Choosing An MBA Program

Choosing an MBA shouldn’t be too hard! Surely most of them are very similar and it’s the dissertation/major project that is the individual part?

This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are over 150 different MBA programmes which are accredited by AMBA (Association of MBAs) alone, which is the best place to begin your search.

Some of these are specialist MBAs, e.g healthcare, but 90% of them are general MBAs, although many of these have a key industry focus and are linked to local industry specialisms. Banking is an example at the London Business School where as the energy industry has a focus at Warwick Business School.

To help you decide which is the best MBA program for you, we've outlined the factors you should consider when narrowing down your choices.

1. Entry requirements

Although these vary between different business schools, applicants will normally need all or most of the following:

  • A minimum 3 years of full-time work experience
  • A Bachelor’s degree or equivalent
  • GMAT
  • IELTS score of at least 6.0-6.5.

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) assesses your ability in:

  • Analytical Writing (argument analysis)
  • Integrated Reasoning (graphics and table analysis)
  • Quantitative Aptitude (ability to read a passage and problem solve)
  • Verbal (critical reasoning and sentence correction).

It's important to note that if you answer questions correctly, you will be given harder ones worthy of more points. Incorrect answers will result in easier questions, which reward fewer points.

To help prepare for the GMAT exam, our dedicated guide offers lots of tips.

2. Student to staff ratio

What is the student to staff ratio on your MBA and how does this compare to other MBAs?

Beware of business schools where there is a high student to staff ratio, as this might be an indicator of a lower quality experience.

Tutors are one of the ways you will learn during your MBA, so it's important that you will be able to talk with them when needed.

3. Faculty

What level of expertise do your MBA tutors possess and how often will you have access to them in group and one to one sessions?

Take a look at the research undertaken by the MBA faculty, its impact on the business world, and whether it covers your interests.

You will want to be studying alongside tutors that share your passions, and that you can gain more knowledge and understanding from.

4. Course content

How does the course content keep abreast of current management theory and its application in the workplace?

Different MBA programmes will cover the same or smilar topics, but it's worth looking at the details to avoid disappointment if there is something in particular you want to learn more about.

You should also check how the course content is monitored and evaluated to ensure it’s of a high quality.

5. Alumni

Who are the MBA alumni network and how, when and where does the network communicate? This is important if you want to develop your network of contacts to progress your career.

According to the Economist, Henley Business School, HEC School of Management, INSEAD and the University of Warwick are among the top ranked institutions for alumni networks, so these are all worth taking a look at.

6. Reputation

Where does the MBA sit in league tables? (please be aware that league tables can be based on all MBAs at a business school and not broken down by individual courses).

The QS World University Rankings is a good place to start, alongside the FT Global MBA rankings.

This will give you an idea about a business school's reputation, although you should look at all the other factors in this list as well before making a final choice.

While an MBA may turn out some excellent students, what is the current track record like for graduate employment? How well do they score for student support or personal development?

It's important to look at these factors in detail so you can choose an MBA that is going to suit you most in terms of professional and academic requirements.

7. Study mode

It’s now time to start thinking about whether you want to study full or part-time and where you want to study.

There are a few different options. This will depend on what your key motivations are for wanting to study an MBA as well as your personal circumstances. Are you hoping to progress your career and need the MBA for promotion? Are you looking to change career into a new industry or do you want to move into a specialist job role within your industry?

Your personal circumstances, including being single with few commitments, being a parent of small children, caring for elderly parents, or seeking travel opportunities for your work and social life can also impact both the time you have available to study each week and where you study.

Most business schools will offer both full-time and part-time MBAs (although the times will differ enormously with evenings, weekends etc.).

However, you may also wish to consider distance and online learning MBAs where the need to physical travel to a location is only needed very infrequently or not at all. This may suit your lifestyle enormously but you should also consider that this may limit your access to dedicated MBA centres within business schools.

These can comprise of high tech base rooms, internet cafes, specialist seminar rooms and breakout/chill out areas etc. It’s wise not to underestimate the need for face to face contacts and networks.

Some of the larger business schools also offer the opportunity for you to study your MBA at any of their centres which can be across the UK, in Europe or the Far East, giving a global perspective to your MBA.

8. Fees

It’s worth bearing in mind that if your MBA fees seem quite daunting, there are grants and scholarships to help you pay for your MBA. These should be advertised on each business school's website, but if you can't find the information you need, contact them directly.

In addition, it’s a great idea to talk to your employer about whether they will sponsor your MBA, as this will save you a lot of money in the long run (even if it's just for some of the cost).

9. Career progression

It's important to think about whether an MBA is necessary for your career progression, and if the qualification will be valued by employers in your chosen sector.

To do this, take a look at jobs currently advertised in your field, and see if an MBA is either required or listed as a desirable qualification.

You may also want to check out each business school's career and profressional development programme to see how much they might be able to help you once you have finished your course.

10. Second choices

Lastly, once you’ve decided which MBA you want to study, it's a good idea to have a couple of back up ones ready as well, in case your first choice has been over-subscribed, as the popular ones can be.

The choices for your MBA are very wide ranging but with research, planning and asking the right questions, finding your perfect MBA can be easier than you thought.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying for an MBA or other postgraduate course, please see: