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Find Your Fit: What to Look for When Researching MBA Programs

bfit-circleGraduate school can be a life changing experience. A great MBA program will enrich your career and your life. Your dream MBA can be an amazing learning experience and a time make connections (both personal and professional) that last a lifetime.

Think about “personal fit”

One of the keys to living your MBA dream is recognizing the programs that you’ll fit into. Look for an MBA program that has an academic and business culture suited to your own sensibilities.

Sometimes you can get insight into personal fit based on a program’s reputation. Researching a school’s reputation is just the start, though. To make an informed decision about your personal fit in an MBA program, you should actually visit the campus if possible. Reach out to a prospective MBA program before you visit. Ask if you can sit in on a class or two and talk to faculty members or current students.

If a visit isn’t possible, see if the program will let you get in touch with faculty and students via email or social media. More often than not, a program will say yes to these kinds of requests. Once you’re in personal contact with the program, really observe and listen. What are the goals of the students? What beliefs and values do professors hold, regarding business and learning?

You may find you see eye-to-eye with the people in the program. Or you might find an MBA program’s culture to be a little outside of your comfort zone. Either way, the program could be a good personal fit. It depends on whether you want to pursue your current preferences, or whether you want your MBA experience to be a challenging shake-up.

Think about ROI

Of course, no one gets an MBA just for the love of it. Another important aspect of your dream MBA program is ROI– return on investment. Calculating the long-term financial benefit of your MBA program isn’t an exact science. But there are some general variables you can think about– tuition costs, time spent out of the workforce, the salary you’ll likely get when you complete your degree, and so on.

The contributing factors to ROI really can vary a lot. Tuition can differ quite a bit from program-to-program. Some MBAs offer evening and online classes, so that you’ll still have time to work. Other MBAs are full-time endeavors…. But you may be able to graduate and move on to higher paying work more quickly.

Getting an idea of the ROI for an MBA program can seem a little intimidating at first. Fortunately, this is a well-researched aspect of business school. There are a wealth of trustworthy resources for calculating ROI. US News & World Report and Bloomberg have both covered this topic. And Forbes has an online business school ROI calculator. You can use this tool to estimate the long-term payoff of different MBA programs from around the world. Getting an idea of your ROI will help you find an MBA program that pays off in the way you need it to.

Check out alumnae testimonials

As you investigate personal fit and ROI, you should look to the people who will know your prospective MBA programs best– program graduates. You can find testimonials and ask questions of MBA alumnae on many online message boards. College Confidential has a pretty good forum for this, as do GMAT Club and Wall Street Oasis.

But for a real world experience with alumnae, there is another helpful type of forum that you won’t find on the Web. The Forte Forums are a series of annual events coordinated by the same foundation that sponsors this blog. In several places around the Untied States, you can attend these gatherings free of charge. At the Forums, you can talk to MBA alumnae, business school faculty, and many other people in the business world.

The takeaway

In the 1940s, my grandfather got his MBA from Harvard. For the rest of his life, he talked about what an incredible, personally rewarding experience that was. Seven decades later, I found myself teaching at an MBA program that could not be more different than the one at Harvard. I was faculty at the international MBA program at Metropolitan State University, a small public school in Minnesota.

But to my surprise, the students there were as happy as my grandfather. They had all carefully selected MSU’s international MBA program because it met their personal needs and goals. And much like my grandfather, my former students have continued to fondly reminisce about the time they spent completing their personal dream MBA.

In your search for your own dream MBA, do look at the top schools. But also look at any school you think might appeal to you. And make an effort to learn about MBA programs you’ve never heard of. Your dream MBA is out there somewhere. Finding it is just a matter of looking within yourself, and reaching out to others for their wisdom.

David Recine has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He currently works for Magoosh as a test prep expert and admissions blogger. At Magoosh, David and his colleagues help aspiring MBA students get answers to important questions, including the important question of GMAT vs. GRE for B-school applicants.

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