How blogs can help you chooose a business school

Schools should take note: candidates may glean more about a course from blogs than from a glossy prospectus
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The Independent Online

Part of the difficulty in selecting a business school is the increasingly large number of schools from which to choose. In fact, it is precisely because the MBA is now such a ubiquitous qualification that your choice of institution has become so important.

Most business schools say that league table placement is a hugely important consideration for prospective MBA students. Accreditation - UK (AMBA), European (Equis) and US (AACSB) - is also important for what ought, after all, to be a highly portable, international qualification. However, new e-technologies, such as podcasting and blogging, are also having an impact on student choice, particularly in the US where business schools, lecturers and even students offer advice and information on everything from schools' class sizes to their average GMAT scores and return on investment.

That all adds up to a lot of information if you are applying to American schools. It's a different story with their British counterparts. "British schools are trailing behind when it comes to understanding the global power of the web to promote their brand and attract students," says Nicola Hunt, managing director of PR consultancy, NHPR.

Most British schools, she argues, fail to appreciate the lure of the independent MBA student blog to prospective business students looking for frankness not spin, and the power of the staff blog or podcast in building a school's brand. Hunt thinks British schools may be wary of e-technology partly because of concerns about lack of control over the content of MBA student blogs, but she insists that uncensored blogs ought to be welcomed, not feared. She says they create an authentic internet voice that appeals to prospective students.

Henley Management College is one of the few UK schools that has already ventured into podcasting. Principal Chris Bones and some other staff have already appeared on the Engaging Brand podcast, set up less than a year ago by Anna Farmery, a former director of Hallmark cards who is using the podcast to promote better business practice. She wants inspirational business leaders to interview on her show; and Bones is one of her business heroes. "Chris is a great interviewee," she says. "And I think the podcast is also a great way of getting Henley's name out there."

Bones has no plans for the college to have a podcast of its own, however. He says he will only participate in e-technology when ideas can be challenged. Without that, the podcast is nothing but institutional spin. "And beware of the blogging business school," he adds darkly.

Claire Roper-Browning, marketing manager at Durham Business School, however, agrees with Hunt that business schools that don't fully exploit the internet are missing a trick. Until recently Durham had just one part-time member of staff for its internet activities but it has just recruited an additional full-time staff member. "We expect online influence to just grow and grow," says Roper-Browning. "We already have two students who blog about Durham. We actually put the idea to the students first. About 95 per cent of those on our full-time MBAs come from overseas and our admissions team has had very good feedback from prospective students, who found the blogs very helpful."

Tony Purdie, MBA programme director of Newcastle Business School, sees blogs and podcasts as an extension of the long-established recruitment tool that has served his own school well - word of mouth - and argues that they, like traditional indicators such as ranking and accreditation, help students choose a school.

Sean Rickard, admissions director at Cranfield School of Management, thinks prospective MBAs should compare schools' records on what MBA graduates do after qualifying. They should also look at the strength of their alumni networks, particularly as most candidates believe that the MBA will improve their career prospects. That view is supported by a recent study by the European Foundation for Management Development which found that 81 per cent of MBA students said they took the qualification to improve their earning potential and 72 per cent picked a particular school because it had a good record of enhancing career prospects.

Amidst all this e-technology and hard facts, Jikyeong Kang, director of Manchester Business School's MBA programme, makes a pitch for the deployment of intuition when it comes to selecting a school. Nothing, she argues, beats breathing in a school's atmosphere.

"Everyone wants to get into the best, most reputable school, possible," says Kang. "Reputation and ranking are obviously not to be ignored but I think students forget about factors like location, which is particularly important for an MBA student with a partner and children. Perhaps the most important factor, however, is the spirit of a school. I would encourage candidates to visit schools, and to feel the buzz and meet current students and faculty. The fit has to be right."

'The enthusiasm was infectious'

Chris McMonagle and his wife Claudia, a nurse, both 30, live in London. Chris has started a one-year, full-time MBA at Cass Business School.

I took my time deciding to go to business school. I was a chartered civil engineer with Mott MacDonald until a couple of years ago when I moved into the management consultancy and finance side of the business. I was ambitious to move up into more managerial roles and felt an MBA would beneficial.

First, I had to make a case to the company to sponsor the £24,000 degree. I also had to persuade my wife to accept the reduction in income and social life in the interests of the long-term. Then I started to look at schools with three criteria in mind - reputation, course content and location. Location was easy. We wanted to stay in London. A good reputation was crucial. You need to choose a school that will always be up there.

I narrowed my search down to Cass, London Business School and Tanaka. Then I started visiting and researching each of them. I spoke to alumni, MBA colleagues and lecturers. Open evenings were really worthwhile. You could have a drink with people afterwards and I found them very frank but then schools, like candidates, want to make the right match.

I found the enthusiasm at Cass very infectious and I really liked the content and teaching style. Cass is big on teamwork, collaboration and mentoring. I knew that at Cass I would also be with people who had at least my amount of business experience. It's hard work here but I love it.

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