Things You Need to Know Before Applying to An MBA

How long does it take for an MBA degree and how much does an MBA program cost (totally)?Traditionally, in the US, two-year programs are considered the norm, although one-year programs in Europe are gaining in popularity. However, keep in mind that attending an MBA program is both a costly and time-consuming endeavor. While tuition and living expenses may vary from school to school, one should expect to spend $120,000 to $150,000 USD for a top MBA program. Therefore, it is imperative that you step back and do some serious self-analysis as you weigh the advantages and disadvantages.

Do MBAs lead to a higher degree later on?

My ultimate goal is getting a PhD or a DBA. Should I consider MBA or other business master degrees?

The MBA degree is designed primarily for students who are considering a career change or hoping to advance in their careers, therefore, implying that an MBA is a “terminal degree.” Not only is the MBA degree commonly considered one's “last stop” in education, but also many MBA students actually pursue an MBAs after having completed an advanced degree e.g. master's or doctor's degrees in another discipline.

Because post-MBA plans are always career-oriented, do not consider your MBA as the transition to a higher degree. Students wishing to pursue PhDs or DBAs at a later time should choose programs that have a more research and academic emphasis.

What are the rankings for MBA programs?

Conducted by independent institutions, the following ranking reports are the most popular and widely read by consumers: “America’s Best Graduate Schools” conducted by US News & World Report, the “Best B-School Ranking” by Business Week, and the “Global MBA Rankings” by the Financial Times.

US News & World Report updates “America’s Best Graduate Schools” annually. This ranking is more academically oriented since 50% of the assessments are based on evaluations submitted by the school deans and directors and the students’ admissions data (GMAT, GPA, acceptance rate). Finally, its coverage is limited to U.S. programs only and also includes rankings by program specialties.

Business Week conducts its “Best B-School Ranking” every two years. Adopting a different approach in terms of school ranking, Business Week bases its statistics on evaluations collected from MBA alumni and recruiters, rather than academy directors or admissions statistics. The “Best B-School Ranking” includes both US and non-US schools.

Financial Time's “Global MBA Rankings” has started to draw more international attention in recent years. Its rankings are updated annually, and the methodology behind their statistics is based heavily on the post-MBA career progress of students. As a result, the list changes significantly year by year. It ranks the top 100 MBA programs globally.

Finally, other sources, such as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Economist, etc., all produce their own rankings, as well. However, it is important to keep in mind that rankings are only a tool to help you make an educated decision about the MBA program best suited for you. While they can be helpful, they can also be misleading! No ranking can cover all the aspects of an MBA program, especially the smaller, unique programs.

Most schools offer full-time and part-time MBAs. Can I choose either one?

Here is some information from regarding different MBA programs:

A full-time MBA program is usually four semesters spread over two academic years with a three- or four-month break for a summer internship. The first year includes core courses required of all MBAs. The second year allows for functional specialization (a specific concentration of study and elective courses). Students do not work full-time during the program; school is considered their first priority. (One-year full-time programs are shortened by reducing the time in core classes, or limiting opportunities to specialize.)

Part-time MBA programs are designed for working professionals. Most part-time MBAs work full-time during the day and attend classes in the evening. (*Note: Part-time programs will NOT issue a student visa to foreign applicants. Students must hold legal residency in their designated countries.)

What are the differences between an MBA and an EMBA?

Executive MBA (EMBA) programs are geared toward enhancing the careers of working executives, many of whom are company sponsored. These programs are for professionals who are already specialists in a field or industry and need to hone their general management skills to continue up the corporate ladder. Because they are fully employed, EMBA students do not hold internships between their first and second years of school. University scholarships are generally not available for EMBA students. There is limited or no opportunity to specialize.

Some business schools offer specialty degree programs like Master of Computational Finance, Master of Industrial Administration, Master of Health Care/Hospital Administration, Master of Public Accountancy, etc. Specialty programs in business are very career specific. They do not offer the general management background that an MBA does; however, they provide extensive training in a specific field. Some fields may be nearly impossible to enter without specialized training.

What are joint programs?

A full-time MBA program partnered with another full-time graduate program is known as a joint degree or dual degree. Business programs are typically combined with law, healthcare, administration, engineering, technology, international studies, or public policy. Students must apply separately for each program (and obtain both admissions). Both programs are usually at the same school, but some cooperative relationships between schools do exist. Joint degree programs are most attractive to career switchers or individuals early in their careers. However, they require an extensive absence from the job market, usually three or more years.

Can I attend an MBA program without former study in business?

Almost all MBA programs place a heavy emphasis on “diversity.” The value of the MBA program lies heavily in the class portfolio (hence, making it competitive for admissions). Truly, if you take a look at certain MBA class portfolios, some might share a higher percentage of students from certain backgrounds. However, this figure does not necessarily indicate the school’s preferences. Applicants of different genders, former academic training, fields of professional engagement, nationalities, races, as well as, religions are all welcomed.

Does an MBA program prefer certain types of students in terms of backgrounds?

Do I enjoy certain advantages in my application if I am from the hi-tech/finance/… field?

Do not worry about whether you have former training in business, you will learn later in your MBA program. Prospective students from “hot” industries like finance or hi-tech do not necessarily enjoy advantages since they may face fierce competition from students with a similar background.

As a foreign student, am I at an advantage or disadvantage as an applicant?

Most MBA programs do have their unspoken agreements as to the percentage of international students in their programs. However, this should not jeopardize you from admissions. In most cases, international students, especially Asian applicants, fail in the process not because the schools limit their seats, but because students do not know how to present themselves as worthy candidates in their applications.

Is there an age ceiling in MBA application? In other words, will I be too “OLD” to apply for an MBA?

You should take a deep look at the nature of an MBA program first. Schools usually put their class portfolios on their web, providing the age and background information of their students. Most MBA programs do not put age ceilings regarding their applications. However, rather young or old students (judging by the class profile of a specific MBA program) usually imply inadequate or excessive career experience for MBA programs, and hence MBAs would be less valuable to such applicants.

What makes a good MBA candidate?

Here are some helpful tips offered by

You should take time to reflect on your work experience, your abilities, and your ambitions. You should ask, Am I where I want to be in my career and my life? And, What would it take to get there? Assuming an MBA will help you achieve your goals, think about what specifically you want to learn and gain in an MBA program.

Good self-assessment will also help you answer the following important questions:

Why am I sure an MBA is right for me?

What do I have in common with MBAs and business professionals?

What post-MBA careers fit my personal strengths, interests, abilities, and work-related values?

What kinds of business schools, companies, and corporate cultures seem to suit me?

Business school admissions professionals must determine whether you have the ability to succeed both academically and professionally. There's a lot you can do to show them what a good candidate you are, but that is always easiest if you are clear in your knowledge of your own abilities and goals and how they fit in with the schools to which you apply.

Here's some advice for making sure you present yourself well as an MBA candidate:

Be honest: Admissions professionals are good at identifying when someone is just saying what they think the admissions committee wants to hear.

Be realistic: Make sure that your career goals are based on an accurate assessment of your experience and skills. Also, make sure that your credentials match the typical admissions requirements.

Tell not only what you hope to gain, but also what you want to contribute: Classmates are an important part of the MBA education. Show that you'll be a valuable member of the learning community.

Be knowledgeable about the school and program to which you are applying: You'll want to be able to show that you are familiar with the given school and why you are a good fit.

Pay attention to the school culture: Part of being a good fit for a school has to do with the culture of the school—whether you will feel comfortable and be able to thrive in the learning community.

Go back to school at the right time: You will want to develop the right pre-MBA experience to aid your intended career switch or to help you further your current career with an MBA.