7 questions to ask when choosing an MBA

Deciding what, when, how, and where to study is a huge decision, and it’s certainly not easy. There are so many factors to consider, from the location and course content to the background and diversity of your classmates. Inspired by Cambridge Judge School of Business graduate Audrey Aw’s experience, MBAGRADSCHOOLS put together seven questions to ask when choosing an MBA.

In short

1. Do I want to pursue a master's or an MBA?

One of the first questions to ask when choosing an MBA is whether it’s really the right course for you. For example, at the beginning of her journey, Audrey Aw asked herself, “Do I want to do a master’s in organizational behavior that is quite niche, or do I want to do an MBA that opens more doors for me in terms of career options?” (01:47)

An MBA is a general business degree that equips you with skills in leadership, communication, management, and much more. Your work will center on business cases, but you won’t go into focused detail on a particular topic. 

On the other hand, master’s degrees are aimed at a specific skill, such as data analysis, finance, or international business. There are benefits to both routes, but if you want a maximum range of opportunities, an MBA is for you.

2. Is it ever too late to go back to school for an MBA?

Most MBA courses require around five years of working experience to get on board. This gives candidates enough knowledge to make the course possible for them, while keeping their employability high upon graduation. 

The idea of it being “too late” is among the common questions to ask when choosing an MBA. But, we’re here to do a bit of myth-busting. Yes, there may be an ideal time frame in your late 20s, but this absolutely does not mean that studying later in your career is a negative thing. 

Audrey’s experience is proof of that. She tells us, “I feel like whenever you decide to do it or you start pondering the questions, that’s probably the right time for you as an individual. Then you’ve just got to take the courage and make that step from that point.” (04:11)

3. How important is an international perspective in an MBA?

Audrey was especially keen on an international experience. “What drew me to the European programs was just the sheer diversity of the cohorts,” she recalls. (04:24)

Most career paths, especially those post-MBA, have an international aspect of some sort. It is a crucial part of business today, so it should be reflected in MBA courses. 

Audrey’s perspective is applicable to most cases. When reflecting on the start of her MBA search, she says, “Up to that point, I’d only been fully educated and worked in Singapore so an MBA was also my pathway to really broaden my horizons from a cultural, living internationally, working internationally perspective.” (02:14)

4. How important is it to mix with students from your own country?

If you’re considering studying abroad, one of the key questions to ask when choosing an MBA is whether there is a good representation of your own nationality on campus. Don’t worry, looking for classmates from your own country isn’t a sign that you’ll miss out on the international experience. 

As Audrey puts it, “When you personally know people, you know the competence that they have. You hear their personal stories of what they’ve been through and you know the character that they stand for. That made the decision much easier when I had to choose between Cambridge and other schools.” (09:54)

You can find a lot of statistical information like this on the class profile page of each university’s website. 

5. How much does institutional prestige matter?

An MBA journey is a personal one, so you should choose your institution based on what they offer to you. The best place to study could be the one that offers the perfect course for you or the one that gets you closer to the market you want to work in.

However, that is not to say that prestige doesn’t have an impact. 

When it comes to finding someone to bounce ideas off or building your network, choosing the right university is crucial. Audrey has found this to be the case in her experience. She explains, “It does open more doors for you in terms of potential employers or even from a professional perspective.” (08:58

Of course, Cambridge University needs no introduction. Times Higher Education ranked Cambridge Judge Business School #1 in the world for business and management studies in the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021.

6. What kind of gender balance does the school have?

In terms of cohort demographics, one of the questions to ask when choosing an MBA is whether there is a great gender disparity at the institution. If so, look into the reasons behind that and whether there are any solid efforts to improve the situation. With diversity and inclusion as an important issue in the business world at the moment, educational institutions that are slow to react are quickly falling out of favor. 

Through her research, Audrey realized that most MBA courses are still minority female. Cambridge Judge Business School is gradually redressing the balance, but Audrey’s course remained around 40% female. 

However, that hasn’t stopped her from making the most of her experience. “I’ve taken away a greater sense of awareness of my own cultural identity…and secondly building my skills in continuing to find my voice as a female in a still fairly male-dominated environment,” she states (12:09)

7. How long do you want your MBA to last?

The length of an MBA varies depending on the course. You can expect it to last for up to two years, but there are many one-year accelerated courses as well as part-time programs that are longer but less intense. 

Audrey’s wealth of experience meant that taking a long MBA with a heavy focus on the foundational courses was not a wise move. She reasoned, “I didn’t want to take too much time out as well and I think the one-year programs are a bit more established in the European context so that naturally drew me there as well.” (05:10)

With flexibility in course lengths, you can choose your intensity to fit your schedule. There is no right or wrong choice.

Where can I find the answers?

As we’ve seen, there are a huge amount of questions to ask when choosing an MBA, and it can be difficult to make a final decision. Luckily, you’re not alone!

With so much information available at your fingertips, many prospective students are turning to sites like MBAGRADSCHOOLS to hear from current and past students about their experiences. 

Once you’ve gathered all your information, you can choose to do the final touches with an MBA consultant. This was the option Audrey took, which turned out to be a great experience. She says, “The conversation with the consultant certainly helped me to narrow down that field in terms of the type of culture and the type of cohort I wanted to be in.” (05:37)

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