One of the most commonly debated issues when it comes to discussing the MBA or Masters in Business Administration Degree is whether it really matters where you get your degree from. There are a variety of opinions on the issue and generally the arguments about the issue revolve around the importance of three factors: Location, Reputation and Convenience. In this article I will explore what the competing sides to this debate are and how you should make your decision. Like many things in life, the truth is the answer as to whether it matters where you get your MBA can be summed up in those two poignant words: It depends.
Traditionally, MBA schools fell into two general categories. There were the top 10-15 schools that were the cream of the crop and then all the others. The top schools included many Ivy League stalwarts such as Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, Berkeley and Princeton among others. It also included top notch business programs that frequently topped the list along with the Ivy crowd such as Northwestern’s Kellogg School and Stanford University.
The reputation of these schools is so stellar and the alumni networks so powerful that both top Wall Street Investment Banks as well as top tier household corporations recruit students directly out of these programs. In years past it would not be uncommon for a graduate of a top MBA program to have his pick of several 6 figure job opportunities with lucrative hiring bonuses and incentives right out of school. Whether located on the west coast, east coast or somewhere in the middle, the sheer reputation and pedigree of an MBA from these top schools has launched thousands of powerful careers.
For those that either can’t gain acceptance or that prefer to choose a school that might cater more to a particular industry or area where location is a consideration there is a competing philosophy of choosing MBA programs. Especially in these tough economic times when traditional MBA Wall Street jobs are not as plentiful, many students are targeting their careers toward certain non-traditional MBA niches such as the environment, hi-tech startups or government work.
For this reason it might make sense to attend a school in the northern California area for instance if one was interested in pursuing work in one of the local high tech companies. Many environmental companies such as wind and solar energy ventures are based in the mid-west which might hire more from those schools that are local. Even those that are pursuing traditional jobs on Wall Street might find it beneficial to be in or around New York City in order to take advantage of internships and networking opportunities with New York firms that they would not have the opportunity to do if they were located in a different part of the country or far away.
There is also the legitimate argument that one of the biggest assets that an MBA program gets you is both the internships and alumni network. For those looking to live in a particular part of the country, attending and MBA program with strong regional and local connections makes sense and can provide great resources and connections in that area that attending a more highly rated, but less connected school could provide.
Finally, the last category I’ll discuss has to do with convenience. The biggest beneficiary of this argument is no doubt the emerging and growing trend of obtaining your MBA via an Online or Distance Learning Program. While few of these programs can compete with the prestige of a traditional bricks and mortar in-person school, many provide much of the same core curriculum as well as numerous electives. While networking and internship opportunities will most likely pale in comparison to traditional schools if they exist at all, for working professionals that already have an established network this might be a requirement or of limited value.
Additionally, those pursuing the MBA purely for academic reasons to obtain knowledge, the credential or even some entrepreneurs that have a clear cut business plan they simply want to develop more while in school, the convenience factor of Online MBA programs can’t be matched. And then of course there’s the dramatic cost savings that an Online MBA can provide compared to a traditional school. Because every student’s situation is different, it is important to think through your own particular goals and career plans. It should quickly become clear whether it matters where you get your MBA from.
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