5 Tips for Picking the Right MBA Program

Are you interested in furthering your education or advancing at work? Earning an MBA has long been considered one of the best ways to do both, and for good reason! According to Forbes, MBA graduates earn up to 50 percent more compared to their pre-MBA salaries—a significant jump for many professionals. Given this success, MBA programs the most popular and numerous graduate programs today. While the wide variety of classes and services offered gives potential candidates many options, it can also make the selection process a daunting task.

To help you find the best fit program for your lifestyle and desired career path, here are a few tips to consider as you begin your MBA search:

Don’t disregard your alma mater

The old school of thought was that a person should not return to their alma mater for a master’s degree. This was based on the idea that an alma mater could not offer enough diverse thought; however, this is no longer the trend. While professors and text books used to be the main sources of expertise, modern technology has paved the way for fully online coursework, which allows for more diversity in both faculty members and students in the program. Additionally, attending your alma mater can be a great way to solidify your relationship with the university and increase your ties to your alumni network.

Determine your long-term objectives

Before you begin the search, take time to identify your long-term objectives. Being aware of your goal(s) upon graduation—to advance beyond your current position, to switch industries, to grow to the executive level, or otherwise—can help you align your studies with your preferred job market and ensure it is worth the investment. You may also want to consider programs with specialized tracks. For example, the Washington State University Carson College of Business offers an Online MBA with a general track, or, students can opt to choose from four areas of concentration. These options provide students the opportunity to take classes that align with their specific career goals. The college also offers an Executive MBA for students who already have management experience and are aiming to move to the C-suite.

Evaluate your return on investment

Earning an MBA is a significant financial investment, with tuition costs ranging from $25,000 to well over $100,000. With this in mind, it is important to understand your return on investment (ROI). When weighing a program’s ROI, here are a few things to consider:

  • How much does the MBA program cost per year? And how many years will it take to complete the degree?
  • How much might you lose in earnings by attending your MBA program? For example, a full-time, on-campus program may require quitting your job or reducing your hours significantly—this loss in salary needs to be added to the program’s total cost.
  • How will your salary change post-MBA, and how long will it take to pay back your tuition costs as well as make up for any lost salary?
  • Determine what your “hidden costs” are for all programs. If the program is on-campus you will need to consider gas, parking and commute time. For an online program you may want a new computer with faster internet.

Understand program credentials

With new online programs popping up on a regular basis, it can be difficult to determine whether they are legitimate, accredited and recognized as a quality program. Inquiring with the school and checking with the U.S. Department of Education are good first steps to ensure the school meets minimum accreditation standards. To ensure the business school you are considering is highly regarded, also look for the AACSB accreditation. This accreditation is known worldwide as the longest standing, most recognized form of specialized/professional accreditation an institution and its business programs can earn. Reputable college rankings, such as Financial Times and U.S. News, can also be a helpful means to determine where programs fit with regards to some of your expectations (i.e. admissions criteria and selectivity, faculty participation and peer reputation), since they are controlled by independent bodies and based on a variety of criteria.

Look at the commitment to student support

Earning a degree while balancing a job, civic and family obligations can be tough. Understanding the support system offered through an MBA program is extremely important. This includes academic, technical, career and emotional support. One thing to keep in mind is that traditional brick-and-mortar schools that offer great services to on-campus students often have similar support systems in place for their online programs.

Keeping these tips in mind as you vet MBA programs—whether on-campus or online—can help ensure you choose an institution that can best prepare you to successfully meet your goals. Good luck!

Cheryl Oliver serves as assistant dean of online and graduate programs at the Washington State University (WSU) Carson College of Business. Courtney O’Hehir is the online MBA and Executive MBA marketing manager. Cindel Schimka is the associate director of marketing at Pearson, a WSU partner helping to spread the benefits of quality education.


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