Choosing the right Business School

To go or not to go?  That is the question.  Business school appeals to many people because it seems so versatile, so powerful.  In just two years, it prepares you for the expansive “world of business.”   Compare that to three years for law school and four years for medical school, and you can immediately see the appeal.    But please think carefully before you go, for unless you have a clear goal and a plan to achieve that goal, you may be worse off two years from now.  Here are four essential questions to ask yourself to help you decide. 

Must you go?

The number one rule of business is to have a clear plan, and the same is true for business school.  What is your primary goal in going to business school: to acquire skills, to make connections, or to change careers?  Is business school the best or only way for you to achieve this goal?  You must be able to answer both these questions clearly and convincingly.  If you cannot do so, then business school is not right for you at this moment. If you can, then proceed with the next question.

What school is best for me?

According to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the largest such accrediting body in the world, there are 486 business schools in the US alone.  Which school is best for you depends heavily upon your reason for going.  Some schools specialize in particular business fields.    Others are renowned for their number of highly successful graduates.  Rankings such as those issued by US News can be helpful, but do not be seduced by them to the point of losing sight of your goal.

The following example will illustrate why.  In the business world, it is commonly accepted that who you know is more important than what you know.  Suppose you are from Kansas and plan to start a business there after school.  However, upon seeing Harvard’s superb ranking in US News, you instinctively rank it highly on your list too.  How beneficial will your Harvard MBA be when you return to Kansas and find that all of the connections you need are University of Kansas alums?  In general, the power of a school’s network is a function of proximity.  The closer you are to the school, the stronger its network is.  This is because the graduates made local connections while in school and tend to stay nearby to leverage those connections afterwards.  Moral of the story: create your own rankings.   Do not rely on others.

Which school is right for me?

According to an article in Forbes magazine, the average cost of earning a MBA was $100,000 in 2006.  Factoring in inflation, imagine what it might cost today?  Cost is an important factor in your decision but not the only one.  Treat this decision as you would any business decision: perform a cost-benefit analysis for each school on your list.  Adjust your list accordingly.  The end result is a list that ranks the “right” schools for you in order of value.

Are you sure?

This is a big decision that can change your life for better or for worse.  If you have a family of your own, your decision will impact them as well.  You must be sure that it is worth it.  Talk to alumni of the prospective schools.  Talk to your family and friends.  If you have any doubts whatsoever, do not go to business school.  It is not somewhere you go just to “figure things out.”  However, if the answer to this question is “yes,” then congratulations and best wishes.