In choosing an MBA program, you will want to identify programs that fit your basic requirements. There are two aspects to this:

Your Needs - what you want to learn and gain from the program, the type of experience you want to have.

Your Circumstances - the practical considerations.

As regards your needs, you will want to ask questions like:

  • Is it the right program structure for me?
  • Is the content what I want?
  • Is the focus what I want ?
  • Are there electives that I will be interested in?

As regards you circumstances you will want to think about questions such as:

  • Does the program run where I am or want to be?
  • Is the duration right for me?
  • Can I give it the time it will require?
  • Is the start date right for me?
  • Can I afford the fee, plus the other costs, e.g., living expenses, materials etc?

Then there are other questions:

Will the program have people like you on it?

Particularly on taught programs, a lot of what you will gain will be from interaction with and learning from other participants, so you need to ensure that they are not very different from you. In particular, check that they have a similar amount of experience to draw upon, or have held jobs at similar levels to you. You might not want to be on a program where most others were very much older or younger than you. In other respects you will want to ensure that there is some difference. For example, you may want to check that there will be people from a range of backgrounds and cultures. The twin issues are the level of the people and the diversity of the group.

What learning or teaching methods will be used on the program?

People learn differently, so check that it will suit you. For example will there be a lot of group working and if so is that something you will enjoy and be good at? Will there be a lot of case study work - and if so are you good at reading a lot, quickly and absorbing information in this way. Will there be an emphasis on lecturing - will this suit you? Perhaps project work will be important - so do you have much experience of investigating things, preparing reports and making presentations? Of course you will be going on a program to develop your skills - so you will not be good at everything - but overall you will want to ensure that the style of the program will suit you.

How will you be assessed?

The assessment methods used on programs differ - exams, of various types: assignments; presentations; individual and group based assessments, etc. What will suit you? Are you good at writing exams under controlled conditions, etc? Of course it may be some time since you had to submit to some form of assessment - so you may just want to think about the overall balance of the assessment in a program - e.g. the proportion represented by exams versus other forms of assessment. The point raised above about going on a program to get better at something doesn't really apply in this case - so try to be sure that the approaches used in the program will suit you.

How much work will be required?

Naturally you will want a program which is demanding. - but nevertheless achievable. Typically how much time will you need to put in? How much time and how frequently will you need to be at the Business School? Can you cope with these requirements? Will it fit your domestic or job situation? That's not the same as asking if you can fit it in without any effect on anything else - such a program may not be worth very much to you.

How achievable is the MBA?

What is the success rate of the program - i.e. the pass rate? Do those that fail do so for academic reasons - or just because they drop out? What would either of these things indicate? Remember - whatever the situation of those who have done a program before you - your objective is to get an MBA - so you need to know why others didn't.

How easy is it to get onto the program?

Getting an MBA is one thing - getting one which is respected and recognized is sometimes another. The status of a program will often be reflected in the competition to get into it. So you may want to know about how many applications a program gets - and what proportion are admitted. Such figures can be deceptive - since the number of enquiries is not the same as the number of applications and the number of offers of admission made is not the same as the number which join a program. You can also compare the number of places available on a program - as identified in the entries in the database - with the actual number that entered the program last year. You will have to ask for the latter. If the actual is less than the number of places made available it may indicate that the demand for the program was not as high as had been hoped by the school. The data you get in either of these ways will probably mainly be of use in making comparisons of courses. You will want to assess the strength of your own candidacy for a program, since whilst it will be good to know that there is big demand to get into a program - you will only apply if you think that you might be one of those that succeed. So you will aim for a balance - i.e. a good entry competition in which you have a good chance of succeeding.

Will I get a good job?

If you are going to do an MBA in order to get a new job on completion, how much will the program help you? Is there an appointments service provided through which potential employers visit the school to interview candidates before they graduate? Will others on the program also be looking for a job - or will they be returning to the organization they came/come from? You don't want to be one in a few whose circumstances are different. How highly regarded is the program by the type of employer you might be interested in? Have they recruited from the program before? Is there an alumni group/network which helps with placements/appointments?

What support will there be?

If you are planning to do a Distance Learning MBA what support, such as tutor contact, face to face contact, contact with other participants, is provided? How important is this seen to be by the school - because it could make all the difference between a solitary life and one where you are able to work with others.

Will you be expected to make contact with others at your stage of the program? Will all those who start at the same time be put together as a group to work together or are you going to be alone?

Is there electronic support, such as computer conferencing or video-conferencing. If so what proportion of participants use it and what technology do you need?

Some similar considerations will apply if you are planning to do a part time or modular program. You will want to know what opportunity/requirement is there for contact between participants when they are not at the school? Will there be access to the facilities and faculty when the school is held, such as is the case in between sessions?

Is this an established program?

Age is not necessarily related to quality, but you might like to check how long the program has been running. If it is well established it is more likely to be well known. On the other hand if it has been running for some time you might like to find out when there were last any significant changes to the structure, content, or syllabus, since a program that does not change is soon likely to be out of date.

How is this program 'ranked'?

Newspapers and magazines occasionally publish rankings. Some relate to schools and all that they do - while some relate specifically to MBA programs. Such rankings aim to give some indication of how well regarded certain programs are, but the information must be used with some caution.

How important is this program to the school?

Is this a mainstream program for the school or a fringe activity? If the former you can be reasonably sure the faculty will give their best. If the latter, check more closely. If it is well established then good, but ask about intake numbers in previous years. Is the program growing, stable or declining? If the latter, ask why. All of these matters are to do with the significance of the program to the school and thus your significance as a member of that program.

Republished with permission from The MBA Program Information Site (, a comprehensive source of information on MBA programs.