6 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Graduate Business Degree

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Thursday, December 7, 2017
By Giselle Weybrecht
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You know you're ready to go to back to school for a graduate business degree, but do you know whether an MBA or specialized master's is right for you?

You have decided that it is time to go back to school. You have a few years of professional work experience and think that it is now time to pursue an MBA, knowing that it will help push you forward in your career. You have started to do a bit of research, ask people you know who have achieved an MBA but aren’t sure whether an MBA or a specialized master’s is the right degree for you, or even how to make the decision. Here are six questions to ask yourself to get started.

1. Is an MBA the right degree for you? We hear MBAs spoken about often, but business schools offer a range of business degrees at the graduate level. MBAs are generally for students who have a few years of experience working. What “a few years” translates to depends on the school. It could mean two to three years or up to five to seven years. This is worth looking into because you will get more out of the educational experience, and interaction with your peers, if you are at a similar point in your career to them. Each degree will be tailored to the type of students that it admits, including career services and other educational and professional opportunities offered throughout the program. If you have more years of experience, then you might want to consider pursuing an Executive MBA, or EMBA, instead of a general MBA. If you have fewer years of experience, there is a relatively new type of program called a Master’s in Management that, in many cases, you can enter right after you complete your undergraduate degree.

Each of these degrees has different entry requirements. For example, the MBA often requires an exam called the GMAT (and schools are increasingly accepting the GRE, as well), whereas prospective EMBA students usually don’t require an admissions test. Tuition also varies for different types of degree programs.

2. Part-time or full-time? Another question to ask yourself is how much time you want invest in this degree. Most business degrees are full-time programs, between one and three years during which you need to study on campus at the institution you have chosen. However, there are more options. Many schools offer part-time programs where you take courses on weekends or in the evening and continue to work during the day. You can also enroll in some programs online and visit campus at regular intervals for special sessions, or sometimes not at all. Often, even when enrolled in a full-time degree program, by your second year you have the flexibility to arrange your schedule in a way that allows you to have time to do an internship or work on other projects.

Many EMBA programs involve a couple weeks of on-campus studying, and then students return to their normal jobs until the next study session begins. Depending on your particular situation, there can be quite a bit of flexibility in terms of studying.

3. Do you want to specialize in something specific? Most business degree programs offer a very similar type of curriculum, so the general business background you will gain will be similar. But some schools do choose to specialize or offer additional opportunities or courses in specific topics or industries. This might be reflected in the degree (Master’s in Finance, Master’s in Economics, etc.), or it might be a specialization you can take (such as in marketing or entrepreneurship) or even a certificate, for example, in sustainability. Some schools offer additional internship or student consulting opportunities in a particular area of study or industry, like impact investing. If there is a specific topic you are interested in focusing on throughout your degree, and that you plan on making the focus of your career, it would be beneficial to do detailed research and identify schools that offer those kinds of opportunities.

4.  Where do you want to be located? Are you looking to stay right where you are and only consider schools in your city or region, or are you willing to travel anywhere to go to school? There are excellent AACSB-accredited business programs available globally. There are a number of well-established institutions that have campuses in several different countries, meaning you can be accepted to a university as a whole and still have the opportunity to travel to their other campuses. If an institution only has one home campus, they likely have arrangements with other institutions around the world to offer exchange programs for their students. Exchange programs are often a valuable opportunity to explore if you are interested in experiencing different business and educational environments, whether you plan on establishing your career in another location or simply want to broaden your cultural views.

There are world-class business schools both near and far, so spending some time to research what institutions are close to your current location, or in the region you desire to study and work, can uncover options that you hadn’t considered previously.

5. Why do you want to earn a business degree? This is a question you will be asked many times, not just in the lead up to applying to schools by family and friends, but also in your application essays and throughout the admissions process. A business degree is a big investment in terms of time and money. It can have a significant impact not just on your career, but on your life. Knowing what you want to do with that business degree and how the degree is going to help you move forward will be key in selecting which program will be best for you. Will this school, based on its teaching, alumni network, career services, location, corporate connections, and final degree help you reach your goals? It is also worth considering not just what you want to do with your business degree post-graduation but also five, 10, even 20 years after graduation.

6. Which degree fits just right? Ultimately it isn’t just about the school; often it simply comes down to which university feels right to you. Speaking to students, visiting the campus, or spending time exploring websites and social media platforms can help you decide which institution feels like one you will enjoy spending time in and learning from. Although the curriculum at most schools can have similar core courses, the campus cultures are each unique. Some feel more local, some more international, some are focused on the individual, while others engage heavily in group work. Some are strictly academic while others have a more relaxed vibe based on character development. Determining a school that feels right to you based on your personality, the kinds of people you want to meet, and the way that you learn best will help you make your final choice.

Choosing the right graduate business degree program for you isn’t easy. There are thousands of different options to choose from around the world that could work for you. Asking the right questions and establishing what you want from the degree can lead you to choose a degree and an institution that is just right for you. 

Giselle Weybrecht
Author, Advisor, and Speaker, Sustainability and Business
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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