Thanks to those of you who stopped at Accepted.com’s table at the Los Angeles MBA Tour event a couple of weeks ago and shared your thoughts, doubts, questions, and experiences. I enjoyed meeting you.
I was bothered, however, by a certain refrain I heard a few times during the evening. Basically two related MBA myths that deserve busting:
Myth #1: Once you attend an MBA program outside the Top 10, it doesn’t matter which school you attend, so you may as well go to the cheapest one you get into.
Myth #2: It doesn’t pay to get an MBA outside the M7/Top 10.
When asked my opinion of these MBA memes, I politely explained why I thought they are utter nonsense, the product of lazy minds. Nothing more. The reality is much more complex.
Schools inside and outside the Top 10 vary in terms of their approach to management education and their strengths. Some schools outside the Top X may be excellent for a given specialty. For example, Smeal and Broad are generally not in any overall Top 10 ranking. However, both programs are very well regarded for supply chain management and logistics. They may be excellent choices if that’s your interest. Babson is renowned for teaching entrepreneurship; it is usually in the bottom half of the top 50 overall. Similarly Thunderbird is excellent for international business. For those specialties, these schools may be better programs than programs ranked overall in the Top 10.
Obviously there are a lot more schools outside the top 10 than in it, and the differences among all the schools are many. Applicants need to understand those differences and seek schools with the curricular, extra-curricular, and career management strengths to help them achieve their goals. Then applicants can compare costs and anticipated return. If applicants choose a school based on Myth #1 and without the analysis I suggest, applicants are simply basing a major investment in time and money on folklore.
Whether it pays to get an MBA at School X, regardless of that school being in the Top 10, Top 20, or Top 50, depends on both the school and on you. Here are a few questions that you need to answer:
- How much are you making currently? (That will determine your opportunity cost if you are considering a full-time program.)
- What is the typical salary of MBA grads from your target program who found a job in your area of interest? (School averages are much less worthwhile.)
- Is there a non-financial benefit that you seek in addition to classic financial ROI? (Moving into a job you will enjoy, for example.)
While it is true that average salaries at different schools tend to decline as you go down the rankings, for the overwhelming majority of MBAs, ROI is positive and MBA alumni satisfaction per GMAC surveys is overwhelmingly high despite two recessions in the last ten years. And that data includes survey responses from non-Top 10 schools.
Don’t trust myths about rankings to determine where you invest your time and money. Don’t rely on fable and fantasy to make a major life decision. Do your homework, as the applicants at The MBA Tour were doing. Learn about the schools; don’t focus on their rankings.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.