In 2018 alone, over 225,000 would-be students applied to MBA programs, according to data from GMAC.
With the MBA’s continued popularity, courses have sprung up the world over, giving applicants literally thousands of options to choose from.
MBAs are available in full-time, or part-time versions. Online MBAs are also becoming more and more popular, with application volumes up year on year according to GMAC.
For potential business school students, this presents a huge dilemma: how do you find your ideal program in this sea of possibilities?
Like many big decisions, asking the right questions is a good place to start. Here are five questions to ask yourself as you search for your perfect MBA program.
1. What are my goals?
Most MBA participants go back to school with a specific goal in mind—whether switching industries, building a network, or starting their own business.
Although many MBA programs share core modules, each has its own unique focus. Knowing what you want to get out of your MBA experience will help to narrow down your options, and uncover a program that matches your specific interests.
If your goal is to switch industries, for instance, look out for programs with a strong track record in this area.
On the Global MBA program at ESSEC Business School, which prepares its graduates for careers in Luxury Brand Management, Consulting, or Tech, for example, over half of graduates (52%) change sector after graduation.
2. Who will my classmates be?
On a good MBA program, participants are encouraged to learn from each other as often as they learn from professors.
With this in mind, having a rough idea of who your classmates will be can help you make an informed business school decision.
If you hope to forge a global network, look out for programs with a high percentage of international students. At ESSEC, for instance, over 85% of Global MBA participants are international.
If you want to study alongside similarly experienced peers, check out the current cohort’s average work experience duration.
Asking these questions early on in your search will help you make the professional connections you need to achieve your goals.
3. Will it offer global experiences?
Today, 57% of people are connected to the internet, and 45% use social media. In this interconnected landscape, learning to work in a global environment is crucial.
For this reason, it’s important to ask whether an MBA program will give you access to international experiences. Many programs offer study-abroad electives, while others have overseas modules built into their core.
On ESSEC’s Global MBA program, for example, participants in certain majors have the option to split their time between ESSEC’s campuses in France and Singapore, benefiting from a bi-continental experience.
During week-long business trips, participant on this program also have the chance to visit key business hubs, and see how business is conducted in different regions.
For would-be MBA participants, this kind of global experience will broaden their perspectives, opening the doors to a wider range of post-graduation options.
4. How will the program help me enter my desired industry?
MBA programs are a great way for professionals to pivot into a new career or industry.
Although most MBAs are designed to be quite general in their scope, a good program will let you choose one—or a few—areas in which to specialize, allowing you to develop industry-specific know-how for a successful career switch.
Look out for a program that offers plenty of courses related to the industry you would like to enter, and allows you to hone your expertise and knowledge in your areas of interest.
On ESSEC’s Global MBA, for instance, students can select one of three specializations: luxury brand management, strategy and management, or strategy and digital leadership.
Training on in-demand skills, from Google Analytics (For all majors) to Tableau software (For Strategy & Management majors), is also integrated in the program.
5. What real-world experiences are on offer?
Classroom learning is a great way to build knowledge, spark discussions, and practice leadership skills in a supportive environment. However, certain abilities just can’t be honed in a lecture hall.
When selecting your MBA program, look out for a course that provides hands-on experience. This might include business trips, real-world projects, visits from executives, and networking opportunities.
Remember that soft-skills are also real-world skills. Being able to connect with people on a personal level is vital for success as a leader. During ESSEC’s Global MBA, for example, where they participants are exposed to topics such as personal branding, interview skills, and networking skills.
Having this kind of experience gives you a chance to explore a few different roles and industries before graduation, helping you work out your interests, gain the practical know-how, and polish your pitch so that you hit the ground running.