Returning to school to earn an MBA is a big decision with a lot riding on it, so it’s only right to give it the proper consideration. But the big decision isn’t over once you’ve chosen to pursue a business degree—in fact, the toughest part is often trying to decide which school is right for you. With a variety of specializations, degree program formats, and universities to pick from, you might find yourself looking at a mountain of research you need to do before you’ve even signed up for a class. Today, we’re going to help you sort through some of this information and make an informed decision about what business school is right for you.
Pick a Concentration
The first thing you’ll need to do is figure out precisely what it is that you want out of your MBA. Career advancement is the goal, of course, but your choice of concentration is what will shape the path that leads there. Business degrees are available in a wide variety of fields, ranging from conventional focuses like finance and marketing, to the more unique and specialized such as healthcare, or cutting edge areas like data analytics. Concentrations or specializations aren’t universally available, and the exact list of options will vary from school to school, but picking one early can help to weed out schools that won’t be a good fit.
While many people will choose a focus that aligns with their bachelor’s degree, it may be worth considering other options. For example, an MBA with a focus in management can synergize with a wide variety of undergraduate majors, providing those with an expertise in, say, science or medicine with the leadership skills needed to take charge of teams and manage personnel working under them. The best way to decide is often just to write out the skills you’ll need for the job you want, and take a look at which focus will provide you the opportunity to develop those skills.
Deciding a Format
We’ve come a long way since the days where your only option was to put your life on hold while you earned a degree. This goes double for MBAs, which are pursued primarily by experienced professionals who’ve been out of school for a while. Different business careers come with different demands, after all, and business schools get that. No matter where you are in life, there’s a degree program formatted to fit your needs.
Everyone is familiar with the traditional means of teaching, with lectures and classes offered a few days a week on regular schedules that will keep you out of the workforce for at least 2 years. And the traditional method does have its upsides—networking is far easier when you’re in a classroom with all of the same people, and you’ll be able to dedicate your full effort to learning.
For those who can’t afford to drop everything, however, a part-time degree program might be a better fit. While these take somewhat longer to complete, classes are usually scheduled for weekends or evenings, allowing students to continue working, earning a living, and advancing their careers in other ways. Sometimes online-only or hybrid courses can also be used to fulfill credits towards a part-time MBA program, allowing you to learn and study at your own pace as well, without sacrificing the face-to-face contact with professors and other students you get with a full-time program.
And then there’s the fully online degree—convenient, certainly, as you can study at the times that work best for you and at a pace that’s suited to your own learning needs. While your networking may suffer a bit, it doesn’t have to; online study groups and student social media hubs will still offer that opportunity, should you desire it. Online programs also have the added benefit of being fairly green, since there’s no need for lots of extra commuting to campus. Online degrees have also lost much of their prior stigma in recent years, as established universities with prestigious records have moved into the arena. Students going for online degrees do need to be highly self-motivated, however, as the only thing forcing you to complete your work is yourself.
Other options exist as well; accelerated MBAs for the experienced, which move through material at a rapid pace and can be finished in a year and a half. Executive MBA programs, designed for corporate execs looking to build new skills, teach with sporadic but intense sessions through weekend courses or even day or week-long workshops, and are usually quite expensive when not funded by a company. Deciding which program format is the best for you will depend largely on where you are in life, what kind of funding you have available, and the time you can dedicate to learning.
Choosing a School
When it comes to finally picking a university to attend, it can be hard to give much advice, since the school is choosing you just as much as you’re choosing them. You’ve already narrowed down the list as much as you can with the previous two points. The advice will vary a bit depending on your chosen format, as well; if you’re looking for an online program, applying to several schools is a great plan, increasing your odds of getting accepted overall. Seeking out a traditional or part-time program may leave you with limited options, especially if you aren’t interested in moving. The best general advice that can be given is not to stress too much about finding the best of the best; not everyone needs to attend an Ivy League school, after all, and there are dozens of excellent programs out there that cost a fraction of the price for an education that’s nearly as good. Finding a school with a “personality” that fits with yours will be much more valuable in the long run, even if that just means one that lets you keep your kids in the same school district.
In the end, the most important decision you’ve made is the one to invest in yourself and your future. Sorting through concentrations and determining the format that’s best for you can be difficult, but that dedication to learning and improving will ultimately be what allows you to make the call and see it through to graduation. Concentrate and work hard, and you’ll succeed no matter where you end up.