10 Questions to Ask Before Applying for an MBA

Article Icon Article
Monday, January 8, 2024
By C. Rashaad Shabab
Photo by iStock/NongAsimo
Answering these questions can help you determine which MBA program is likely to be right for you.
  • Does the school have a reputation for excellence? Is the program taught by tenure-track faculty with proven expertise?
  • Does it address the grand challenges of our time and have academic strengths in fields you want to study?
  • How well does the school support the well-being and academic success of its students?

Choosing an MBA program can be an exciting but daunting process. MBA programs can differ widely even among relatively mature academic destinations such as the U.K., the U.S., Australia, and Canada. Individual programs offer varying levels of student support, deliver courses through a range of teaching modes, and draw students and staff with very different interests. If you’re a prospective student looking for the MBA program that suits you best, how can you choose?

I have spent 11 years teaching at the University of Sussex Business School in the U.K., and I have co-authored a forthcoming book on statistics with Michael Barrow. Based on these experiences, I can offer an insider’s scoop on factors you should consider before applying for graduate business education. Below I offer the top 10 questions you should ask.

1. Does the School Have a Reputation for Excellence?

As with any other degree, the reputation of the institution is a main indicator of the quality of the MBA.

Though good MBA programs can be found in a wide variety of schools, institutions with established international reputations for academic excellence will tend to attract the most distinguished faculty. These schools will continuously hone their degrees to meet the needs of the contemporary global economy, and they have robust quality assurance processes in place.

Such schools also tend to attract the best students. You often will encounter their alumni in important positions across society, including in business, government, and academia.

2. Is It Accredited?

One factor driving internal quality assurance processes is validation from external organizations—specifically accrediting bodies. Accreditation can be a powerful external marker of quality for business schools.

The three most prestigious credentials are conferred by AACSB, which accredits programs across the business school; the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), whose EQUIS accreditation also covers programs across the school; and the Association of MBAs, whose AMBA accreditation focuses solely on MBA programs. Of the three organizations, AACSB is the largest, with more than 1,000 accredited institutions and close to 2,000 member schools around the world.

These organizations make accreditation visits to schools to review processes, practices, and academic quality. Before making a judgment about a school’s quality, accreditation teams review comprehensive reports and interview university leaders, faculty, students, and alumni. Very often, these teams identify areas where the school must improve if it is to maintain accreditation. Thus, accreditations signal to prospective students that an institution is committed to continuous improvement.

3. Who Is on the Faculty?

Another way to evaluate a degree program is to look at the profiles of its academics. High-quality MBA programs are taught by researchers, pedagogues, and practitioners who leverage their expertise to deliver nuanced takes on cutting-edge knowledge. These instructors are familiar with and use the latest and most effective educational techniques.

They also frequently have connections to industry and government. For example, my department includes one faculty member who previously advised the U.K. government on setting the minimum wage level and another one who was the former head of research at the World Bank.

4. Are Top Academics Teaching the Program?

If you have been drawn to a particular MBA because of the values, principles, and intellectual traditions of an institution, you might be disappointed to find that your classes are taught by people who are not fully embedded in those traditions.

It can be damaging to the student experience if schools rely too heavily on adjuncts who are less experienced than faculty members or have competing demands on their time.

Some institutions hire adjunct professors to teach their MBAs. This approach can be beneficial because adjuncts bring in perspectives and types of expertise that might not exist among full-time faculty. However, it can be damaging to the student experience if schools rely too heavily on adjuncts who are less experienced than faculty members or have competing demands on their time.

Before applying to the program, make sure that tenured professors are delivering a sufficient proportion of the education.

5. What Makes the Program Distinctive?

Does it have characteristics that resonate with you? An established institution might have made seminal contributions in a field you want to study. For example, the Sussex MBA focuses on innovation and sustainability, areas of thought that the school’s Science Policy Research Unit has studied for more than 50 years.

But you also should consider other aspects of each program. A newer school might offer a more innovative curriculum that you find appealing. A smaller MBA program might offer more personal contact, while a larger one might offer more diversity. Determine what is important to you and look for a program that fits your needs.

6. How Does the School Approach Our Grand Challenges?

Climate change, armed conflict, artificial intelligence, big data, and many other forces are fundamentally altering the fabric of our societies and our economies.

An MBA should equip students with the knowledge they need to be fluent in the contemporary evidence and debates surrounding these global challenges. As aspiring leaders of business and thought, MBA graduates will need to play key roles in helping society rise to these challenges.

7. What Are Its Work Experience Requirements?

MBA programs are designed to harness the lived experiences of a diverse cohort of select professionals. Participants are transformed and enriched by the knowledge and insights of their peers. To fully realize these benefits, many MBA programs require students to have substantive work experience—usually two to five years—before they are admitted.

Some MBA programs do waive or soften the work requirements so they can attract applicants who have little professional experience, including students who have just graduated from bachelor’s programs. But if you’re looking for a dynamic learning environment where you can learn from classmates who have already been in the workforce, pay attention to the experience requirements.

Executive MBA programs aimed at veteran managers might require applicants to have 10 to 15 years of work experience. These programs are tailored to individuals who are looking to advance to leadership roles. If that describes you, you might consider applying to EMBA programs.

8. Does It Offer Work and Entrepreneurship Opportunities?

If so, do these opportunities align with your career goals? The academic content of an MBA program is designed to foster leadership and management skills that are valued by businesses and entrepreneurs. Institutions that maintain active links with reputable local and national employers can create opportunities for students to interact with these companies directly.

The academic content of an MBA program is designed to foster leadership and management skills that are valued by businesses and entrepreneurs.

Top programs supplement classroom teaching with experiential learning activities such as consulting projects, short-term work placements, and internships with potential employers. These experiences can be invaluable in helping students land jobs and determine what kinds of careers they want to pursue.

Many institutions also offer career consultants who provide students with individualized support throughout their time at the school. At Sussex, the Careers and Entrepreneurship Centre even extends support to students for up to three years after graduation!

9. Does It Help Students Refresh Their Academic Skills?

Because many MBA students have been out of the academic world for five years or more, they might need help rediscovering their long-lost study skills.

At the University of Sussex Business School, specialist academic success advisors meet with students one-on-one to offer help with skills such as managing time, referencing sources, writing in an academic style, and avoiding academic misconduct. Faculty also can provide subject-specific assistance.

Prospective students who have spent some time away from academia might do well to check what kinds of resources are offered at their chosen institutions. A strong support system will make it easier for them to navigate a return to university life.

10. Does It Prioritize Student Well-Being?

Returning to study can be challenging not only academically, but also personally. MBA students often are juggling familial and professional commitments along with their academic obligations. In addition, an MBA program requires a significant financial investment, which can be a source of stress and anxiety for students.

Many universities invest significant resources in promoting student well-being to ensure that everyone in their programs has the best possible chance of achieving academic success. Before enrolling in a school, you should check what kind of support is available and how easily it can be accessed.

Getting a Feel for the Institution

While this list might give you an idea of what questions you should ask before applying to an MBA program, you might be wondering how you can find answers. Usually, the best approach is to visit an institution to get a feel for it in person. Many schools have open days that allow you to interact directly with faculty and students so you can discover more about the academic culture.

However, for many students, a physical visit just isn’t feasible because of time, distance, or cost constraints. In such cases, school websites can be invaluable sources of information. They cover everything from what academic programs are available to how independent learning is structured to how learning is assessed.

In addition, many schools now offer prospective students the opportunity to have live chats with current students or admissions officers. Several schools also offer virtual tours that can give applicants a closer look at their campuses, even from a distance.

But if you’re still in doubt after consulting these sources, don’t hesitate to pick up a phone and call. Any institution worthy of consideration should be more than happy to receive your call and answer your questions! This is one more step you can take to be certain you’re applying to the program that is right for you.

C. Rashaad Shabab
Reader in Economics and Director of Student Experience, University of Sussex Business School
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
Subscribe to LINK, AACSB's weekly newsletter!
AACSB LINK—Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge—is an email newsletter that brings members and subscribers the newest, most relevant information in global business education.
Sign up for AACSB's LINK email newsletter.
Our members and subscribers receive Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge in global business education.
Thank you for subscribing to AACSB LINK! We look forward to keeping you up to date on global business education.
Weekly, no spam ever, unsubscribe when you want.