If you’re considering an MBA, you might wonder whether it matters where you go. The short answer is yes; the long answer is more complicated.
Where to get your MBA depends on many factors, but the bottom line is this: Where you go to school may matter less than you think.
Without a doubt, an MBA from a world-renowned business school such as Harvard University, or the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania provides a powerful endorsement that can turn employers’ heads. These programs launch standout post-MBA careers, delivering on the investment of time and money made by students.
Newly minted MBAs from elite schools receive some of the highest starting salaries of any master’s degree program graduate—in addition to gaining immediate access to the most powerful alumni networks in the world. In 2022, Wharton announced its recently graduated class drew a median salary of $175,000.
Such perks are likely to be less pronounced at lower-ranked schools. But, depending on your circumstances, you may not want—or need—some of the benefits enjoyed by students in top-10 MBA programs.
What if you don’t have the GMAT scores to get into an elite school or prefer more cost-conscious options? You can still receive a great deal of value from your degree—including a big post-MBA salary boost—with a business degree earned from a quality program that is not particularly famous. Over time, the difference between business schools fades—no matter where you go. With an MBA, your career progression and the industry in which you work will matter more than any other factor.
In determining where to go to school, consider your personal goals. Are you seeking opportunities for development and growth? Or is career advancement your top priority, regardless of the actual business school experience?
Figuring out whether a school will yield the results that you want can be daunting. Are you looking for prestige? Specialization? Part-time or online options? There is an MBA program to suit every type of student.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (
Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. ( )
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While top-10 schools have their advantages, you don’t need an Ivy League degree to earn a sky-high salary in business. In fact, your specialization may matter more when it comes to success and job satisfaction.
MBA graduates who specialize in data analytics become high earners regardless of where they go to school. Likewise for those with skills in engineering, computing, or healthcare administration, according to Monster.com. Keep in mind that some lower-profile schools offer highly regarded specializations. US News & World Report includes University of Arizona, Georgia Institute of Technology, and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities among itsbest information systems MBA programs. None of those should break the bank.
If possible, decide on a specialization before enrolling in an MBA program. If you know how you want to specialize, you will be able to seek out programs with a quality reputation in your chosen area. Not all MBA programs offer all concentrations. Areas like healthcare management, human resources, or real estate are relatively rare. Fintech is one of the newest (and most in-demand) MBA specializations, and is likewise only available at a handful of schools. If you hit on a career track that interests you, head to those schools that will offer you the best training.
Focus on specialization, and future employers will recognize your acumen—even if you did not obtain your degree from a brand name school.
Schools understand that MBA students have widely varying professional and personal needs. That’s why they offer the degree in multiple formats: traditional on-campus programs delivered on both full-time and part-time calendars, online programs, weekend and evening programs, and executive MBA programs.
Which option is best for you? If you need or want to work full-time while earning your degree, a part-time program is your only practical option. You can attend an on-campus program that meets on evenings or weekends, or you could take advantage of the convenience of online study. The latter option eliminates the hassle of commuting and allows you to attend a program far beyond your geographic area.
Full-time programs maximize networking and recruitment opportunities. They are a good choice for younger MBA candidates who can afford to take two years off work to pursue an advanced degree.
Executive MBA (EMBA) programs, as their name suggests, are designed for experienced professionals. Many require applicants to have at least five years of post-undergraduate managerial or executive experience; some go as high as ten years. EMBA programs tend to skip (or quickly summarize) foundational material because their students already know it. They focus instead on higher-level management, planning, and strategy content.
What matters most when deciding where to get your MBA? It may be protecting your investment. Before enrolling in any program, ensure that a diploma from this school has real value in the marketplace. For this reason, it’s important to seek out a reputable and accredited school.
Accreditation of business programs in the US is dominated by two organizations. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is the older and more commonly held of the two. The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), founded in 1988, pays less attention to institutions’ research results and more to teaching quality and post-graduation outcomes. Many smaller schools that struggle for AACSB accreditation apply to the ACBSP instead.
An MBA from a top school often yields a top salary. By the time you get five to ten years out from graduation, however, those salary differences shrink considerably.
There is a dramatic return on investment for MBAs from a range of quality schools, not just for those from top flight programs. The comparison between pre-MBA pay and post-MBA pay was up over 50 percent for full-time MBA students graduating from the top 50 business schools. Post-MBA students five years out were up over 80 percent from their starting salaries. And part-time MBA students also shared in the boost. Their post-MBA starting pay increased by 41 percent from their pre-MBA pay.
Most MBA students report that their main incentive is to boost their salary and facilitate the kind of career and lifestyle they desire. The latest data suggests that an MBA remains a strong investment. Knowing that the value of a business degree exceeds the brand name of a school should inspire any would-be MBA to choose the school that fits them best.
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