The MBA Is Dead!
Or so the headlines announce every now and then. In reality, the MBA remains the world’s most recognised and wanted business qualification. But there are 11 things you should consider before you choose your MBA course.
Does it have to be an MBA?
You know how many ambitious graduates I’ve met for whom the MBA was the automatic postgraduate business qualification? I admit, an MBA can sound every impressive. But what many don’t seem to consider is that an MBA is a huge financial commitment – and it’s not the only choice out there.
For example, if you’re thinking of setting up your own business, do you need to do an MBA? Or would it be best to ‘just get out there’, set up a business, fail, learn, set up another business, and succeed?
And if you’re convinced a postgraduate business qualification is the right choice, does it have to be an MBA? It may surprise you, but there are many cases where a specialised Masters or a MiM (Master in Management) may be more suitable.
Do you meet the MBA entry requirements?
One of the first things to consider as you choose your MBA is your qualifications.
To get into any of the top business schools in the UK, you will need to have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in the UK system, passed with a high 2.1. Instead of me trying to translate what this means in every single country, I’d recommend you check out a few UK business school websites for country-specific advice.
GMAT is required, but not by all schools, and there tends to be some flexibility on the scores. In any case, GMAT is usually considered as part of your wider application and profile.
If English is not your first language, expect to be asked for the equivalent of IETLS 6.5 or 7.0 (at a minimum). These scores are not negotiable unless the school can offer you a pre-sessional English language course.
Your work experience will determine your options
Another factor that will determine your choice of MBA course is your work experience. The high-status courses in the UK will usually look for at least 3 – 5 years – full-time and since you have graduated.
Some of your work experience needs to be ‘managerial’, meaning you have to have managed people, budgets, projects, processes, events, and so on. Programme leaders will also look for ‘progression’ in your career over the years. So, in your CV make sure to highlight promotions, an increase in responsibilities, increased autonomy or decision-making, etc.
If you don’t have the right work experience, should you still apply for an MBA?
Accredited MBA courses are usually strict on the work experience requirement. Because of this, many applicants without work experience end up applying for ‘pre-experience’ MBAs. I wouldn’t recommend you opt for this type of course. In the UK, pre-experience MBAs are not seen as the ‘real thing’ and are not highly regarded.
Think about it: A good MBA course by its very nature caters for professionals with work experience. This isn’t a course where you simply sit in the classroom, learn the theory and later try to apply what you’ve learned to your job. Your ability to use your work experience and to apply it to what you’re learning is crucial.
Moreover, in the UK pre-experience MBA courses are usually taught by bottom-tier providers that tend to be far from selective. If you do not have work experience but have a strong academic record, you would be better off with a MiM (Masters in Management) from a respected business school. The learning and campus experience is likely to be superior, as will your qualification be and the added value for your future employers.
Always look for MBA courses that are accredited
One thing I would recommend is that you choose an MBA course that is accredited.
Accreditation is given by independent organisations and is a form of quality assurance. Business schools have to meet strict requirements to get and keep their accredited status. This is why, for example, the better business schools will not admit students with fewer than three years work experience by the time the course starts.
Of the main MBA accreditation, some are of the course, some of the business school:
Start planning your career before, not after, the MBA
People always say an MBA is an ‘investment’: In your career, in your future, in you. That’s true. But would you invest in anything without knowing what return to expect?
If you want the MBA to work for you, be clear before enrolling on how the MBA matches and will help you achieve your goals. What is it that you want to get out of the MBA? What career or personal goals are you aiming for? Don’t leave anything to chance, plan in advance by investigating how exactly the MBA will be useful to you.
For example, if you’re aiming for a promotion, speak to your manager: Will the MBA make a positive difference, if so, how? What would they like you to take away from it?
Or, if you want to join a new company, send them your CV and call up their hiring manager. Ask if the MBA qualification will enhance your profile and make you a more attractive hire. And ask if any MBA course from the UK will do the job, or whether they recruit from particular business schools. The most attractive employers in competitive industries make no secret of the fact that they hire MBAs almost exclusively from a small pool of ‘elite’ business schools.
Reputation is important, but be careful with rankings
If MBA rankings were the first place you looked for MBA courses, you’d be forgiven. This is what any ambitious, high-calibre candidate would do. After all, business schools use their ranking performance in their marketing, as evidence of the high quality and the superior nature of their offer. Also, as just mentioned, in some situations, unless you graduate from one of the top-ranked business schools, you may be left behind in the MBA hiring process.
But as you look at MBA rankings, take them with a pinch of salt. Have you noticed how the results can change over a short period and across the different rankings? How is it possible that a school is placed #10 in one year and #25 in the next? Or #25 in one table and #60 in an another? What is different? Most likely: The ranking methodology.
This is why you should pay close attention to ranking trends (over the years and across different league tables). If you find the results are fairly consistent, then they are probably reliable.
Who else is on the MBA course
A quality MBA course will attract ambitious candidates from both genders and different countries around the world. The median age of students should be around 26 – 28 years, meaning the average work experience is around 3 – 5 years.
But not all MBA courses end up with a mixed cohort, and it’s worth you taking the time to find out about the MBA class profile. It could make all the difference to your student experience and the network you’re able to build.
Try to find out this about the class profile, either from school’s website or by emailing their admissions office:
What ‘extras’ does the MBA course offer?
Look at the MBA course structure and in particular the modules and electives available to you. Do they match your interests? Is it possible to specialise as you progress through your MBA?
Also, there needs to be a balance between the theory and the practical aspects of your MBA. Find out about:
How long are you willing to spend on the MBA course?
In the UK, many MBA programmes will last 12 months, just like regular Masters courses. But others may be 18 or even 24 months long.
Think about the ideal programme length for you. This may depend on your job and family commitments, and of course on your financial considerations. This isn’t just going to the direct cost of the MBA, but the indirect cost as you’d be giving up your full-time salary for the entire period.
With this, now onto one of the most important questions: How much does an MBA cost in the UK?
How much are you willing to spend on the MBA course?
If you look at the current fees paid by international students*, for those from outside the EU the MBA cost on average £18,350. This is just the median fee – there is a big difference between the cheapest and the most expensive MBA course. Both in terms of cost and quality.
At the lowest end, you have a non-accredited, not very selective ‘pre-experience’ MBA course with a tuition fee of £7,500. At the highest end, you have a double-accredited, highly selective course taught by one of the best business schools globally, in of one of the world’s oldest and most famous universities, attracting the brightest talent from around the world. The tuition fee? £52,000.
I admit, these are the extremes, and there is a lot of middle ground in between. But it goes to show that looking at tuition fees alone is not enough. Always ask: How prestigious and well-recognised is the course? What will you get out of it? Will it be worth the money?
And, of course, on top of tuition fees, you have to consider the cost of living –there can be big differences between different cities and regions in the UK, especially when it comes to rent prices.
If you see the MBA as an investment, then aim to join the best MBA course that your qualifications, work experience and financial situation allow.
What makes a course ‘best’ will depend on your goals and aims. Don’t leave anything to chance, find out in advance how the MBA will enhance your career by speaking to your manager or potential future employers.
MBA rankings are imperfect, but that’s not to say they don’t matter. Always question what’s behind the results and look at ranking trends over time and across different ranking tables, rather than the outcome in one ranking table, in one given year. If the results are inconsistent, you’ll know they’re not completely reliable.