By Prof. Bodo B. Schlegelmilch, Ph.D., D.Litt., Dean of the WU Executive Academy and Head of the Institute for International Marketing Management
Studying for an MBA degree is a once-in-a-lifetime decision, and those who take it are willing to make a considerable investment in terms of time and money. However, the international MBA market has become so crowded that it is getting increasingly difficult to stay on top of things. Somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 MBA programs are thought to exist around the world today. Nobody really knows the exact number because not all courses are what they claim to be. It is thus all the more important for you to choose your MBA program with great care.
To make life easier for you, we have put together a checklist: Follow our B.A.S.I.C.S., and you will definitely make an excellent MBA choice. Each of the letters stands for a key selection criterion:
B – for branding
Given that there are so many MBA programs around the world that it is virtually impossible for anyone to keep up with all the developments in the field, a business school's reputation is crucial.
Is the program provided by a renowned university that is at the forefront of research and pushes the envelope regarding the practical relevance of training in order to ensure that the high quality standards typical of leading MBA programs are met? This matters because potential employers will not only ask you whether you have earned an MBA degree. More importantly, they will also want to know where you have earned it.
The right network is another key aspect to consider in this context. Make sure, in particular, that you will be able to build up valuable contacts with fellow students, lecturers and alumni in the very field(s) you intend to work in. Apart from being a precious asset in terms of career development, your network will also enhance your market value, making it much easier for you to get in touch with headhunters of international renown. Again: The better a university's reputation, the more likely you are to be added to the databases of leading headhunters.
A – for accreditations
Accreditations are important international hallmarks of excellence. Awarded to individual programs or entire institutions, they will supply you with valuable information regarding the quality of an MBA course. If a program holds one or more international accreditations, you can be sure that you will earn a high-quality education. The world's foremost accreditation agencies include AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), AMBA (Association of MBAs) and EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System). Globally, there are only 48 triple-crown MBA providers (i.e. they have been accredited by all three of these agencies).
S – for selectivity of students
Besides general admission criteria such as a university degree and adequate work experience, the class makeup is a vitally important aspect of an MBA program: You and your peers will bring a wealth of professional and personal experience from different industries, functions and cultures to the table, making as significant a contribution to the high quality of the training as the faculty members. Joining forces to develop new ideas, reflecting on the realities of professional life together and exchanging views and opinions with like-minded international colleagues is what forms the foundation of cutting-edge executive education.
I – for internationality of the program
The stronger an MBA program's international orientation, the better it prepares you for addressing the ever-increasing challenges of modern business, which is globalized, culturally diverse and fast moving. Three things are particularly important in this context: the different backgrounds of students (q.v. "S for selectivity"), lecturers from around the globe and international residencies.
The quality of a faculty is reflected in the real-world knowledge that its members have acquired besides pursuing their teaching and research activities and in their international experience. Both aspects are indispensable when it comes to providing students with insights into the particularities of national and international markets—which is also what residencies aim to do: As a rule, they involve specialized classes at local partner universities and company visits, making it possible for participants to get to know businesses first-hand and to engage in an exchange of experience with top managers.
C – for curriculum
The quality of an internationally respected MBA program depends not least on the extent to which the business school offering it incorporates social and economic trends into the curriculum. You should therefore inquire whether the program is constantly updated and conveys the latest academic knowledge. Moreover, make sure you place special emphasis on the key issues of the future (e.g. leadership, global markets, entrepreneurship & innovation or responsible leadership), and do not forget to critically assess the program's practical relevance. It will be crucial for you to be able to immediately transfer the knowledge and skills you acquire to your job. Case studies, company visits and guest speeches by executives of internationally active businesses are particularly valuable in this context as they offer you a chance to familiarize yourself first-hand with both the particularities of the organizations in question and the markets they operate in.
S – for satisfaction
In their (professional) lives alumni are MBA ambassadors. Provided they are satisfied with their MBA experience, they will recommend their programs. This makes them a particularly important group of stakeholders—not only from the perspective of business schools but also from the perspective of potential students. Alumni will be able to provide you with information that could not be more authentic. It is thus a good idea to inquire if it is possible to discuss a program's strengths (and weaknesses) with them. You may also want to "test-drive" a program by spending a day in class with current students to see whether or not it meets your expectations.
In addition to talking to alumni and current students, we recommend that you also take a look at leading international MBA rankings like the one compiled by the Financial Times. These are authoritative and unbiased indicators of an MBA program's quality and will therefore give you some initial guidance.