Studying for a Master’s in Management (MiM) degree requires a mammoth investment of time, money and energy. So, ensuring the course meets your needs is crucial.
With competition for places on top programs intense, it’s easy to forget that selection works both ways; business schools go to great lengths to court candidates. But with so many schools out there, how can prospective students make the right choice?
The cost of the degree and need to take on student debt are often key factors in that choice. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), one in four prospective business master’s students believe that accumulating large debts may prevent them from attending business school.
The tuition fees alone will be a large expense, especially at the best schools. Doing a MiM usually means being out of the workplace for at least a year. So, it’s a good idea to factor forgone earnings into the choice.
“Cost is a big factor, without question,” says Brandon Kirby, at the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) in the Netherlands.
Fortunately, a MiM is a fabulous way to improve one’s career prospects, learn new skills, and become internationally mobile. Globally, employers planned to hire more MiM graduates in 2018 than in 2017, according to GMAC. And the median annual salary for a MiM graduate employed in the US was $85,000 last year.
Indeed, a key factor in a prospective student’s choice of school will be their intended career path. “One of the biggest mistakes I see, is people applying for a graduate program when their career goals are not a match,” says Esther Magna, principal at Stacy Blackman Consulting (SBC), an admissions advisory firm.
The trick is honest self-assessment, she says. “Align your goals with the best possible program.” For example, most of RSM’s MSc graduates were last year working in the consulting and financial services industries, but plenty joined digital, manufacturing, retail, wholesale and more companies. A small minority became entrepreneurs.
Since many prospective students base their choice of school at least in part on where they wish to work on graduation, it’s important to consider the local employment market. Work visa arrangements are another important factor, as is the local language spoken, and the lifestyle.
According to a survey on students’ perceptions of study destinations by CarringtonCrisp, Australia, for example, scored highly on offering an attractive lifestyle and sense of adventure. It’s also considered the third most welcoming country to international students, behind the UK and the US.
Learning alongside peers from different countries and cultures will likely improve your knowledge of global business, plus cross-cultural collaboration skills.
Who you study with can influence your career prospects, as well as your learning experience. So, it’s vital to consider the composition of the cohort. “This characteristic is a major differentiator between schools,” says RSM’s Kirby. “As a student, you’ll be sharing your experience with your classmates for 12 months, so your colleagues are super important to shaping that experience.”
The academics remain an important consideration, however. Although most MiMs teach similar technical and leadership skills, the syllabus and teaching styles differ between schools.
Swiss school St Gallen’s MiM students are required to complete an internship as part of the course, and can go on exchange to a business school abroad, for instance.
It is a good idea to visit school campuses to speak with current students, faculty and alumni about academic content, and everything else.
Felix Papier, dean of pre-experience programs at France’s ESSEC Business School, says differences in content, pedagogy, values and career opportunities are typically significant between institutions. “The personal feeling from visiting and talking to people is probably the best indicator of the personal fit between a prospective student and a school,” he says.
Kirby, at RSM, recommends contacting alumni via LinkedIn. They could offer more candid insights than the schools themselves, as they are trying to recruit. “Learn the good, the bad and the ugly of each school,” he says. “Then, see how that aligns with what you want.”
Rankings and accreditations are another good way to assess a school, especially for those considering studying overseas, who have limited knowledge of local institutions. Some 53 percent of master’s students CarringtonCrisp polled said rankings played a key role in their choice of school. The most important league table to them was the QS World University Ranking.
In addition, 53 percent of all students surveyed (including those on MBA and undergraduate degrees) wanted their choice of school to be accredited by at least one of the AACSB, AMBA or EQUIS awarding bodies, with the latter most important to the master’s students.
MiM applications are competitive at the top school schools, though, so getting insight from admissions teams could be invaluable.
Magna, at SBC, advises that prospective students visit fairs to meet admissions representatives from several programs in one go. “Applicants should approach a fair with an open mind, ask good questions, and leave a positive impression on admissions officers,” she says. “That means no flip-flops.”