MBA's: How to choose your MBA

A business qualification? Be sure it's suitable for you, writes Peter Calladine
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The Independent Online
During the early Nineties, uncertainty in the economy had a negative impact on the employers of MBAs and providers of full-time courses had difficulties recruiting candidates. This was because fewer people were willing to leave their jobs and risk the uncertainties of the post-MBA recruitment market. Although fewer British candidates applied for full- time courses, an increasing number hedged their bets by keeping their jobs and choosing to study part-time or by distance-learning.

Statistics collated by the Association of MBAs (Amba) demonstrate that since then the degree has continued to gain in popularity. A record number of 11,300 MBA students enrolled at British universities in 1996. There is also evidence that, as in the US, the MBA is becoming a necessary qualification in certain areas of industry, notably in the consultancy sector.

In the mid-Eighties, when there were only 26 business schools in the UK, selecting the right MBA school was not difficult. There are now 110 colleges and universities in Britain offering the MBA. To confuse the issue further, selecting the most appropriate school is complicated by the wide range of modes of delivery that are available (full-time, part- time, distance learning, etc).

Not surprisingly, with so many providers the quality of education can vary greatly. As a result the reputation of the institution from which the MBA is gained can be crucial. In fact, quality has now become an issue to which the would-be MBA should attach critical importance. Employers do not now simply ask whether a job applicant has an MBA. They want to know where it was obtained.

Applicants should consider how they would fit into the culture and environment of a school and look at the quality of the faculty and the student body. In addition to the fee levels and entrance criteria, students should bear in mind the importance of the facilities, location and administrative efficiency, as these combine to enhance their educational experience. Students can easily forget that they have to market themselves on graduation. The support available to graduates via career services and the school's placement record are therefore important. Finally, the school's reputation among employers and recruitment intermediaries must be taken into consideration.

The Association of MBAs/Financial Times Guide to Business Schools has been written to help prospective students to navigate this confusing selection process successfully. The guide is an important reference for anyone who is considering investing in an MBA, which will cost at least pounds 7,000, plus up to pounds 25,000 in fees and salary foregone during the period of study.

The 1997-98 guide is comprehensive, practical and user-friendly. It lists more than 100 British MBA schools plus the leading schools on the Continent and in the US and elsewhere. It explains everything students need to know when considering MBA study, including entry requirements, when to apply, and ways to finance a course. It also illustrates how styles can vary at different universities by including profiles of a number of schools. The guide also gives insights on quality by showing which courses carry Amba accreditation.

To meet the demand for Internet access, the latest edition of the Guide to Business Schools will be complemented by the StudyLink MBA Directory, developed for Amba and Pitman Publishing by Howard Multimedia. The directory combines two technologies: an interactive multimedia CD-Rom and the World Wide Web, to provide a search facility that helps track down the courses and campuses best suited to individual requirements.

People interested in studying for an MBA will be able to use the StudyLink to search the databases of 300 or so programmes from more than 150 MBA schools across the world. The search facility also identifies schools that offer Amba-accredited programmes. The user can listen to student and employer profiles and view videos and pictures of the facilities.

The decision to study for an MBA will be one of the most important choices in anyone's career. Providing you have what it takes, an MBA from the right school puts a management career on the best possible course.

The 'Guide to Business Schools' is published by Pitman Publishing and the Association of MBAs (pounds 25 inc p&p from Amba, 15 Duncan Terrace, London N1 8BZ). The CD-Rom will be available in August, price pounds 29.95.

The writer is AMBA's Membership Benefits Manager.