Experts and opinion leaders in business education discuss current trends and issues in the world of the MBA with Matthew Bellotti
Applications to post-graduate courses have soared in recent years. Applicants are looking to gain much more than a simple academic qualification. Universities and Business Schools are united in their opinion that students should be aiming to achieve more than adding a single line to their C.V.
"Management is both an art and a science. The MBA exposes (students) to a number of situations that they would not necessarily have dealt with."
Professor John J. Glynn, from the Graduate School of Business of The University of Woolongong continued his advice for applicants: "They must have a clear view of why they are in the program and a clear sense of where they see their career horizons. Just undertaking an MBA for the certificate is not necessarily the best use of their time and is an imposition on their fellow students and the faculty by their potential lack of contribution to the class."
So, what should applicants be expecting to get out of their program of study? What is required of them in return? And what type of person makes a good MBA candidate?
Albert Buenviaje from Ateneo De Manila University answers that first question "Candidates commit themselves to about 2 years of course study that requires not only a lot of readings, cases and case discussions but also application-oriented papers, sharing of corporate experiences and working with different teams to prepare application oriented group work. A lot of EQ and IQ will have to be used."
Winnie Tung, from The National Taiwan University explains what graduate schools such as hers look for in applicants "All schools like strong applications, with a good GPA, or GMAT, and sound statement of purpose. Essay questions from different institutions may look very similar; however, applicants need to understand the characteristics of each school thoroughly, do some research or talk with existing students, alumni or the faculty. Each school actually looks for different answers."
When asked how students can give themselves the best chance of success, Melissa McCrindle from the University of Strathclyde said "By relating what they are learning to their own work-place or to their previous experiences as a manager. In addition, learning from the wealth of knowledge and experiences surrounding them i.e. their classmates!"
In order to better understand MBA programs and provide reliable, in-depth information for employers, administrators, Universities and of course current and future MBAs, QS Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd research and publish graduate guides, specializing in business education, and have become the world's leading information network for top careers and education. Since 1990, QS – founded by Nunzio Quacquarelli and Matt Symonds - in conjunction with TopMBA.com, have also conducted surveys, giving a total overview of the global MBA market.
The findings for 2006, in which well over 5,000 people were interviewed from all over the world during their much publicized MBA Tours, are now out and show some very interesting trends and changes to the typical profile of applicants and the expectations they have.
The most significant year-on-year change in the QS survey is the huge rise in the number of women taking MBAs. In fact, in almost a quarter of countries, men are no longer the most represented sex.
Some things don't change though, for example the average age of MBA's remains constant at 20-30 (mean age 26.8 although Asians tend to be a little younger), and 77% are unmarried (and less than one in eight have children) which reflects the fact that most applicants have spent some time in employment post-University. Although, at the same time, the average amount of working experience has dropped to under 4 years. The sectors that MBA applicants are currently employed in are, predictably: Information Technology, Finance, Consulting, Engineering and Industry.
It is easy to spot the attraction of post-graduate courses such as the MBA, when the average income of applicants is less than US$20,000, and the salary expectation upon rejoining the workforce is $75-80,000. However, one of the interesting changes in the findings from QS in 2006, was that the now students list 'building a professional network' as the third most popular reason for their studies. 1st and 2nd place are still occupied by 'improve career prospects' and 'learning new skills' respectively.
An MBA is seen by many as the most effective catalyst for career change. Albert Buenviaje confirms that it certainly adds value to your CV and never fails to impress potential employers. "Studying MBA allows the student to develop his skills of analysis, skills of synthesis and strategic thinking skills. It also helps the student/graduate develop a multi-disciplinary approach to business problems."
Winnie Tung, also pointed out that "since the class is comprised of students with previous working experience, students may contribute their own experiences to the class while learning from others to see things from various angles thus enhance problem solving abilities. Management skills also equip individuals with the ability to better maneuver an organization as well as co-operate with different people and companies."
Therefore, it is understandable that students should be willing to take out large personal loans to help finance their studies, banking on the long term return on investment being worth the risk. However, in order to minimize this risk, the decision of where to study is critical. The number of MBA 'providers' i.e. Business Schools and Universities offering the programs, has grown significantly in the past few years. A fact which in itself negates many of the rankings, which take into account heritage and pedigree, but which are overly harsh on many of the newer, but still excellent courses available in places such as Germany or Denmark.
With rankings flawed and the options mounting, how can students choose the right MBA for them? Especially when, as Professor Glynn explains, "The mode of delivery and assessment is varied and ranges from traditional lectures and assignments to business care analysis and real world business projects. This is appropriate for a course that is by its nature post graduate and post experience."
So, where do applicants turn for advice?
QS unsurprisingly found that students use the individual institutions websites as their top source for information, but all usually contact the Dean or Head of Program for more information and advice, which is an excellent place to start. While speaking to them it is also a good idea to ask for accreditations as without these the course will almost certainly be of inferior quality. Likewise, the more accreditations an institution has the better it is likely to be.
The most important factor that students listed, when deciding where to study, was 'prestige and reputation'. Unsurprising given the esteem in which MBAs are held.
Professor Glynn also notes that "Astute students choose their School based on a wide range of criteria including strategic links with industry, the level of qualifications and research track of faculty, the way in which programs are structured and delivered etc. There are a number of trade-offs that enter the decision. It is important to match the program to their lifestyle and their career ambitions."
Then finals piece of advice came from Melissa McCrindle "Don't go with the easiest, cheapest program – recruiters are now a much more discerning audience, and know the good programs from the bad."
If you have made the decision to re-ignite your career, by choosing to study on an MBA program, then make sure you are well-equipped, well-informed and programmed to succeed!