Choose your course with care

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The Independent Online

So you've decided that you're going to do an MBA. But what will you be studying? And how can you be sure that the course you've chosen will cover the best ground for your needs?

Any worthwhile MBA programme will offer solid teaching in the core skills of business and management, and you should expect to come out with a good enough grounding in marketing, operations, finance and accounting, organisation and IT to be able to grasp the issues and hold your own when working with experts in these fields.

Courses also offer a huge variety of options - usually known as electives. Some emphasise students taking control of their own learning, or put projects at their heart. Others offer the chance to study abroad. Then there are the unusual add-ons. Edinburgh University Business School, for example, sends students into the glens for a spot of outward bound-style personal development.

"One thing you need to consider is what you are doing an MBA for," says Jeanette Purcell, chief executive of the Association of MBAs, which accredits MBA programmes. "Are you looking to enhance your position where you are, or move into a different environment or profession? You need to search out the course that meets your needs. If you're looking to move into the financial sector, for example, you will obviously want to make sure you are going somewhere where you will get good financial programmes."

You might also want to consider what businesses are currently looking for, and choose a course that will give you the most marketable skills. "Everything at the moment suggests they are looking for leadership, and the other so-called soft skills - management, teamwork, communication," says Purcell.

Sue Cox, dean of Lancaster University's business school, says its MBA programmes are being modified, with an increased emphasis on leadership skills and an understanding of how global business works.

Ian Turner, director of graduate studies at Henley Management College, says that electives not only provide students with choice but also allow schools to keep their curriculum fresh and to experiment with new ideas. However, he warns, some subjects - e-learning for example - start life as electives and then make their way into core modules. So just because something isn't listed as an option doesn't mean it won't be covered.

And in the highly dynamic world of business, it is crucial to be able to adapt and keep up with the times. "Our students now study innovation and creativity as a core element of their programme," says John Mapes, admissions adviser at Cranfield School of Management.

Of course, costs, means of study, and accessibility, will all also play a part in deciding whether a course is right for you. And it is worth noting that while some courses are heavy on exams, others emphasise coursework and continuous assessment. This difference, too, can often influence a final decision.

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