Business & Management

Resource Guide for Prospective MBA Students

Resource Guide for Prospective MBA Students
Researching MBA programs is a big job. Noodle.com has the resources you need to narrow your search and make the right decision. Image from Pexels
Tom Meltzer profile
Tom Meltzer February 12, 2022

If you're considering an MBA, you know what a bewildering set of choices you face. This guide links to articles that can answer your questions and help you choose the best program for you.

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Embark on an MBA journey to elevate your corporate ascent or entrepreneurial creation. Master business essentials and become a visionary leader. Desire specialization? Pursue a targeted master’s degree. Explore with Noodle.com—your compass for MBA insights and success.

  • Should you get an MBA?
  • Choosing an MBA program
  • Applying to an MBA program
  • Paying for your MBA
  • Online MBAs
  • Executive MBA programs
  • Choosing an MBA Specialization

You’re mulling a career in business and asking yourself the big question: do I need a Master of Business Administration (MBA)? Whether you’re looking to climb the corporate ladder or start your own business, there are compelling reasons to consider graduate-level business study.

An MBA covers all the critical fundamentals—management, finance, operations, marketing, supply chain, communications, human resources, analytics—so students graduate with a solid understanding of business problems and solutions. MBA programs train managers and high-level decision makers to develop a business’ vision and forge strategies to realize it.

If you want to get really good at one specific function—whether that be marketing, finance, or analytics—you might want to consider a master’s degree in those fields. You’ll develop the expertise to oversee critical projects and make fine-bore decisions within your discipline. However, if you want to manage teams, supervise budgets, and contribute to long-term planning of the business as a whole, an MBA may be the better choice.

So, where do you start? We’ve compiled a resource guide linking to many helpful MBA articles on the Noodle.com site. They represent just the tip of the iceberg in terms of our graduate business content, but they provide a good starting point for anyone considering an MBA program. This resource guide for prospective MBA students points to resources that address:

  • Should you get an MBA?
  • Choosing an MBA program
  • Applying to an MBA program
  • Paying for your MBA
  • Online MBAs
  • Executive MBA programs

Should you get an MBA?

An MBA requires a significant investment of time, money, and effort. It’s not an undertaking to pursue cavalierly. You need to know what you’re getting into and whether it’s the right choice for you.

You’ve probably heard that an advanced business degree delivers more professional opportunities, higher earning potential, and even prestige.

What business students don’t mention is that the right school can also build your trade skills, expand your network, and make you a better manager.

Factors to consider

You can’t earn an advanced business degree on a whim; many factors will influence your commitment to a program. Consider how another degree can advance your career, whether you can afford the costs, and how much it will foster personal growth. Rushing into more school without a clear purpose wastes time and money, and may not deliver any benefits.

Continued education in business could get you a bigger paycheck, better management skills, and more knowledge about your trade — but only if you find the right program at the right time. Weigh your options carefully before investing in a new degree, and choose the one that fits you.

Program Options

Traditional

A traditional, full-time MBA divides core curriculum and specialized courses over one or two years, along with a break for internships. With so many program options, the traditional MBA can benefit students with specific professional goals or people with less-defined career paths. Keep in mind that you may need to spend two years away from your current job, even if you plan to pursue a new field after graduation.

Executive

Executive MBAs also span over two years, but students continue working and often receive company funding for school. While students traditionally enter the program with roughly four years of work experience, executive MBA candidates have worked in their fields for a decade or more. EMBAs rarely offer career services, since employers sponsor students.

Part-time

Like the executive MBA, this degree allows students to work full-time. These programs appeal to a range of experience levels and offer similar amenities to traditional MBAs, but students may have a difficult time balancing school with other obligations.

Online

Students that thrive in a self-study environment should consider online programs. These degrees offer more financial and geographic flexibility, as well as more scheduling options. However, online degrees may not offer as many student services as programs on a physical campus, and some employers may not favor them.

Non-MBA options

More schools now offer subject-specific business degrees in areas such as finance or management. These degrees can take 12 months or less to earn. Depending on the program, you may not even need full-time work experience. Students looking for specialized jobs may benefit more from a program tailored to their topic of interest, though they may not carry as much weight as an MBA.

(Written by Amanda Suazo)

The decision to attend or not attend business school should not be taken lightly. Here’s how to know if now’s the time to take the leap and enroll into B-School.

Perhaps you’re a senior in college, determined to pursue a business career but unsure of what industry or function is right for you. Or maybe you’re five years into your career, making decent money but feeling that your passion and potential are not being recognized. Or, you could be a senior manager at the mid-point of your professional life, wondering what it takes to rise above your peers to get a C-level position, or maybe launch your own enterprise.

Whatever your current status, now might be the ideal time to pursue an MBA education. But how can you really be sure? The investment of time and dollars is substantial, and you don’t want to start something this big that you can’t finish. Here are three key questions to ask, and answers that will help you decide:

1. Have others in my situation achieved great success by pursuing an MBA?

Individuals at every stage of life have benefitted from attending business school, whether through higher compensation, bigger jobs, rapid advancement, or deeper satisfaction. Do some LinkedIn searches on companies where you’d like to work, and check out the profiles of senior executives with roles you’d love to have. There will be no shortage of MBA degrees in those profiles.

2. What changes will I have to make in order to get an MBA education?

Your financial capacity, family responsibilities, and geographic limitations can majorly influence whether it’s the right time for business school. It’s essential to predict how your current circumstances will be impacted if you decide to pursue an MBA sooner rather than later. Economics and emotions cannot and should not be ignored. Write down a list of pros and cons — this can be an organized way to work through this decision.

3. What will my life be like in 5/15/40 years if I don’t go for an MBA?

Dust off the crystal ball and think about the future. When you envision the kind of life — professional and personal — that you want to have, how much of that is attainable without having a business degree? And how long will it take you to reach the critical milestones along the way? Will the knowledge, perspective, network, and prestige of an MBA help ensure and accelerate your version of success?

There’s one final question: “Even if I want to pursue an MBA now, will I be admitted to a business school that justifies my investment, hopes, and sacrifices?” This is very difficult to answer without the experience, objectivity and expertise of an admissions advisor. You should start with a free evaluation of your MBA candidacy and admissions potential. Then, if you do have a realistic shot, you can tackle the other three questions and make a confident, actionable decision.

(Written by Dan Bauer)

The articles below help you identify your career goals and determine whether an MBA is the right degree to help you achieve them. Some careers are better suited to academic (as opposed to professional) graduate degrees. Others may benefit from a more narrowly focused professional degree or a certificate program. And some business careers require no graduate degree at all. Still, there’s a reason why the MBA is the most popular graduate degree in the United States, one pursued annually by nearly 200,000 students.

Choosing an MBA program

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredits nearly 500 US business master’s programs. The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) approves of a similar number. When it comes time to look at MBA programs, you’ll have a lot to choose from.

Which program is right for you? That depends on where you live, whether you want to attend in-person or online, what goals you’ve set for your career, and of course your qualifications for admission.

Many factors contribute to making a business school feel like the right place for you. Here are some categories you can begin to examine.

For each of the following categories you should decide what is more or less important to you.

  • Academics – What is the structure of the curriculum and what sorts of teaching methodology are used? Does your target program have strengths in particular fields? Weaknesses? Is the program known for being analytic? Technical? Global? Experiential? Are there study abroad options that appeal to you? Can you take courses outside of the business school?
  • Brand How important to you is it that your MBA program carries weight with its brand? Do your long-term post-MBA career goals require that you attend a well-known, prestigious program?
  • Career services – How accessible is the school’s career services department? How successful are they at securing jobs and internships for students and graduates? How active is the alumni network? Where do graduates find work? Is that where you want to work?
  • Environment – Are you seeking a small, close-knit community? Does the size of the campus make a difference to you? How important is student diversity to you? What about the ethnic make-up of the faculty? Is your ideal school affiliated with a certain religion? Have you considered whether you’d like a program that’s more conservative or liberal in its political or economic leanings?
  • Extracurricular opportunities – Does your target program offer clubs or activities that appeal to you? Are there volunteer opportunities to pursue? What about cultural events or religious resources? Are there groups on campus that support your political views? Will you have the opportunity to start your own club?
  • Geography – Where would you like to pursue your MBA? On your home continent or abroad? If abroad, do you have adequate language skills to succeed in that country? Will you only consider English-speaking programs or English-speaking countries? Would you prefer a rural or urban campus? Do you need to be within a short distance of your home for any reasons (like an ill parent)?

Once you’ve evaluated your qualifications and determined what exactly it is you’re looking for in an MBA program, then you should be ready to draft a list of schools.

You know you’re the right fit for business school, but how do you know if a school is the right fit for you? Here are the 5 questions you need to ask to find out.

1. School’s Teaching Method vs. Your Learning Preferences

How do you absorb and process information best? Some programs emphasize the case-study method, while others rely on traditional lectures. Which is more appealing to you? And you should also consider whether the amount of team-oriented work vs. individualized learning is compatible with your needs and expectations.

2. Academic Emphasis vs. Your Priorities for Knowledge

Are you a techie seeking to transition into finance or marketing? Or an operations specialist hoping to climb the ladder to a COO role? Do the disciplines in which the school ranks highest align with your needs and expectations? Are there elective courses that will deliver what you want to study? Check out course listing and descriptions to confirm the fit. During our Comprehensive Consultation, we help MBA applicants define the “gap” between their current strengths and their future goals to determine how well a given business school can help them fill in that gap.

3. Recruiting Focus vs. Your Post-MBA Career Plans

Are you going to pursue a corporate job or join a start up? What are the dream companies that you see yourself at after B School? Compare your priorities with the listing of company that visit campus and those that hire the most grads form this school. The career services office is your best resource for this kind of info.

4. Geographic Footprint vs. Your Anticipated Location

Where the campus is located is important, but it can be overemphasized. Most Wharton grads depart Philly right after commencement. Very few Tuck grads remain in Hanover. So, look at the listing of alumni chapters to see where grads settle. Check out the chapters’ respective websites to get a feel for how large and active the chapter is. Are these cities where you (and your family) would like to live following graduation?

5. School’s Culture vs. Your Values and Personality

Is this a “kinder, gentler” place or a highly competitive boot camp? Arguably the most difficult kind of “fit” to measure, making this subjective assessment is essential to your near- and long-term satisfaction. After all, classmates and other alumni will become friends and allies for life. And the school’s “brand” will help define you in future business and personal dealings.

How to Find That Best Fit

The best way to assess the culture is to visit campus while classes are in-session. Introduce yourself to current students and get a feel for how well you relate. If you can’t travel to campus, then approach recent graduates in your area and ask them what they liked most and least about their B School experience.

As with most major decisions in life, once you’ve completed all the research, identified the pros and cons of your options, and heard the opinions of those who know you best, it’s time to trust your gut. The good news is that, when considering top-tier business schools, it’s almost impossible to make a mistake. These institutions have earned and sustain their lofty ratings by providing an education and an experience that is valued and enjoyed by the vast majority of those who attend.

The best thing an applicant can do is to provide himself or herself with choices. By gaining admission to more than one top B School, you’ll face a wonderful “dilemma” in comparing and contrasting them before you decide which fit is truly best for you.

(Written by Dan Bauer)

Determining which business school to apply to is no easy task. This blurb, written by MBA admissions consultant Stacy Blackman, features the various ways, from the comfort of your home to a campus visit, you can learn about programs.

Online research

Schools publish their virtual brochures online. These should detail each program’s philosophies, special programs, recruiting statistics, professors, and more. It’s worth spending some time scouring each school’s site. You can also visit more general MBA informational sites for informal reviews, opinions, and false rumors. If you do peruse forums and unofficial sites, do so with caution.

MBA fairs

There are often opportunities to attend larger events where many business schools come together to meet and greet prospective applicants. There you can chat informally with representatives, gather brochures, and view a large number of schools at once. These forums can be a good first step to help you narrow down your list of schools.

The school visit

I am frequently asked whether or not to visit target schools. A visit is certainly not necessary, and most schools will tell you that it has no impact on their decision. However, if it is financially feasible and fits into your schedule, I always recommend a visit. A visit can help you decide where to apply, and, should you decide to apply to a particular school, you’ll have developed a better understanding of the school’s culture. You can then apply this knowledge to your essay and interview.

Information sessions

If you’re unable to visit campus, or even if you can, business school information sessions can be a great way to learn more about a particular program and interact with admissions representatives, students, or alumni. These sessions dominate the calendar in the late summer and early fall, and my clients always want to know whether these are worth attending. They are.

Networking

Outside of formal school visits and information sessions, speaking with current students and alumni is very helpful. These individuals will, hopefully, be very honest in sharing their experience with you. They may describe an aspect of the school that they love, but might not appeal to you. Some applicants are fortunate, and are friends, or work with, students and alums from every school. Others will need to be more creative. You might network and speak with a friend of a friend. Call or email your target schools and ask to be connected with someone who has similar interests. You can also search online for contacts at relevant clubs and ask to speak with them.

The bottom line: Doing careful research on various business school programs upfront will ensure that you do not make a big mistake and attend the wrong program for you.

(Written by Stacy Blackman)

Every now and then, the MBA takes a solid bashing.

Pundits say it’s a costly, useless degree for people who are already established in their careers. Others argue that it’s pointless to go to business school unless you can get into the most selective, prestigious MBA programs.

The value of the MBA depends on many factors. It may be an effective tool for people who want to switch careers, as it can open doors to lucrative fields and powerful networks. In areas such as investment banking or private equity, the MBA is essential for advancement. Depending on your particular situation, this degree can jumpstart your career and increase your income potential.

Since not all business schools are created equal, however, is it worth your time and money to consider a lower-tier program?

Financial Factors

In light of the expense of MBA programs and the opportunity cost of leaving the workforce, many people base their decisions solely on the degree’s potential impact on future earnings. While financial goals are an important factor, there are many other reasons to enroll in an MBA program.

Skills Development and Professional Networks

In many industries, the skills students develop in MBA programs are relevant and increasingly required in the marketplace. If this is the case, a degree from a local or state school may take you where you need to go — especially if your industry respects the program you plan to attend. For example, graduates from George Washington University’s School of Business often pursue careers in nonprofit and government sectors in which organizational mission and professional networks — more than salary — are the primary considerations.

Strategy and Selectivity

If you’re changing careers, it may not be necessary to attend one of the most selective schools. Instead, consider enrolling in a well-respected program that offers an excellent fit for your new path. Many state and and local universities, such as North Carolina State University’s Jenkins Graduate School of Management, offer part-time, online, and full-time MBA options with strong ties to the local business community. If your goal is to be hired by a large company, such as Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer, note that many of them recruit from a range of schools, not just those in the top tier.

If, on the other hand, Wall Street is your desired destination, and if you don’t plan to enroll in one of the most selective programs, then it will be important to attend a school where top financial recruiters search for talent. Regional powerhouses, like Rice University, may lead you to diverse opportunities locally — they will also offer access to financial industries.

Return on Investment

Salary data suggest that, overall, graduates from the top 50 U.S. MBA programs enjoy a big return on their investments, as compared to their non-MBA peers. It’s important to note, though, that there is, on average, a considerable difference in earnings between upper- and lower-ranked schools. If money matters, and you’re not aiming for the most selective programs, ask yourself if the tuition and opportunity costs are worth the potential for advancement toward your professional goals. If an MBA is necessary to reach the next rung in your career, look for local business schools with strong ties to your industry or company.

(Written by Nedda Gilbert)

For most schools we list, we provide the program’s 2020-21 per-credit-hour (/ch) tuition cost, since most online students attend part-time and pay by the credit. Some schools charge on a sliding scale; in such instances, we calculated the per credit cost for 6 credits per term, the most common course load for online students. Most online MBA programs require between 36 and 64 credits to graduate; executive and accelerated MBAs can sometimes be completed with as few as 30 credits. In some instances, the schools provide full-program (/pgm) cost, and these are so noted.

Note that we’ve omitted non-tuition fees, which can be substantial. Take a close look at the fine print before you commit to a program. Remember also that shopping for schools is just like shopping for a car; you don’t necessarily have to pay the sticker price if you’re a good negotiator.


AACSB-Accredited

SchoolTuition (in-state)Tuition (nonresident)
Appalachian State University$442/ch$1,101/ch
Augusta University$230/ch$783/ch
Ball State University$420/ch$1,060/ch
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania$516/ch$568/ch
Boston University$533/ch$533/ch
Bowling Green State University$595/ch4606/ch
Clarion University of Pennsylvania$516/ch$557/ch
Clayton State University$12,705/pgm$12,705/pgm
Coastal Carolina University$598/ch$1,102/ch
Delaware State University$515/ch$515/ch
Drury University$534-$744/ch$534-$744/ch
East Carolina University$378/ch$1,019/ch
Eastern Illinois University$600/ch$600/ch
Eastern Washington University$338/ch$338/ch
Emporia State University$350/ch$350/ch
Fayetteville State University$252/ch$999/ch
Florida State University$479/ch$1,111/ch
Frostburg State University$437/ch$560/ch
Georgia College & State University$22,970/pgm$22,970/pgm
Georgia Southwestern State University$257/ch$257/ch
Governors State University$406/ch$812/ch
Jacksonville State University$400/ch$400/ch
Lamar University$477/ch$886/ch
Longwood University$360/ch$995/ch
Louisiana State University – Shreveport$350/ch$350/ch
Louisiana Tech University$267/ch$267/ch
Marshall University$379/ch$379/ch
Midwestern State University$11,075/pgm$13,219/pgm
Minnesota State University Moorhead$575/ch$575/ch
Mississippi State University$489/ch$489/ch
Missouri State University – Springfield$11,220/pgm$11,220/pgm
Missouri Western State University$500/ch$500/ch
Murray State University$594/ch$594/ch
New Mexico State University Main Campus$412/ch$412/ch
North Carolina A & T State University$399/ch$1,026/ch
Northern Kentucky University$16,995/pgm$16,995/pgm
Oklahoma State University Main Campus$519/ch$648/ch
Old Dominion University$551/cg$595/ch
Pittsburg State University$365/ch$365/ch
Radford University$371/ch$726/ch
Sam Houston State University$340$723
Southeast Missouri State University$381/ch$621/ch
Southeastern Oklahoma State University$11,880/pgm$11,880/pgm
Southern Arkansas University Main Campus$10,995/pgm$15,795/pgm
Southern Utah University$485/ch$485/ch
Texas A & M International University$10,074/pgm$10,074/pgm
Texas A & M University – Corpus Christi$12,387/pgm$12,387/pgm
Troy University$494/ch$494/ch
University of Central Arkansas$325/ch$325/ch
University of Central Oklahoma$15,000/pgm$17,000/pgm
University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign$21,744/pgm$21,744/pgm
University of Louisiana at Lafayette$480/ch$480/ch
University of Maine$461/ch$1,503/ch
The University of Montana$262/ch$648/ch
University of Montevallo$15,000/pgm$15,000/pgm
University of North Dakota$469/ch$469/ch
University of North Texas$19,464/pgm$19,464/pgm
University of South Dakota$466/ch$466/ch
University of Southern Indiana$12,900/pgm$12,900/pgm
University of Southern Mississippi$554/ch$554/ch
The University of West Florida$456/ch$456/ch
University of West Georgia$468/ch$468/ch
Valdosta State University$293/ch$293/ch
Wichita State University$454/ch$454/ch
Youngstown State University$13,500/pgm$13,500/pgm

ACBSP-Accredited

SchoolTuition (in-state)Tuition (nonresident)
Angelo State University$239/ch$645/ch
Bethel University$465/ch$465/ch
California University of Pennsylvania$516/ch$554/ch
Delta State University$506/ch$506/ch
Hardin-Simmons University$495/ch$495/ch
Indiana Wesleyan University – National & Global$559/ch$559/ch
Lindenwood University$525/ch$525/ch
Methodist University$500/ch$500/ch
Metropolitan State University$548/ch$548/ch
Northeastern State University$12,500/pgm$12,500/pgm
Park University$597/ch$597/ch
Southern Oregon University$430/ch$430/ch
Southwestern Oklahoma State University$299/ch$577/ch
Texas Woman’s University$17,000/pgm$17,000/pgm
University of West Alabama$429/ch$429/ch
Universidad Ana G. Mendez$350/ch$350/ch
Western Governors University$12,540/pgm$12,540/pgm
Western New Mexico University$288/ch$341/ch

The articles listed below will help you inventory your priorities and your assets so you can apply to the right schools, where you’re most likely to get in and benefit the most from the program.

What to Consider When Looking for an MBA Consultant

Richard Battle-Baxter, admitted to Cornell University’s S.C. Johnson School of Management, has been blogging every step of his MBA application process.

With published articles in Poets and Quants, he’s got a pretty substantial audience. In response to a reader’s comment, he wrote a post with tips and advice about what to look for in an MBA consultant and ways they can help you reach your goals.

A few things he thinks are important to keep in mind:

  1. Make sure the consultant is qualified. Find out what b-school they’ve attended and if they have worked on any admissions committees.
  2. Make sure the MBA consultant isn’t working with too many other candidates so that they’ll give your application the time and attention it deserves.
  3. Do your own research. Make a list of schools you would like to apply to and jot down your career aspirations so that you can jump right in when you find a consultant you’d like to work with. Do not expect a consultant to pick schools for you.
  4. Be honest with your consultant. If there are weaknesses in your application, let them know! That low GMAT score might be offset by a stellar GPA or by retaking the GMAT, but your consultant can’t help you with this unless you’re open about the less desirable aspects of your application.

If you’re applying to B-school, this blog is a must-read! With advice and anecdotes about every step of the process, from GMAT prep to accepting an offer, Richard Battle-Baxter’s blog Ellipsing My Way . . . To Business School is an excellent resource.

Click here for the rest of Battle-Baxter’s tips and opinions on MBA consultants in Poets and Quants.

Applying to an MBA program

Admissions committees are mysterious entities. What are they looking for when they review applications? Is there a magic formula that guarantees admission? Spoiler alert: if there is one, we don’t have it (sorry!). What we do have is plenty of insights into how to build the strongest case for yourself in your application.

Each b-school’s admissions process is unique, and no one student profile fits them all. There are some qualities, however, that are sure to boost any school’s assessment of you. Read on to find out what they are.

By and large, the business school admissions process is holistic. There is no perfect candidate profile. There is no perfect work resume. And the expectations of one school may differ from those of another. At elite institutions, exceptional grades or scores may be required for admissions. At lower ranked, part-time, and online programs, there may be less of an emphasis on these stats.

There are, however, several common factors that can boost your application at any school. Here are 8 key attributes that business schools are looking for in their applicants:

Maturity, integrity and character

Business schools recognize that leading people and companies and engaging in ethical practices requires more than a calculator. It demands a moral compass. Gone are the days of newly-minted MBAs being encouraged to make money at any cost. These days, business schools and the industries into which they feed are adverse to controversy, scandal, and unethical conduct. Through your essays and recommendations, demonstrate that you can be counted on to do the right thing. Go one step further and showcase the personality traits that set you up for strong decision-making and managerial success. Admissions committees want these kinds of students in their programs.

A track record of (or at least potential for) leadership

Managing productive, happy teams requires leadership skills and the ability to motivate. As you reflect on what kind of leadership experiences you might share on your MBA applications, do not overlook those you may have had in volunteer and extracurricular activities. The leadership story you tell doesn’t have to be monumental. Demonstrate your leadership as best you can, even if it means showcasing yourself as an everyday or quiet leader.

Strong quantitative skills

From finance, to operations, to marketing, business school study is driven by numbers and data analysis. As maddening as this may be for an applicant who hails from a non-traditional or liberals arts background like the humanities or education, there is no way around this reality.

It is important to perform well or at least show some proficiency on the math section of the GMAT. One way to boost your score and get comfortable with the test is to prep for the exam with a tutor or a reputable test prep service. Leave plenty of time for this; it’s not the kind of exam you can cram for.

If your undergraduate record is weak on quant skills, you can compensate by taking a quantitative course such as finance or statistics at a local community college or through an online program (just be sure to earn an “A”).

Whatever snapshot of your quant skills you provide, it must convince admissions committees that you can handle the rigor of business school.

Some work experience

Generally speaking, it is best to have a few (but not too many) years of work experience under your belt before applying to business school. Admissions committees favor applicants who have worked full-time for a short period. There are several reasons for this. The first is that with experience comes a level of maturity. The second is that you are more likely to know what you want out of your MBA if you have already started your career. And the third is that your experiences on the job will allow you to bring real-world insights into the classroom. Business school is designed for candidates to learn from their classmates, so your contributions are important. If you have worked for too many years however, you may be too advanced to benefit from a traditional MBA.

Strong communication and soft skills

While it is critical for you to demonstrate quant skills on your MBA applications, your soft skills are also considered invaluable to business success. Listening to others, valuing co-workers, and building a collaborative work environment are all demonstrations of soft skills. The more you can showcase these qualities, the more likely admissions committees will be to see you as the well-rounded student they want in their program.

Excellent recommendations

How do you get great recommendations? While strong work experience is usually helpful for recommendations, asking the right people is equally important. Choose managers who know you well and can recommend you on both a professional and personal level, vouching for your character in action and providing specific examples of your accomplishments and skills. In addition, find recommenders who are likely to convey a high level of excitement about your candidacy to admissions committees.

Although many managers and applicants do work on MBA recommendations together, these are ultimately made in confidence – so you may not see what is written about you. Choose someone you can trust to deliver a powerful recommendation: someone who will put your application over the top. A ho-hum recommendation can be harmful to an application that is strong in all other areas. Lack of enthusiasm can represent an inconsistency that is hard to ignore. So manage this part of your application with attention to how it will impact the whole picture.

Reasons for pursuing an MBA at this particular time (and at this particular school)

Given the high cost of attending business school (not to mention forgoing a salary for two years), it is important for you to convince schools that you have carefully considered this investment of your time and money. Students who are unsure of their reasons for seeking an MBA — or heading to a particular school — may squander the opportunity. It is important to lay out a career plan with short and long term goals. You can shift gears once you are enrolled, but as an applicant you should have some solid goals.

Thoughtful essays

Your essays do not just complete the picture of your candidacy; they are the picture. Most admissions committees consider essays to be the clincher – the swing vote into their “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” pile. Essays offer the most substance about who you really are. They also tie all the pieces of your application together and create a cohesive narrative of your experiences, skills, background, and beliefs.

Remember that these written portions of your application do more than provide answers to a school’s questions. They create a thumbnail psychological profile. You might wittingly or unwittingly reveal yourself in a number of ways – creative, open-minded, articulate, mature – to name a few descriptors. On the other hand, if thoughtlessly composed your essays might reveal a negative side — sloppiness and the inability to think clearly. Compose your essays carefully. And get a second pair of eyes on them before you hit the submit button.

(Written by Nedda Gilbert)

An MBA application is primarily evaluated based on three factors: GMAT or GRE scores, work experience, and your essays. Other important factors may include your undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, diversity, extracurricular/community activities, and, where relevant, interviews.

Your test scores are the most important number when it comes to applying to MBA programs. While most applicants still take the GMAT, nearly all the top MBA programs will accept either test, and there’s some evidence that a good number of schools will let you in with a relatively lower GRE score..

1. GMAT/GRE Scores

You should compare your test score the the median GMAT score for a given institution to determine how likely you are in gain admission (to compare GRE scores to GMAT scores, use this handy conversion tool). Generally speaking, if you’re 50 or more points shy of the median score, your chances of getting into a program become very slim (and ideally you should be at or above the median for your top choice schools).

2. Work Experience

The MBA is a highly collaborative degree. You will be working closely with your fellow students to solve business problems. A large part of what you’ll be expected to draw upon in this problem solving process is your work experience. Because of this, MBA programs look to fill their classes with students with diverse, high quality work experience.

It’s important that your work experience is reflected in the resume you’ll submit as part of your application, and that significant work successes are reflected in some combination of your essays and your letters of recommendation.

Most traditional MBA programs favor students with 3-7 years of work experience. Those with more experience will often find greater success applying to executive MBA programs. Those with less experience are often well-advised to wait another year or two before applying. There are always exceptions, but don’t be surprised if your application doesn’t do as well as you anticipated if you only have a year or two of experience when you apply. Look closely at the median age and/or work experience for candidates accepted to the programs you’re applying to, and aim for schools where you’re close to that median.

3. Essays

The essays are vastly more important for an MBA application than they were for your college application. Most programs require anywhere from 3-7 essays, and you can easily write thousands of words answering them all. Even worse, there’s very little standardization among the essay topics, so it can be difficult to recycle your essays from one application to the next.

The one essay you’ll have to write for virtually any program is what I call the “Why does an MBA make sense for me now?” essay. MBA programs want to know why an MBA makes sense given your career trajectory: where are you coming from professionally, what do you hope to gain from your MBA, and what will gaining an MBA allow you to accomplish with your career. A clear answer to this question is the most essential component of your essays.

There’s a great deal of specific advice that can be offered for the essays, but broadly speaking, make sure that you take the time to figure out exactly what each question is really asking for. Make sure that you are responsive to the questions, that you respect any word limits, and that your answers show a wide range of your strengths and experiences.

4. Undergraduate GPA

GPA is a less important factor for MBA programs than for most other graduate degrees. While you should look at the median GPA of the programs you’re interested in the see how competitive you’ll be, you can easily make up for a below median GPA with above median test scores or unusually strong work experience.

5. Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation for MBA programs should come from someone who can speak to your work and/or leadership abilities. Make sure your recommenders know you well, someone who can speak to your abilities is much more important than someone who has an impressive title or a connection to the program you’re applying to.

Letters should be pure advocacy. Some recommenders feel they need to provide a balanced description, and actually go so far as to provide criticism of the applicant. Talk to your recommenders ahead of time and give them a sense of what you’d like them to write and make sure they’re on board. It might even be worth bringing up particular aspects of your work you’d like the recommender to highlight (e.g. a project you were lead on that went particularly well, or a positive characteristic you’re generally known for in the office).

Finally, some recommenders throw the recommendation back to the applicant, saying “why don’t you write the letter and I’ll sign off on it.” If that’s all your recommender is willing to do, find a different recommender. You’ll be writing anywhere from 3-7 essays for each school; the admissions committee may well recognize if you’re also the author of your letters of recommendation. A good recommender will give you praise you wouldn’t even think to give yourself.

6. Diversity

MBA programs largely focus on collaborative work, and the modern workplace has people from a wide range of backgrounds. As a result, MBA programs seek to have classes the reflect the diversity of the contemporary workplace, bringing in students from a wide range of professional and cultural backgrounds. Make sure your application highlights any unusual or useful perspective you’d bring to the programs you apply to.

7. Extracurricular and Community Activities

You are more than your grades and your work experience. What you do in your free time serves as another way to highlight what you’ll bring to the community of the MBA program. If you are particularly passionate about a particular activity, it’s often a good idea to highlight that activity in one of your essays.

8. Interviews

Not all MBA programs conduct interviews, but when a program does make interviews part of its process, it can be a significant determining factor of admissions.

The key for interviews is to be prepared. Know the professors you’re interested in working with. Understand the strengths of the program, and any particular classes, special programs, or aspect of the curriculum you’d be especially interested in. Come prepared with questions and knowledge of the program.

Final Thoughts

Your primary focus when preparing to apply to MBA programs should be on getting great test scores and writing great essays. In particular, make sure you can clearly articulate why an MBA is the right degree for you at this point in your career, and what you see an MBA helping you accomplish.

(Written by Dan Edmonds)

Applying to business school begins during college.

You need to have a solid GPA as an undergrad, land a job after graduating that helps you move towards your professional goals, and work hard for at least four years, in most cases, before applying to business school.

From there, do a little soul searching to see if an MBA is right for you. If the answer is yes, you’ll begin the search process and figure out what kind of MBA program best suites you. Financing school, preparing for and taking the GMAT, if applicable, and applying to school are also important parts of getting an MBA.

Use this advice as a checklist to ensure your MBA application is strong enough to get you into the best schools that will help achieve your goals.

Conduct heavy research on schools that fit your goals

Don’t just look at top ten lists. Delve deep in the programs the school offers and look for other important information like tuition costs, faculty:student ratio, and much more.

Make sure the personal essay lets your personality shine

Don’t overemphasize your business experience in your b-school application essay. Schools want to get to know you as a person, not just a list of accomplishments.

Customize your essays to what each school is looking for

Don’t send the same essay to more than one school, even if they ask similar questions. Tailor each essay to the type of student each particular school is looking for.

Know what you want out of your career before you apply

You’re applying to business school because you realized that the school’s program is going to help you get to where you want to go professionally. When presenting a career vision in the application, be sure that it’s in line with your previous or current experience. Remember that your career vision shouldn’t seem unfocused or undecided.

Don’t rely too much on those GMAT or GRE scores

Your GMAT or GRE scores are important, but not the most important component of the application.

List extracurriculars that prove your leadership experience

B-schools would rather see your leadership behind the extracurriculars, than the quantity of your extracurricular experience.

Be very strategic about who writes your letter of recommendation

Don’t have someone write a recommendation just because you feel you should. It’s more important to have an honest, glowing recommendation than having a luke-warm recommendation from a big name.

What you want the admissions officers to know about you should also reflect in the interview

The MBA admissions interview is very different from a job interview; prepare accordingly. Don’t deviate from your story in the interview. Make sure that your career vision and goals are consistent with the vision you presented in your application.

Despite the extensive MBA admissions prep that many applicants undergo, they are often unaware of key strategies that can help them get into their top-choice schools. Business school admissions can feel like it’s all behind closed doors, but read here for insights into the MBA application process from an experienced advisor.

1. An undergraduate degree is not required to gain admission to a top-tier MBA program.

You probably won’t read it in the official admissions policy, but the fact is that exceptional candidates who lack a college diploma can — and do — get admitted at many respected schools. Our firm has provided guidance and support to six such applicants who were admitted to top-15 MBA programs. The key is convincing the “adcom” (admissions committee) that you can perform in the classroom and will add unique value through your personal and professional profile. It’s doable!

2. MBA admissions officers from top-10 schools provide private briefings for blue-chip firms.

If you don’t work at a top private equity firm, management consulting firm, or investment bank, then you are at a slight disadvantage in the MBA application process. Each year, senior admissions staff from elite business schools provide closed-door info sessions for applicants from these organizations. Even if the adcoms are not sharing insider tips, the fact is that the applicants in that room get a chance for visibility and interaction that their rivals at less prestigious firms don’t get.

This doesn’t mean you won’t be admitted into your dream school. Some of these top schools may have info sessions you can attend on campus or around the world — although it’s worth mentioning that these will be more crowded than the info sessions at blue-chip firms. Another way to help gain insight is to engage a professional admissions consultant — or ask a friend who works at one of those firms — who knows what happens behind those closed doors.

3. Campus visits really matter, even at schools that say otherwise.

Let’s say you’re an admissions officer reviewing applications from two identically-qualified candidates. Same GPA and GMAT score, same alma mater, same job title and employer. The essays and interview responses from one of those candidates feature detailed insights and observations about the class she observed, the students she met, the professor she chatted with, and so on. The other candidate writes and talks about only what she read on the school website or blog. Who’s going to be offered admission? The candidate who knows the school best and has proven her passion by actually going there to visit.

4. Recommendations from CEOs and high-powered alumni can hurt more that help.

It seems logical to seek a recommendation from the head of your company or someone who is a prominent alum from the school you’re targeting. Surely the admissions committee will be impressed that such people actually know you and are willing to say positive things about you. But this logic is not enough. If that recommendation lacks direct, firsthand knowledge of your personal and professional attributes or a sincere passion for your academic and professional potential, the school will be unimpressed. And more importantly, the adcom may conclude that those who know you best are either unable or unwilling to support your candidacy.

The impression can be even worse if the recommender is a graduate of the targeted b-school, since the admissions staff may believe you overstepped your bounds and made a nuisance of yourself while seeking this endorsement. So, stick with recommenders who have the most substantive awareness of your strengths and vulnerabilities — and are most willing to put in the time and effort to make a convincing case for you.

5. You don’t need a recommendation from your direct supervisor.

Even though they push for it, admissions officers understand that not every good applicant is able to get a recommendation from her direct boss. Doing so could jeopardize the applicant’s current job security or near-term promotability. Or sometimes, that supervisor hasn’t been in the position for more than a few months and thus doesn’t know the candidate all that well.

If you find yourself in that situation, or even if you just believe that your supervisor won’t be sincerely supportive if you request a rec, then don’t chance it. Request a letter from others in the company and/or the community whose observations will be more convincing and compelling.

6. You can request a second interview if an alumnus/a or student interviewer didn’t treat you fairly.

Admissions officers know that the interviews they themselves provide are thorough, relevant, and by the book. That’s not always the case for the interviews done by alumni or students, however. Even after being fully trained by the adcom, those individuals can have a bias or even just a bad day that negatively affects your admissions interview.

So, if you believe this happened to you, you can contact the admissions director within 24 hours of the interview, and firmly but diplomatically explain the situation and request another interview. Worst case, doing so will make the difficult interview less of a factor in the final decision.

7. Resumes can run over one page if the content merits the additional length.

If a school’s application instructions don’t forbid it, and if the substance of your academic, personal, or professional background is especially significant, then don’t be afraid to prepare and submit a two-page resume. Of course, you still need to be focused and succinct. But if you’re a more experienced applicant, have had several complex work assignments, or can describe making major impact on your community or society, then a longer resume is not only acceptable, it’s wise.

8. Academic suspensions and misdemeanor convictions can be overcome.

Indiscretions or immaturity evidenced by, say, a 19-year-old college student need not close the door on MBA admission seven or eight years later. Adcoms are not heartless. They know that applicants with solid core values can and do make mistakes. So don’t compound a past misstep by ignoring it in your applications, as that only insults the intelligence of the adcoms. Rather, explain the circumstances the led to your mistake, express an appropriate level of remorse, summarize what you learned from the episode, and present evidence of how you’ve mitigated it or perhaps even turned the experience into a positive.

Now that you’ve peeked behind the curtain of the MBA admissions process, what’s your next step? Research the schools you’re interested in and start preparing each component of your application so you can stand out. If you need help getting there, you can consider getting an expert evaluation on your candidacy from admissions consultants, such as The MBA Exchange.

(Written by Dan Bauer)

There are only two possible outcomes for MBA applicants: admission or rejection. (If you’re waitlisted, that’s an interim phase to be addressed. But more on that later.)

The good news is that the latter of those two outcomes need not be permanent.

Within months of being rejected, you can be right back in the game with a reapplication to the same school and/or a fresh app to another program. However, it’s essential to do some analysis to make sure that you’re maximizing your chances for admission the next time.

An immediate obstacle and frustration is that rejected applicants rarely receive any feedback from the admissions committee. The “official” reason is that there is not enough time for the adcom to debrief every disappointed applicant, so they don’t do it for anyone. However, the unstated reason is that the schools are reluctant to provide specific insights that would reveal too much about their overall decision process or imply that if the rejected applicant does “X” then he or she will be admitted the next time. No one is ever told “don’t reapply.”

So, most rejected applicants are left to ponder the following six questions on their own:

  1. Was I realistic in targeting the schools to which I applied?
  2. Did I showcase my strengths and mitigate my weaknesses?
  3. Did I apply before my candidacy was truly competitive?
  4. Did I explain what the school and other students would gain by admitting me this year?
  5. Did I convince them I would accept their offer and enroll if offered admission?
  6. What more or different could I have done to improve my chances?

Since most applicants are not experienced in the admissions process, those questions can be very difficult to answer with certainty. Even speaking with current students and alumni is of little value since their understanding of what it takes to gain admission is very limited. The fact is that they really don’t know why they were admitted to some schools and not to others.

That’s why The MBA Exchange has developed a comprehensive “ding analysis” that thoroughly examines rejected applications and considers the results of our 3,500 past clients over 18 years. They know which profiles have been admitted and which have been rejected at each of the leading schools. They use this background to address all of the key questions that can help reapplicants improve their chances for success the second time around.

So, if your first attempts at achieving MBA admission resulted in rejection, there’s no need to assume that you can’t or won’t achieve a better outcome. Understanding exactly what you did right, what you did wrong, and what you can do to improve your candidacy is the next move.

(Written by Dan Bauer)

If your personal profile showcases leadership, international exposure, language skills, etc., you’ll seem like a strong candidate in the eyes of the admissions committees.

But what about your professional profile? How can you tell if your work experience is a strength or a weakness?

In evaluating your professional background, there are four dimensions to consider:

Duration: how long have you been employed full-time?

Most admitted applicants at top-tier schools have at least 2-5 years of work experience. Less experience raises doubts about real-world exposure that you’d share with classmates. Having even more experience can “raise the bar” in terms of what the admissions committee expects from such an applicant.

Role: what do you do and with whom do you interact?

The scope of responsibilities and level at which you operate are both important. An analyst who is stuck in a workstation all day, crunching numbers, and dealing only with entry-level associates is going to be a far less attractive candidate than a fast-track executive who serves in a more strategic capacity, shows greater independence and accountability, and interacts directly with managers and/or clients.

Impact: what are your tangible, quantified, results?

Job responsibilities and activities are not enough to impress b-schools. Measuring and presenting the positive differences that you, as an individual, make for your team, your company, and/or your customers, is essential. By showing the admissions committee the bottom line value that you deliver, you will score big points for your candidacy.

Prestige: where do you work and will that impress the business school?

Some companies’ recognition give their employees an undeniable edge when applying for an MBA. There are well-known “feeders”: top managing consulting firms, investment banks, and technology companies, whose employees are admitted more often than individuals who work for unknown employers. Anyone who believes otherwise is ignoring historic reality.




Is your professional background a weak spot? If that’s the case, what can you do about it before you send in your application? Here are four steps to consider.

Buy some time.

If delaying your applications for another year would not disrupt your life, consider doing so. However, it’s simply not enough to add 12 more months of employment to your resume. Rather, you need to use that extra time to strengthen your candidacy beyond mere duration.

Assume expanded duties in the workplace.

This will convey to schools that your superiors trust, respect, and value you. Seeking opportunities to interact with senior executives will reveal your self-confidence and upward mobility; you might even develop a relationship with someone who can serve as an impressive recommender. Remember: the shorter the duration of your employment, the more you need to compensate by being an overachiever.

If you aren’t already tracking your work results, start doing so today.

If your current role is one that focuses more on “process” than “outcomes,” find out from fellow employees what those outcomes are, so you can rightly claim that you contributed to them. If your project is not going to be completed before the MBA application due date, you should present the projected results.

Take on more authority.

Say your company has relatively low visibility in the marketplace. Or perhaps you’re working for a startup which isn’t even in business yet. The best way to compete against MBA applicants from high-profile “feeder” firms and corporations is to convince the admissions committee that you have more responsibility, and therefore, make a greater impact than your peers at similar companies. If you can’t make that happen on the job, use your affiliations with well-known non-profit organizations as a platform to demonstrate your leadership effectiveness.

Work experience can become a competitive advantage if you understand how you compare with other applicants, confront your vulnerabilities, and capitalize on your improvements. If you can, your first step might be to get an objective, expert evaluation of your candidacy from a b-school admissions expert, like those found at the MBA Exchange.

(Written by Dan Bauer)

The articles below can also help guide you through the process.

Suggested GMAT Books

Looking for practice questions, practice tests, and tips on how to beat the GMAT exam? We list the best GMAT preparation books and offer guidance on how to get the most out of them. To discover why we selected these books, you can read this article.

MBA Specializations and Dual Degrees: Are They Worth It?

If you’re thinking of going to business schools, there are two questions that should be a part of your research.

First, does a traditional MBA education offer the breadth of knowledge you seek beyond the core disciplines of finance, marketing, operations, and so on? Second, does the array of elective courses that go along with that MBA program provide the depth of learning you want to accelerate progress on your chosen career path?

If your answer to both is “no,” the good news is that you have two exciting options to consider.

dual-degree program is one in which a student pursues an MBA plus another graduate degree, usually at the same university, with some overlap in timing. The most popular degrees earned in tandem with an MBA include Law (J.D.), Master of Public Policy (MPP), Master of Public Administration (MPA), and Master of Education (M.Ed.). There’s also a growing list of niche combinations, such as MBA/Master of Fine Arts (MFA).

specialized MBA program is essentially a master’s degree in business administration with a heavy concentration in a particular industry and/or role. The nearly endless list of specialties spans oil and gas management, innovation, arts administration, market research, supply chain management, security analysis, real estate, sports management, corporate social responsibility, wine management, luxury goods, biosciences, healthcare, and many more.

Having a tough time choosing between these two options? Consider the pros and cons, as well as the typical candidate profile, for each.

Dual degree

  • Upside: Graduating with two full-fledged graduate degrees means that you’ll be a qualified and competitive candidate for a senior position in two arenas. You will have the knowledge, perspective, and network necessary to really make your mark in either field (or in both!). Top-tier universities offer many dual-degree programs, so you can target some of the most renowned programs in the nation during your search.
  • Downside: The admissions process is more demanding; you’ll be preparing two different applications and putting your fate in the hands of two different admissions committees. And in some cases, being rejected by one degree program could negatively impact your candidacy for the other. A dual-degree program also takes more time to complete than a typical MBA program, sometimes requiring students to spend up to four years at school (which means more time off the job market). Also, because students are completing the full course load for both degrees, they will usually have to pay for both. While the same financial aid that is available to those getting a single degree is available to dual-degree students, the scholarships or aid they get from their program one semester may not transfer to the other program they are working with the next semester.
  • Ideal Candidate: A dual-degree program may be a great fit for students who envision a career at the intersection of two disciplines (e.g., business and public policy) and who would benefit from having the same graduate degree as someone focused solely on the non-business discipline. This program is particularly helpful for students interested in becoming top-tier managers in a specific field. For instance, someone who aspires to manage a media company may benefit from a dual-degree MBA/M.S. in journalism. Candidates tend to have the same demographic profiles as their peers attending traditional MBA programs.

Specialized MBA degree

  • Upside: This education is shorter in duration that the dual-degree alternative — often available as a part-time program — and thus less expensive in terms of tuition and foregone income. Furthermore, grads become true subject-matter experts, as this degree connotes serious dedication to that field, often through hands-on experience.
  • Downside: Grads of such programs may have less latitude in changing industries or functions later in their careers. The specialized MBA degree is not the full equivalent of a formal graduate degree in that same specialty (e.g., graduates with an MBA specializing in healthcare will have more difficulty transitioning to a role primarily focused on healthcare than a graduate with a dual MBA/Master of Public Health). Also, in pursuing this option, your classmates will not offer the diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and goals that you would find in traditional MBA programs. Finally, specialized MBAs are more often offered by second- and third-tier schools striving to differentiate themselves from more highly ranked schools with dual-degree programs.
  • Ideal Candidate: This may be the best option for students with professional backgrounds and/or aspirations in a very specific field who now want to gain subject-matter expertise in that area. Candidates are often well into their careers, eager to acquire practical knowledge that will help them climb higher and faster.

As you research and consider which type of program — dual degree or specialized MBA — is better for you, there are some insightful resources to tap. These include the career services staff and recent students at the universities you are targeting. They can describe the kinds of jobs that graduates have pursued and how this education contributed to their success.

Of course, it’s important to determine whether your profile is competitive enough for admission to your desired program. You can get advice from professional advisors, such as those at The MBA Exchange, to understand your chances of admittance and to receive guidance throughout the application process.

Whichever option you pursue, the learning and growth you gain should prove exciting and rewarding. By investing in your personal brand, stretching your intellect, and expanding your network, you’ll emerge as a more competent and confident professional, ready to seize greater opportunities and solve bigger problems than your peers who lack this advanced education and respected credential.

(Written by Dan Bauer)

Writing the MBA Resume

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. Her articles below contain excellent advice for crafting an appealing MBA resume for the school of your choice.

  • How to Answer the MBA Essay Question: ‘What Will You Contribute to Our School Community?’: Provides advice on answering the common MBA application essay question: “What will you contribute to our school community?” It emphasizes the importance of being concise, showcasing leadership through specific examples, and demonstrating how an MBA will help achieve career goals. The piece advises against bragging or vague statements, recommending instead a focus on unique qualities and experiences that demonstrate potential contributions to the MBA community. Read the article for a detailed exploration of strategies to craft compelling responses to this essay question.
  • The Skills Business Schools Are Really Looking For: Discusses the increasing importance of soft skills in MBA programs and the application process. Business schools are emphasizing interpersonal qualities like leadership, communication, and cultural sensitivity. It highlights how programs like Wharton’s are adapting their admissions process to screen for these skills. The article suggests applicants should highlight their soft skills in their applications and offers strategies for doing so. It also notes that business schools offer numerous avenues, including clubs and extracurricular activities, to further develop these interpersonal qualities.
  • How To Overcome A Weak Math Profile As An MBA Applicant: Provides guidance for MBA applicants with weak math backgrounds. It suggests ways to improve and demonstrate quantitative skills, such as preparing for the GMAT with a tutor, taking quantitative courses, and highlighting relevant work experience. It emphasizes that strong quantitative skills are essential for MBA success and encourages applicants to be proactive in addressing any weaknesses in this area. The overall message is not to be deterred by a weak math profile but to take steps to strengthen and showcase your quantitative abilities.

Paying for your MBA

The most expensive MBA programs in the United States cost over $200,000. The least expensive programs cost less than one-tenth as much. Across that continuum, students have access to various forms of financial assistance, including employee benefits.

You’ve done the hard work and applied for as many grants and scholarships as you can, but now you need to bridge that final gap between the money you have and the money you need. There are two main options for students looking for a loan for their MBA program, Federal loans and private loans.

Federal Loans

The unfortunate reality is that it’s unlikely you will be able to cover the entire cost of an MBA through scholarships, grants, fellowships and otherwise. If you are among the majority of MBA students who take out a loan to pay for school, research what federal loan options are available to you. Federal loans are typically a better option for students than private loans, since they offer fixed rates and acceptance isn’t based on credit history. Students also may not be required to make payments on the loan until after graduation. Federal loans are popular among graduate students because they minimize the student’s financial risk. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to get started on your path to federal money!

Private Loans

A private loan from a bank or private lender should certainly be the last option you explore for funding your MBA program. Private loans will accrue interest at higher rates than federal loans, and you may be denied based on your credit history. However if you are confident that you will be able to make the payments on time and have a good credit history, a private loan may help you get the money you need quickly. Make sure to find a loan that offers a fair interest rate that won’t put you into unmanageable debt.

Whether you end up deciding on taking out a federal or private loan, make sure you take the time to research which option fits best with your finances. Getting an MBA is an investment in your future, and you want to make sure you get the best return.

(Written by Miles Keenlyside)

Before you jump into the deep end and start taking out loans left and right to finance your MBA, make sure that you have explored all of your “free money” options. There are plenty of grants and scholarships available to students, both from universities and outside sources. While they probably won’t cover the entire cost of the program, they will help you reduce the amount of debt you will have upon graduation.

Many schools offer a variety of merit based scholarships, plus scholarships for military service or other personal circumstances that may require financial aid. Contact your university’s Office of Financial Aid to see if you qualify for any of their grants or scholarships. You may qualify for a university fellowship, or you may qualify for a grant which is specific to your university or MBA program. Or try speaking to some of the students who are currently in the program, they may be able to give you some insight about funding.

Fellowships

If you aren’t opposed to working on campus, university fellowships can be a great option to reduce your financial burden. Working with professors and students, university fellows take on more responsibilities on campus than their non-fellowship colleagues, but also receive strong professional training and experience. Fellowship students may receive a small stipend in compensation for their work.

Employer Sponsorship

If you are currently professionally employed and are pursuing an MBA to supplement your experience and increase your earning power, you may be able to get your employer to partially sponsor your tuition. There will be conditions of course, your employer may only agree to sponsor you if you agree to stay on board for a few extra years. Ultimately the conditions are decided by the employer, but if it helps you pay for school and guarantees a job position upon graduation, it can be a win-win situation!

Merit and Need Based Scholarships

There are a great deal of scholarships available to students, both university specific and available to the public. Speak with your university’s Office of Financial Aid to see what kind of scholarships your university offers. In the mean time, here is an extensive list of outside MBA scholarships compiled by University of California Berkeley that may help you stay out of debt a little longer. Take some time to look through the available outside scholarships – there may be one that’s just right for you.

(Written by Miles Keenlyside)

The articles listed below also explain how to get the most bang for your MBA buck.

Online MBAs

Online education was on the ascent throughout the 2010s. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic to push things into an entirely other dimension. Today, everyone who is or recently was a student has experienced online education.

Online MBAs can fit anyone’s lifestyle. They’re an especially good option for professionals who want to continue working full-time while they earn their degree. The convenience of remote study, coupled with flexible scheduling, means an online program can accommodate needs that a traditional on-campus program simply cannot.

There’s no question that online degree programs, especially for business degrees, are proliferating at a substantial rate. As more and more top business schools develop online programs, the stigma originally associated with an online degree has diminished as well. In fact, most diplomas from competitive business schools do not differentiate between a degree completed on campus or through an online program. How do you decide which is better for you? Here are a few things to think about as you consider your options:

Experience/Professional Needs

In choosing between an online or on-campus full-time MBA program, it’s important to consider where you are in your career. Full-time students at top-schools like Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business or Chicago’s Booth Business School are often younger and tend to have less career and professional experience. Their MBA studies will likely occupy the majority of their time for the next two years and they expect this commitment. On the other hand, if you’d like to be working full-time, don’t want to relocate or need a flexible schedule, the online MBA option may be more convenient for you. But don’t be fooled: an online MBA program is just as academically rigorous. Time management skills and self-motivation are crucial for success in any MBA program.

Cost

At top business schools, where tuition fees are daunting, a full-time MBA program is often more expensive than the online equivalent. The financial differences can vary depending on the school and where you live. If you’re eligible for in-state tuition at the school you’re interested in, the on-campus option is sometimes cheaper. Make sure you do your research.

Learning and Social Preferences

Everyone has his or her own style of learning; you should take this into account as you consider different program types. If you learn best face-to-face or really appreciate the social interaction that a campus and classroom setting can provide, you may want to enroll in an on-campus program, whether it’s full or part time or an executive MBA program. On the other hand, if face-to-face instruction isn’t important to you and you’d like to learn at your own pace, an online option may suit you perfectly.

Reputation

While some online degree granting institutions and programs are considered more “democratic” and open to everyone, programs from more traditional business schools are just as competitive, well-respected and rigorous as their on-campus versions. The university’s brand and reputation are more important than the method of delivery and the best online programs often focus on live, real-time interaction between students and professors, faculty quality and identical student standards as those they consider in on-campus applicants. AASCB accreditation is also a good marker of program quality in any format.

As a prospective MBA student, you are looking at a degree that tends to offer the largest variety of enrollment options regardless of institution. Whether you choose to study part-time, on the weekends, on the computer or full-time on-campus, an MBA degree can allow you to move ahead in your career or get a new one started.

Many excellent schools offer online MBA degrees, including Butler University, Case Western Reserve University, Howard University, University of Tulsa, Southern Methodist University, and Stevens Institute of Technology. These articles describe the online learning process and let you know what to look for in a worthwhile online degree program,

Executive MBA programs

Traditional MBA programs typically seek students with two to five years of post-undergraduate professional experience. Some accept students with no professional experience. Executive MBA programs, in contrast, are designed solely for seasoned professionals, usually with at least ten years under their belts.

Executive MBA (EMBA) programs serve managers and low-level executives looking to ascend to the upper corporate levels; we’re talking about aspiring vice presidents and c-suite execs. Executive MBA programs are typically scheduled to suit their students’ busy work schedules, with classes held on evenings and/or weekends. More and more are taking their programs online for the same reason.

These articles explain what distinguishes an EMBA program from other MBAs, discusses the benefits and drawbacks of online programs, and helps you figure out how to meet admissions requirements.

Choosing an MBA Specialization

You can complete an MBA in general management. In fact, some programs only offer a generalist MBA. Others, however, offer areas of specialization, pursued through elective coursework that you take after you complete required core courses.

Noodle.com has articles on all the most popular specializations and some that aren’t quite as popular but should, or soon will, be. Below is a sampling.

If you’re interested in a specialized business master’s—a Master of Science in Business Analytics or a Master of Health Administration, for example—Noodle.com has plenty of resources on those as well.

Start your research today!

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Author

Tom Meltzer began his career in education publishing at The Princeton Review, where he authored more than a dozen titles (including the company's annual best colleges guide and two AP test prep manuals) and produced the musical podcast The Princeton Review Vocab Minute. A graduate of Columbia University (English major), Tom lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: Business & Management