An MBA can be a formidable presence on a graduate's résumé. Graduates can reasonably expect to earn (on average) higher salaries than those without equivalent qualifications. According to the latest survey of recent graduates carried out by the US-based Graduate Management Admission Council, the class of 2010 commanded a median salary of US$94,500 with an estimated MBA bonus of US$17,000.
Undertaking an MBA can either help you secure a new job or support your progression in your current career. However, selecting the course that best meets your requirements from a vast number of providers isn't always an easy task. We asked Conrad Chua, Head of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at Cambridge University's Judge Business School, about the factors applicants should take into consideration when short listing courses.
What are the main factors currently driving demands for MBAs?
Applicants are broken down into two main groups. The first group is comprised of people who are taking the degree to progress within their current place of employment. The second is made up of people who see studying for an MBA as a means to finding a new and better job. There is a third – smaller – set of people who feel an MBA will be useful in helping them run their own business.
Once an individual has decided to apply for an MBA, the choice of providers is vast. How much variation is there in terms of the subjects you can study? For instance, if an individual has a particular career path in mind, should he or she look for a course that can be tailored to the requirements of their career objective?
MBAs are a lot less homogenous than other professional courses. Unlike, say, a law degree, there is no standardized curriculum, so there can be quite a lot of variation outside of core subjects such as accounting, marketing and analysis. So candidates should look carefully at what providers are offering in terms of the optional disciplines.
There also seems to be a lot of variation in terms of the way courses are structured.
Yes. At Judge Business School we offer one-year courses, but that certainly isn't the only option. In the USA, two-year programs are very popular and students have a choice between full-time, part-time and distance learning. It's important to select the option that's right for you.
For instance, a one-year course is going to be much more intense than a two-year course, simply because of the amount of work that will have to be covered within a shorter timeframe. Some students may prefer the two-year option for that reason, but set against that is the fact that two-year programs are more expensive, and there is also potentially a higher opportunity cost as the student will be away from the workplace for a longer period of time. In that respect, those who are comfortable with a heavier workload may prefer the shorter option.
What about project work? Should applicants consider the relationship between MBA providers and commercial organizations when looking for prestigious projects and placements?
Many providers – Cambridge Judge included – have strong links with companies and that can be an advantage to the student. Having said that, it's often better if the student takes the lead in selecting a company or industry in which he or she is interested. The process of making contact with a business and developing a project or idea can be very worthwhile.
One thing we haven't talked about is entrance criteria.
Applicants should definitely spend time researching the entrance criteria. Each provider will have their own criteria and before you make an application you should do some homework on whether your experience and educational qualifications meet the expectations of the business school. Some schools will require certain educational qualifications. Others will look for practical business experience or take voluntary work into consideration.
What is more important, business experience or evidence of high educational achievement?
We have found that having students from a mix of backgrounds creates a stimulating environment. In a typical year, we will have people with a lot of business experience sitting in the same sessions as people who have achieved a lot academically without having much practical experience in business. We find that the two groups learn a lot from each other.
On that point, it's important to say that would-be MBA students should also look at the learning environment and whether it fits their own personality and expectations.
Where do you find the information you need given the available choices?
You really have to filter your choices, taking into account factors such as geography and your preferred course structure. These days, the starting point is usually the internet.
Looking up business schools on the web should provide you with basic information, but it won't necessarily tell you a great deal about what it's really like to study at a particular institution. How do you go deeper?
It's a good idea to talk to alumni. You can do this through social networks such as LinkedIn. You should also be prepared to spend time researching. It can take 12 or 18 months between the start of the research process and enrolment.
Conrad Chua, thank you very much.