domestic or job situation? That's not the same as asking if you can fit it in without any effect on anything else - such a programme may not be worth very much to you.

How achievable is the MBA?
What is the success rate of the programme i.e. the pass rate? Do those that fail, do so for academic reasons or just because they drop out? What would either of these issues indicate? Remember - whatever the situation of those who have done a programme before you, your objective is to get an MBA - so, you need to know why others didn't.

How easy is it to get into the programme?
Getting an MBA is one thing - getting one that is respected and recognised, is sometimes another. The status of a programme will often be reflected in the level of competition to get into it. So, you may want to know how many applications a programme receives - and what proportion is admitted. Such figures can be deceptive since the number of enquiries is not the same as the number of applications. Additionally, the number of admission offers is not the same as the number of applicants that join a programme. You can also compare the number of places available on a programme with the actual number that entered the programme the previous year. You will have to ask for the latter. If the actual figure is less than the number of places made available, it may indicate that the demand for the programme was not as high as had been hoped for by the School. Probably, the data that you obtain from either of these methods will primarily be of use in comparing courses.

You will want to assess the strength of your own candidacy for a programme. Whilst it may be good to know that there is a big demand to get into a programme - only apply if you think that you might be one of those that succeed. So, aim for a balance i.e. good entry competition in which you have a good chance of succeeding.

Will I get a good job?
If you are going to do an MBA in order to get a new job on completion, how much will the programme help you? Is an appointments service provided, through which potential employers visit the School to interview candidates before they graduate? Will others on the programme also be looking for a job - or will they be returning to the organisation that they come from? You don't want to be one in a few, whose circumstances are different. How highly regarded is the programme by the type of employer you might be interested in? Have they recruited from the programme before? Is there an Alumni group/network, which helps with placements/appointments?

What support will there be?
If you are planning to do a distance-learning MBA, what support (i.e. tutor contact, face-to-face contact, contact with other participants etc.) is provided? How important is this issue regarded by the School - because it could make all the difference between a solitary life and one where you are able to work with others - even remotely?

Will you be expected to make contact with other students at your stage of the programme? Will all those who start at the same time - or in the same area - be put together as a group to work together or are you going to be alone?

Is there electronic support e.g. web-site facilities, computer conferencing or video-conferencing? If so, what proportion of participants use it and what equipment/technology do you need?

A few similar considerations will apply if you are planning to do a part-time or modular programme i.e. what opportunity/expectation/requirement is there for contact between participants, when they are not at the School? Will there be access to the School’s facilities, faculty etc. when the programme isn’t taking place i.e. between sessions?

Is this an established programme?
Age is not necessarily related to quality, but you might like to check how long the programme has been running. If it is well established, it is more likely to be well known. On the other hand, if it has been running for some time, you might like to find out when the last significant changes to the structure, content, syllabus etc. were made, since a programme that does not change, is soon likely to be out of date.

How important is this programme to the School?
Is this a mainstream programme for the School or a fringe activity? If it falls under the former, you can be reasonably sure that the faculty etc. will give their best. If it falls under the latter, check more closely. In this case, if it is well established then - good, but ask about intake numbers in previous years. Is the programme growing, stable or declining? If it falls under the latter, ask why.

All of these matters are to do with the significance of the programme to the School and, therefore, your significance as a member of that programme. Thus indicating, not only the attention you might expect to get, but also how it might feel like in a School, alongside the other things that are going on.

Source: Adapted with permission from MBAinfo,

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