Selecting business schools for your MBA or Master’s degree studies can be quite a challenge given the abundance of programmes and their great diversity – even if they have the same name. You can browse through hundreds of Master’s in Finance programmes and discover that the curriculum varies.
You can certainly get lost in the marketing talk of business school websites and presentations, because they all highlight their advantages in similar terms – global leadership, a career boost, an international community, a large alumni network and industry connections.
Check out: How to Select the Best Business Schools (Q&A)
Time pressure is another problem. Few prospective students set aside the time needed to research their school selection thoroughly and so make an informed decision. Organised students will allow for at least six months’ research rather than believe that the right school will magically drop into their lap.
Selecting the right programme and business school is an important decision affecting your investment and ROI, overall educational experience, career prospects and lifestyle. Invest thought and energy, so that what you yield is truly worthwhile.
Where to start
Step one is the hardest, but the most essential. Describe in detail what you expect to gain during your MBA or Master’s degree studies and how it will benefit your professional development. Make an exhaustive wish list that includes your subjects of choice, the teaching method, the background of the professors, the profile of your peers in the classroom, the facilities at the business school, its exposure to the real business world, international contacts, networking, student services, extracurricular activities and social events, climate, culture, languages spoken in and outside the classroom and, especially, career prospects. The list should include everything pivotal to making your educational experience worthwhile, so that you feel comfortable but still break out of your comfort zone to a new level of professional and personal development.
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In this way, you will have a list of measurable indicators that you can use to compare programmes during your research. This is most valuable because it is your bespoke list. If you stick to it, you will find the programmes that will really make a difference to your career. Only then should you use various school finder tools, because you will know which of their data has practical value for you.
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School finder tools
School finder tools are databases that you can search using different criteria and filter schools that match your criteria. You can find many of them on the web. Here are some examples PrepAdviser’s MBA and Master’s School Finder, GMAC’s Find and Compare Schools Accepting GMAT, DAAD’s International Programmes in Germany, UCAS’s Search Postgraduate Courses (Master’s, MBA in the UK), Master’s Portal.
Some are very straightforward – you can search for MBA or Master’s programmes by country, by degree (MBA, Master’s), type of programme (full-time, part-time, distance, etc.). Master’s programmes can be usually filtered by area of specialisation – Finance, Accounting, Business, Marketing, etc. Budget/tuition fee is another indicator used to pre-select programmes. Some tools allow you to search by the test scores – GMAT or GRE – that will make you eligible for admission. This is useful once you have taken a test to identify programmes for which you have a realistic chance of admission.
Before you trust school finder search results, make sure that you understand the scope of the database. Look for information on how many business schools or universities are included, how they are pre-selected and how up-to-date the data is. Tuition fees and test scores can fluctuate from year to year, although they are usually close and you can still use the results as an orientation.
How to use search results
Most school finder tools will not offer filters for all your wish list criteria. So the next step is to access data for the remaining ones. Many school finder tools link search results to school profiles or to the websites of the universities. School profiles are a handy way to look for details because information is organised in a user friendly way. For most up-to-date and detailed data, however, visit the websites of the institutions. If you still have blanks in some fields on your wish list then contact the admissions office requesting the information, stats and facts you need.
During the school research period, stay open-minded to discovery. Don’t allow assumptions, stereotypes or myths to curtail your options. Look into each opportunity that arises. If you decline it, you need to have sound arguments for it. If not – keep it back for the next stage – the evaluation of the option and shortlisting of the schools. Research is a learning experience in itself. You may also wish to amend your wish list as you gain a deeper understanding of the world of business education.
Let the schools find you
Although you should always be proactive, options exist for business schools to contact you if they think that you suit one of their programmes. Such options are provided by testing organisations such as the GMAC – owner of the GMAT test, the Educational Testing Service, the College Board, etc.
If you make a profile with the Graduate Management Search Service (GMASS) you can expect business schools to contact you and invite you to look into their programmes. Registering for one-to-one MBA or Master’s events whereby organisers evaluate your profile and match your preference to appropriate business schools is another way to highlight yourself.
During your school search welcome messages from business schools and don’t just disregard them as spam. Take time to review their programmes and contact the admission office requesting further details on what interests you. Join webinars and on-site school presentations, meet admissions officers, current students, alumni or professors to get insiders’ perspectives. Visit campuses on open days to get a feel for the different programmes. This helps you decide whether you belong there, but also empowers your application for admission.
Expert school selection
Admissions consultants offer services to select the best business schools for you. This may seem a shortcut through the myriad options. However, it is really worthwhile either at the start of your school search and/or at the end.
Admissions consultants can give you valuable advice on how to build your wish list, so that it reflects what you really need from graduate business education. After you have compiled a list of options, you have to shortlist the best schools for you, because realistically you can apply to up to five in each intake to ensure the highest quality of your application. A consultant can help you finalise the school selection by discussing your options and sharing feedback on how each of them meets your profile and career aspirations, as well as how you can stand out as a desirable prospective student.
Check out: How to Select an Admissions Consultant
Ultimately you are the best school finder, so you have to be on top of the research process. That way you can feel confident that you have made a really well-informed decision about the once-in-a-lifetime Master’s or MBA programme.