Deciding to pursue your MBA is just the first step. With so many options and varieties of MBA programs out there, it is imperative that you use all the resources available to you and invest the time, energy, and, sometimes, money to investigate your options. One of the first decisions you will have to make is whether to pursue your MBA in a full-time or part-time program. The route you decide will depend upon your career goals, available financial resources, and ability and desire to relocate. MBA.com provides an outline of what both programs look like as well as information about distance learning and executive education. A great resource for learning more about the part-time option is the book Kaplan MBA Part-Time: An Insider’s Guide by Robyn Frank-Pedersen.
Once you have decided on a route (full-time or part-time) start thinking about what you want to gain from an MBA program. No two programs are alike and therefore it is important for you to make a list of your must-haves and negotiables. This list could include location, alumni connections, available concentrations, and international programs. Also take your learning style into account. Some schools, like Darden, teach exclusively using the case method. Other schools are a blend of case and lecture. If class size is important to you, then add this to your list. Take this list with you to MBA fairs and use it when calling schools to gather more information. Ask lots of questions! Make sure to speak with a variety of people – current students, alumni, professors. It is a good idea to create a separate checklist for each school and de-brief after each visit or contact with the school. This will help you maintain an objective opinion as well as a reference for follow-up questions.
When you begin to narrow down your schools, be honest with yourself. One of the biggest traps is judging a school based solely on its rankings. Keep in mind that each ranking has a different methodology and weighs each aspect of the program differently. Remember that list of must-haves and negotiables you created? Take it out and evaluate each school accordingly. You might be surprised to find that a school you were initially impressed with does not meet all your needs. This happened to me. When I reviewed my must-haves I realized that my original top choice did not match my learning style. Furthermore, once I started visiting my top five schools, I found myself placing more value on class size and the rapport I developed with the current students and professors. Listen to your instinct and continually ask yourself how you are feeling when you physically visit a school. You might be surprised at where you feel comfortable.
Whether you decide to pursue your MBA full-time or part-time, you have to feel comfortable in the environment or else you will not thrive. Good luck on your search!