Training and development: MBAs

Given that there are some 10,000 business schools around the world, choosing
an MBA is not just one of the important decisions people make – ­ it’s also one
of the most daunting.

The good news is that there is a lot more information available about MBAs
than there was a decade ago. Never mind the guidebooks and magazines, every
business school and MBA programme today has its own website. And some top
schools, notably Cranfield School of Management in the UK, post relatively
objective information on how to choose an MBA on their own websites.

The internet is definitely the place to start to get some general information
about the subject but there is a problem of volume. Type the letters MBA into
Google and you will get over 55 million results.

But you have to make the decisions yourself and the first question you have
to answer is what type of MBA you want to take ­ – full-time, part-time or
distance learning.

Full-time means you will have to give up your job (and salary) for at least a
year or so if you go to a European school and probably two years if you go the
US. Add in the tuition fees – ­ $41,900 a year at Harvard Business School,
€48,800 at INSEAD and around £43,490 for the whole programme at London Business
School ­ – and don’t be surprised if you graduate facing debts approaching

The part-time option is cheaper because it allows you to keep your job but
you need to think hard about whether you really want to put in one or two
evenings of hard work every week after a long day in the office. Distance
learning programmes are a good bet for many people and are the cheapest option ­
– Warwick Business School’s distance learning MBA, for example, costs around
£13,500 ­ – but bear in mind that working at home on your own isn’t for

Once you’ve decided on the kind of programme, you need to make up your mind
where to take it ­ – either close to home here in the UK or abroad. Studying for
an MBA is hard enough already and doing it abroad only adds to the stress. But
there is little doubt that most students find that, though it increases the
pressure, studying in a new place increases their personal development.

Thinking about how you want to study will certainly help narrow down the
choice. The next stage is to focus on the business schools and MBA programmes
that really interest you. By all means study the rankings published by the likes
of Business Week, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the
Financial Times
. They provide valuable information and insights. But don’t
be ruled by them. What may appear the best school or programme may not actually
be the best for you.

But do make sure your school is ‘accredited’ ­ – it’s a basic measure if
quality ­ – either by AASCB (,
EQUIS ( or the Association of MBAs
(AMBA) ( or preferably two or
all three of them.

You can get a good first ‘upfront’ look at business schools by visiting one
of the many MBA fairs. These are organised in many cities around the world and
schools usually send senior staff, recent graduates or current students to talk
to visitors. There are many such fairs but the largest organisers include The
World MBA Tour ( and The MBA
Tour (

Now you can start to put together your own portfolio of your ‘top’ schools.
Experts suggest this shouldn’t be more than five schools and that you should
apply to no more than three – ­ the applications process is long-winded and can
be expensive.
You should, though, try to visit all the schools on your short list before you

Business schools are very different and the only way to get an idea of their
‘culture’ – ­ that indefinable mix that comes from their history, teaching
approach, faculty and staff, and students – ­ is to get onto campus, talk to
students and professors and sit in on a class or two. Most schools are very
welcoming about this and some will arrange private visits in addition to their
regular open days.

A couple of final things to look at: make sure the faculty are good teachers
­ – star names and ‘gurus’ often don’t teach on the MBA so don’t be fooled by
that – ­ that have reasonable business experience; try to work out from your
research whether the school’s culture is co-operative or competitive; and,
finally, make sure your fellow students will have at least as much work
experience as you do and come from a varied background. You’ll learn more from
them than from the academics and they’ll be your network for the rest of your

Pick and mix

What should be in a pick of the MBAs programme – look out for the following:

• Pre-programme courses (optional or required) on quantitative methods

• An orientation programme before the programme starts to meet other students
and members of the faculty and for team-building exercises

• Solid grounding in core courses for general management

• A wide choice of electives that also allow in-depth specialisation.

• Good international content, including course material, the number of
foreign students and teachers, visits overseas, language classes and exchanges
with foreign schools

• Reasonable emphasis on soft skills

• A good range of company projects

The following are also desirable:

• Good teaching skills and research and library facilities

• A satisfactory programme of senior executives as guest speakers,
‘executives in residence’ and others

• Reasonable open-door policy for access to faculty

• An administration willing to respond to student concerns

• Formal help with finding accommodation

• Excellent careers services, including training in interview skills

• A good and active network of alumni

George Bickerstaffe is author of Which MBA published by
the Economist Intelligence Unit

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