If you don’t have the scores to get into an elite school, or simply don’t care to apply, bragging rights can still be yours through many other business schools.
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Nedda Gilbert
Noodle Expert Member

March 10, 2021

There is a dramatic return on investment for MBAs—and not just for those from top-10 programs.

If you're considering an MBA, you might wonder whether it actually 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, Stanford, or Wharton provides a powerful endorsement in the business world. These programs launch a standout post-MBA career, 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.

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.

If you don’t have the scores to get into an elite school, or simply don’t care to apply, bragging rights can still be yours through many other business schools. In fact, you can receive incredible value out of 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.

What Matters Most? In determining where to go to school, consider your personal goals. Do you want to love your two years at this school? 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.

Specialization While top-10 schools do 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.

_(Check this out: Think About MBA Accreditation Like You'd Think About Buying Groceries (Kind Of))_

For example, MBA graduates who specialize in data analytics become high earners regardless of where they go to school. And a business school with the highest ranking in an area of specialization may not be an Ivy, or even a top five. If you have a strong career focus, seek out schools that will deliver on your passion and help you develop your expertise. If an MBA is known to prospective students for offering a strong specialization, it will be known to prospective employers as well.

If you have not settled on one specialization just yet, consider doing so before beginning any program. If you know how you want to specialize, you will be able to seek out programs with a quality reputation in that department. Not all MBA programs offer all concentrations. Areas like healthcare management, human resources, or real estate are somewhat unique. 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.

Learning Format When it comes to earning your MBA, you have lots of program formats to consider. These include traditional on-campus programs, part-time programs, online programs, weekend programs, and executive MBA programs.

Many candidates who want to earn a business degree aren’t prepared for the financial investment required to be a full-time student, or have families to support while in school. Others have reached a high point in their careers and don’t want to lose their momentum by leaving their jobs. In such cases, the program that fits one’s lifestyle should lead.

Online MBA programs offer those who need some convenience and flexibility a good option. But it’s important to consider the reputation and quality of any online program. Where you go may make or break the value of your degree, so choosing a well-respected and effective program is key.

If you’re a seasoned professional or manager already, and have many years of full-time business experience, an executive MBA program may work best for you. These are often offered in distance formats, which require rotating weekends of classes. Ultimately, where you go should reflect your needs and what you hope to gain from earning your degree.

Accreditation and Reputation What matters most when deciding where to get your MBA? It may be protecting your investment. Before enrolling in any program, you should ensure that a diploma from this school will have real value in the marketplace. For this reason, it’s important to seek out a reputable and accredited school.

The gold standard for business school accreditation is the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Online programs may have AACSB accreditation or regional accreditation.

Some old-fashioned employers may question the legitimacy of unknown online MBA programs. An online program that has a traditional on-campus counterpart, like the one at The College of New Jersey or Northeastern University in Boston, may be viewed more favorably than one earned from a for-profit online company without this affiliation.

Salary and Earning Poential An MBA from a top school typically assures a top salary, and salary differences between MBA graduates are minimal at the five- and 10-year marks.

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.

A Return on Your Investment 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.