Guide to Choosing an MBA – I’m going to talk to you about choosing and doing an MBA. The first thing I need to say is that what I’m going to be telling you is a personal view. It’s not the view of my own institution or indeed any of the institutions I worked in. It’s a personal view based on a substantial amount of experience, in working on MBAs, with MBAs, and running MBAs.
In addition, I’ve been involved in the accreditation of MBAs and the accreditation of business schools. So what I’m saying to you is I think I have a reasonable amount of credibility in being able to say something useful to you during this session. So I’ve been teaching, I’m involved in MBAs for over 30 years, I have been director of a graduate school of business for over 12 years. I have been teaching on MBAs for a substantial amount of time. And been supervising MBA students on MBA projects for all of that time as well. In addition, I am at the moment and have been a consultant to multinational organisations, SMEs and under organisations for all of that period. I spend probably something like a fifth of my time as an academic working in organisations. I have some sense of what they’re looking for and indeed have been involved in helping organisations find the best people to take senior management posts in their organisations.
Guide to Choosing an MBA
But why should I want to tell you this? Why am I doing this? I guess the reason is very simple; I see a lot of people choosing to take MBAs that are very inexpensive from a fees point of view but that are in my view atrocious. If you are thinking of doing that my advice is just don’t bother at all! An MBA is an opportunity for you to enhance your own future and that’s what we’re going to be thinking of as we go through this presentation. Getting a job is something that requires you to display to your future employer a number of important factors.
First of all, they’re interested in what experience you’ve got before you undertook something like an MBA. They’re interested in an ability to use knowledge and practice and want some demonstration of your ability to do this. They also want to know a little bit about the nature of the MBA you did, the school that you did it in, they probably want to know a little bit about the sort of subjects you covered, and they might want to know about how you specialised particularly through your MBA project.
The most significant thing perhaps though is that you’re able to display to the future employer some unique background in yourself, something that makes you different from the other applicants. And so that’s again to do with how you’ve used your education how you’ve used your experience to build a portfolio that is of some significance to the employer that you’re working towards. So what does this say about doing the MBA? It means that doing the MBA itself is not about getting three letters; it’s about using the opportunity of doing an MBA to learn a lot and learn a lot about how to apply an extensive amount of multidisciplinary knowledge.
Guide to Choosing an MBA by Professor Colin Eden
This means that actually doing the MBA is hard work and it means taking it very seriously indeed. It means learning everything you possibly can that you don’t know anything about already, the stuff that you already do know something about, it’s about learning more about how to apply that in practice. It means not re-doing stuff that you already know very well and have a lot of experience of doing. Often that isn’t possible; you have to undertake some courses just in order to get the credits for that particular course. But what it does mean is that when you get to options and choices in your MBA you need to be able to make those choices sensibly and not do things that you’ve already done before. But to do the things you couldn’t easily get a chance to do elsewhere.
So that means that when you’re considering what MBA to do consider carefully the options and electives that are available to you and whether those electives are going to give you the opportunity to do things that are unusual for you, going to give you new experiences, and new skills and abilities. So of course not surprisingly what all this means is that doing a good MBA is likely to be expensive. To a very large extent, you do get what you pay for, certainly in bands of fees. If you’re doing a fulltime programme then remember that it’s not just the fees that are going to be the significant element of your costs. You’re going to be probably leaving home, you’ve got to settle somewhere else. You may, and given the age profile of MBA students, need to take a family with you as well. So you’ve got significant extra expenses often which are well above the cost of the fees for the MBA.
In addition, of course, you’re not in a job for a year. So you’re giving up a year of career progression and a year of earnings. Therefore undertaking an MBA is a serious financial proposition for you. So the other alternative, of course, is that you could do it on a part-time basis. And I’m certain of the view that part-time learning on an MBA can be very, very effective. It gives you the opportunity to learn and think about how to apply this learning and practice on an almost daily, weekly basis. That’s the way in which you can learn how to make things work in practice.
A Personal Guide to Choosing an MBA
However, of course, for part-time programmes you’ve still got some elements of what I talked about. You’re likely to have some family disruption. Your family is certainly going to get fed up with you with you having assignments to complete. If you’re taking the MBA seriously you’re likely to be spending a lot more hours on it than you originally intended. So your family are going to be displeased with you on occasion and they’re going to be particularly fed up when you’re using the excuse of an assignment not to do the washing up! So family disruption you need to take account of. Also, you’re very much involved in of course multi-tasking at a very high level. You’re juggling your job demands during the day, and you’re juggling your learning demands often during evenings and weekends. So multi-tasking is something that you need to feel that you’re able to cope with and can manage reasonably successfully.
Remember what I said earlier; a part-time programme does give you the chance to explore the ideas, theories, all of the learning that you’re getting in the classroom to think about how you might exploit those ideas and theories in practice in your own current job. And that’s something that’s worth considering very carefully as a major opportunity. So ultimately what I’m saying is that fees can finish up being a very small proportion of the costs and effort that are required to undertake a good MBA. So that takes us to the question about how you choose a good MBA. And I’m going to pick on a number of factors that are worth considering. None of these factors should be treated as absolute in your choice. The first and probably the most significant though is the accreditation profile of the business school that you’re thinking about undertaking the MBA in.
Typically there are three international accreditations that business schools play into. The one that is perhaps most crucial for doing an MBA is the Association of MBAs Accreditation. I would regard that as almost a minimum gate. If an MBA isn’t accredited by AMBA (the Association of MBAs) then it’s probably not worth considering. That’s not to suggest that there aren’t good MBAs out there who are not accredited. But from your point of view, this does give you a very easy gate. However, there are two other significant accreditations, one which is derived from the US and the other derived from Europe. The first is EQUIS, the European accreditation, it comes from EFMD (the European Foundation for Management Development).
It’s a very, very thoroughgoing accreditation and most business schools regard it as a seriously tough accreditation. The other international accreditation is AACSB, that’s the American Accreditation System. Again, a tough accreditation did on a different basis from EQUIS, covering different things. Indeed it’s mostly based upon the idea that you declare what your mission is as a business school and then they test out whether you are well-equipped to deliver that mission. So they’re not questioning the mission. Whereas EQUIS do have tighter views about that.
Choosing The Right MBA by an expert
The significant thing in all of these three accreditations is that they do demand a series of steps that a business school would have to take. So typically in a sense, you put your hand up and say I would like to be accredited. The accreditation agencies at that stage say you don’t stand any chance, I should forget it. Or alternatively, forget it, for the time being, these are the sorts of things you need to pick up on and get better at and then we’ll have a look at you.
Get through that first stage and then you’re asked to put in a very big documentary submission about what it is that you’re up to. In other words, trying to demonstrate through evidence that you do what you say you should do for the accreditation. That’s the second stage and it’s possible that they may say at that stage well, we’ve read what you’ve submitted, we don’t think it’s really up to scratch at the moment, I should have another go at a later time when you’ve improved on certain areas and come back to us. So the third stage is probably the most important from your point of view in choosing an MBA and that is that the accreditation agencies now send out a panel of people to the business school, a panel that’s selected from a range of different business schools who are already accredited. So you might get a panel for example that contains a dean from a Finish business school, another dean from an Australian business school, another dean from an American business school making up the panel. They will typically spend two or three days solidly in the business school and they’ll spend that time very thoroughly investigating the school.
They’ll talk to staff, to students, Alumni, employers, they’ll look at the material that’s presented, they’ll interview people in depth, and they will try and catch you out as well because obviously all of us, when we’re trying to get accredited, will try to find ways of demonstrating that we’re doing things that we aren’t doing. So most of these people are very used to the tricks that can be used for that. So you can see it’s a very thoroughgoing investigation of what the business school does. Three accreditations.
Some business schools in the world have got what’s called triple accreditation; they’ve got all three of them. That gives you at least some solid assurance that you’re going to a business school that is well-recognised. That’s about as far as it goes through. But certainly, you can see it’s a good starting point because what’s happened here is that the business school has been investigated from the inside in detail. So a final point about accreditations. In some places, some business schools around the world offer their MBAs in other different parts of the world. It is sometimes the case that the country in which the MBA is being offered are also trying to imply certain standards of education in their own country. So they will often have local accreditation routines. In some instances, if you are doing an MBA with a locally accredited programme then that can offer you immediate salary increases. So it, therefore, becomes important for you to at least explore whether there are local accreditation requirements for MBA programmes on offer in the country you’re thinking of undertaking the MBA. And in some countries, you’ll find that there’s a vast choice of MBAs.
A Personal Guide to Choosing an MBA by Professor Colin Eden
There might be 60 different MBA programmes of which only two of them are locally accredited. So check that out. Local accreditation can be important and some of them are not easy to get through. Some of them use AACSB and EQUIS as their model. So they are serious accreditations and you should take them seriously. The final point that I find a little bit difficult to make from a personal stance, but I think it’s important that if you’re watching this video you are aware of it. There are a lot of unaccredited schools offering MBAs. People can set themselves up as a business school very easily with little regulatory control. They can present themselves extremely well on a website, they look very impressive. Check out whether they are a serious business school. Check out the staff that are there and in particular from an accreditation point of view, check out whether they have local or international accreditation.
There are a lot of these about and they’re growing at a significant rate. I’m talking about undertaking MBAs but there are some business schools where you can get a doctorate for very little work; what you’re doing is just paying them a very significant fee and they’ll give you a certificate. That’s doing something that is not going to change your ability as a manager. I’ve talked about accreditation, probably one of the most significant factors that potential applicants look at is that of rankings. Rankings can be very, very problematic but they are used as an easy way of you making a decision.
I would say to you take a very great deal of care in how you use rankings. Probably the most significant world rankings that appear every year in January is the ranking of fulltime MBA programmes by the Financial Times. The Financial Times looks at typically around about 150 business schools then ranks the top 100. But think about what I just said. First of all, it’s an assessment only of fulltime programmes. And the majority of people undertaking an MBA nowadays are looking at undertaking a part-time programme. In that case, you then need to be looking at the Financial Times’ Executive MBA Rankings, which is a ranking that looks at part-time programmes. But the fulltime rankings tend to be used more often because they get greater exposure.
A Personal Guide to Choosing an MBA by Professor Colin Eden
So be aware of that. The second thing, the Financial Times rankings are the best-known rankings but they’re based primarily upon salary and increases in salary. This means that those schools that focus their attention on only selecting students who are likely to be showing am ambition towards going into highly paid organisations will be chosen to undertake the MBA. Because that will increase the rankings of the school. If you don’t want to undertake an MBA of that nature then think very carefully about that. Think about where the salary is in your view the most appropriate way of measuring the quality of an MBA. To give you some sense of that, in the Financial Times rankings it’s about 50 per cent of the criteria that is wrapped up in salaries.
Now, they do correctly that in a number of ways. So, for example, they pay no attention to public sector salaries, recognising that those are likely to be lower. So the Financial Times rankings do have some good aspects to it and perhaps the most significant aspect is that you know exactly how they do the measuring. If you go to the Financial Times’ website you’ll see what the criteria area. They’re very carefully laid out, they’re very explicit, you know exactly what weighting is given to each criterion. That’s good. But you need to think very carefully about whether you think those criteria are the criteria that are appropriate to you. They of course also in the rankings can only practically take a very small sample from the class that undertook the MBA. So you’re looking at a distorted sample. To give you some sense about how salaries, for example, can be distorted, last year or the year before as well if you looked at three different rankings that use salaries as the basis of contributing to the ranking then you’d see for the same score three different salary levels. Which brings into question the statistical robustness of that as a criterion. So that’s Financial Times.
Choosing an MBA
The other one that’s very popular is the Economist rankings. A little bit more difficult to get underneath exactly how that’s done. But nevertheless, it is one of the primary rankings. It’s more volatile probably than the Financial Times rankings. But also remember I’m using all through this part of the presentation the word rankings. I’m not using ratings. That’s also significant when we’re looking at the Economist or the Financial Times. There can be a very, very tiny difference between somebody who’s ranked at 50 and somebody who’s ranked at 80. So those tiny bits can account for each of those different rankings. So you certainly probably don’t want to be paying too much attention to whether somebody is 50 this year, and they were 30 last year, or whether they’re 50 this year and 80 next year or anything like that. Typically if they’re in the top 100 then pretty much all of them are likely to be reasonably good business schools. But think carefully about the nature of those rankings. And think about the volatility.
I’ve worked in business schools for quite a lot of my life, not all of it; I worked in industry before I went into business schools. And the one thing that is absolutely sure about a business school is that it can’t change very quickly. Now, if a ranking system shows that somebody was 30 one year and 80 the next year you can be absolutely certain that they didn’t change anything that they did during that year between the 30 and the 80. So it gives you some sense about how volatile these rankings can be. Think very carefully about how you use them. Think carefully about whether accreditation might give you a better route into quality. So I’m now going to move on to the nature of the programme itself, and I think probably one of the first things to think about is what I might call the maturity of the programme.
Some MBAs programmes have been running for 30, 40 years. That usually does have some impact on them because they’ve grown over that time, they’ve learnt a lot, the programme will have changed and settled, they will know what it is that needs to be done. Others were created in the last five years. It’s unlikely that they will be as good as the mature programmes. Have a look at whether the programme does place an emphasis on putting the knowledge into practice. Whether that’s something they think is important. There are a lot of MBAs that we would loosely call highly academic MBAs; they’ll teach you the textbook stuff, they’ll teach from textbooks and the staff who teach you will be people who have never had any experience of putting that teaching into practice.
They’ll essentially be teaching you how to pass exams. Look very carefully at that. One of the simplest tricks on that is to just look at whether the staff who are going to teach you are on their website. Can you find out about those staff? Can you find out about their profile? Can you find out what their background is? Can you find out what they’ve published? Can you read something about what they’ve published? Can you see what they write and research about is related to practice? Whether it’s intended to have an impact on practice or is it very esoteric academic research? Beware of any business school where you can’t find out what information.
Guide to Choosing an MBA by Professor Colin Eden
If you can’t get an overview in a great sense of just getting a sense of the whole staffing of a business school plus the detailed material on the background of each member of staff, then you should seriously question that business school. You’re looking for staff then who are putting theory into practice, and also from a research perspective are putting that practice into theory. Look whether they have an engagement with organisations.
Look whether organisations have an engagement with the business school through executive development programmes. Look at the research profile fairly closely, look at what the research aims of the business school are. See whether those aims are intended to have an influence on practice. Now, a lot of business schools will make these statements. They’ll say yes, we intend to influence policy, we intend to influence practice. But look for the evidence of that. You’ll see it in the type of publications that the top staff are making and the type of research they’re doing. I mentioned earlier the cohort staff the people that you’ll spend your time with. If you’re doing a full-time programme you’ve got a year with these characters. See what you can find out about them. Find out about the age profile.
There are some MBAs where you’ll see, particularly part-time MBAs, where you’ll see a profile where you’ve got an average age of 35 to 40 years. Which means you’ve got people who’ve got some significant organisation experience, probably a reasonable level of seniority as a manager in their own organisation. There are other MBAs that are run specifically for people who have just finished an undergraduate programme. Now, in my personal view, they should be disallowed. An MBA is for people with substantial experience. So I would expect to see at least an average age of around about 30 years as a minimum in order to get a decent cohort. Look for a mix of industry. What you want to do is take the opportunity to learn from people who’ve had experiences in very different industries from your own industry. Look for the type of organisation that they’ve been a part of. It’s useful to have exposure to public sector workers and not-for-profit workers if you’re coming from the private sector, and vice versa.
Guide to Choosing an MBA by Professor Colin Eden
They bring very different things to the table and some significant experiences in my view and my experience. Look for the potential for cross-cultural work as well. Is there a reasonable international mix amongst the group of students? Are there opportunities on the MBA programme, for example, to undertake an MBA project in perhaps a group project where you could actually undertake that project with perhaps two compatriots from different nationalities from your own, and maybe even undertaken in a different country. International exposure is something that employers are very keen on. So think about that quite carefully. So look for an international mix. Look for overseas opportunities, look for the possibilities for cross-cultural projects, and so on.
Remember that at the end of your MBA you will have got to know very well a group of people who will be a part of your network for probably a decade, two decades following the MBA programme. They’ll be very valuable to you. But they’re only valuable if they are good and they’re a good cohort. So you don’t do the MBA on your own, as I said earlier, you do it with other people and they’ll teach you a lot. So finally, I hope of course that what I’ve said up till now provides you with some help in choosing an MBA that is suited to your own purposes. Let me say again that I have given you is a personal view, but a personal view based upon a significant amount of experience in the MBA world and also a lot of involvement with MBA students both while they’re undertaking the MBA and for a long time afterwards.
Indeed I keep in touch as most of us do with a lot of our own Alumni and people from other business schools as well. So I want to just try and summarise what I’ve said in three key points. First of all pay attention to gaining knowledge from your MBA that gives you a basis for understanding the breadth of organisational life. Not just finance or just marketing, but the full breadth of it. So you can become somebody who is an effective general manager. Secondly look for an MBA that is going to give you the ability to apply that knowledge in practice. The second and very significant point in your choice. And thirdly think about the MBA you’re choosing from your own personal perspective, your own ambitions. Choose an MBA that enables you to develop your own weaknesses into strengths, and give you the all-around knowledge that I talked about a moment ago.