Which Business School / MBA Programme? C-N-E

Deciding to do an MBA is ‘thought provoking’ and once you start your research, what you will find is that most articles can be categorised into one of two generally opposing camps

(I say most as there are few articles from my own experience that actually provide a balanced view):

On one side you have a group who embellish the idea of an MBA, with discussions of:

  • monetary packages,
  • benefits
  • and prestige which has been bestowed upon them after they have completed their often arduous and grueling tenure.

On the other you have a group who dismisses any value that an MBA can provide with arguments based on:

  • opportunity costs experienced as a result of time away from work,
  • recent average MBA salaries which do not compensate for increasing business school costs
  • and the usage of case studies as opposed to real life experience in the method of education itself.

This article to be clear: Is not an argument for or against doing an MBA. Its an article for those who need to decide what school would suit them best, after they have decided that they would actually like to pursue an MBA.

To begin.

I often hear, the words “I am thinking of doing an MBA?”. The questions I often quickly respond with is “Why and what you would like to take away from it?” as that determines what schools and programmes you would choose to pursue.

When I started researching schools and programmes when I decided to pursue an MBA.

Initially I started to list my options with respect to schools based on some important but basic criteria, like:

  • Budget – can I afford the fees
  • Location – can I conveniently travel to and from the location
  • Contact time – can I attend all lectures and commitments

After this, I still felt overwhelmed and decided that I needed something more and wanted to understand some of the psychology, behind why other’s and I felt we needed to pursue an MBA? and what the degree had to offer in some detail? Considering the MBA would consume a large portion of my life for two years , I wanted to ensure the objectives of the programme and school would cater for what value: ‘I wanted to derive from the experience’.

After reading a number of books on MBA’s in general, the two most influential being:

  • “What they teach you at Harvard Business School” by Phillip Delves Broughton. (Link)
  • “The 10-Day MBA” by Steven Silbiger (Link) (probably read this +- 10 times)

I had a picture in my mind of what characteristics I was looking for when it came to an MBA programme. This was not in a particular framework at that time however when I thought of the procedure I followed, at the start, during and once I completed my MBA; in my mind it was clear. I looked at each programme through the framework below and asked myself questions pertinent to me at the time. Whilst your questions wont be the same, I believe this framework will assist you in thinking about your own questions.

CNE Framework for Choosing a Business School


Using a chocolate sundae analogy: If you are older and quite senior within your organisation you probably have a lot of marketable experience under your belt, and an MBA is more like a ‘cherry on top’ of that experience. When you are younger that experience is lacking, as a result the MBA is more the ice cream than the cherry on top. From a younger perspective you are hoping the MBA provides you the leverage to enter a position in which you gather the experience necessary to continue your career, as opposed to being older where the MBA is more of a tick box to higher positions.

In relation to a business school this means, the younger or less experienced you are the more your reputation lies flat against the school you are choosing, as opposed to an older individual which can compliment a schools reputation rather than be defined by it.

In addressing my needs from a credibility perspective [as a younger candidate at the time], I asked the following questions:

  • Which schools’ candidates have the best reputation for performance?
  • Which schools’ candidates land jobs at my dream companies?
  • What candidates achieved shortly after their MBA’s at particular school’s? (who is making the news per se)


All business schools have relationships with organisations like banks and consultancies who:

  • pay particular attention to the schools activities,
  • assist in some of the course work
  • and provide donations
  • or recruit from the schools pool of graduates.

Noticing these relationships provides you an indication of the schools ‘circle of influence’ and available network for students to plug into. Some schools relationships lean towards particular banks, investment houses or venture capital firms, and as such often, a lot of the alumni are employed by these institutions.

As a prospective MBA student you need to decide what network you want to have access to, do you want to expand your network in a specific industry: then which schools have relationships with companies in that industry. If you want to diversify your network, which schools allow you to do this? I think you are grasping my train of thought, so I’ll just move on to the questions I asked myself:

  • Which school (within my options) provides me an opportunity to diversify my network internationally?
  • Which school can provide me a diverse, loyal and tight network which I can leverage to cross-industries?
  • Which school can provide me exposure to a network completely different to my own?


All MBA programmes have some level of consistency in the content that they provide, however all are ‘flavoured’ (for lack of a better word) in accordance with the market they target or serve. For example: in one dimension, some will concentrate on case studies in Europe whilst others will concentrate on case studies based on Emerging markets.

Now remember a school that delivers a lot of research with little staff , will rarely have the time to deliver a ‘holding hand’ teaching experience, and considering a schools reputation is based on the research it produces, some of the best schools will not ‘hold your hand’ to get a concept through to you. However that being said; a school in which a lot of research is performed may provide the challenging intellectual stimulus you require, especially if they happen to hold specific lecturers which are considered thought leaders on particular subjects you are interested in.

Due to the above and depending on your objectives , if you are solely focused on equipping yourself with the best education possible, you need to understand what that actually means to you?

Does it mean that the education specifically needs to be orientated to the market you wish to belong to (Emerging, Developed)? Do you wish to learn under a masterful strategist? then which school has the lead thinker in strategy? Do you wish to concentrate on soft skills as opposed to technical skills? which schools deliver on that promise?

For me, the education aspect was addressed with the following questions:

  • Which school addresses emerging markets?
  • Which school concentrates on the softer side of leadership and professional development (to take me out of my comfort zone)?
  • Which school is best equipped to immerse and challenge me in business knowledge particularly in strategy, accounting and finance?

Now the above helped me and I wish it will help others that are in the same stage of decision making. Looking back, I am glad I took the time to think of my options the way I did, and am hoping you end up feeling the same way too.

Feel free to add your own methods in the comments.

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