Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to choose a school

Before diving into the decision-making process, it is worth taking time to consider whether you have the makings of a masters in management student.
Typically in Europe, where the degree is popular, no work experience is required to enter the programme. As a consequence, students tend to be younger than those who complete MBAs or other programmes where professional knowledge is a prerequisite.

According to FT data, students are, on average, aged between 22 and 23 when they start a masters in management programme.

Christina Olabarría, admissions director for the masters programme at Esade Business School, Barcelona, says: “Most choose to do a masters with a view to differentiating themselves from other candidates applying for graduate recruitment schemes and management training tracks.”

Unless you have an unusually clear idea of your ambitions, choosing your ideal school often initially comes down to location.

“Most students make a geographic choice first, then look at schools within a particular country or region,” says Judith Bouvard, dean of Grenoble Graduate School of Business.

According to Valérie Gauthier, associate dean at HEC Paris, the key question to ask is: where do you want to work after graduating?

If the answer is France, you might apply to HEC; if you want to work in London, then the LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science) or LBS (London Business School) would be among the obvious choices.

Since relatively few US schools offer the masters in management qualification, would-be applicants from America might want to consider Europe, where the programmes are more a part of the business school landscape.

Internships – whether during the course or upon graduation – are most likely to open up job opportunities in the country of study. Studying abroad therefore offers the chance of early international experience, while studying in a location where a particular industry is clustered – finance, for example, in London – enhances your chances of getting a job in a target sector.

Given how hard business schools work to protect and enhance their brands, finding a school with a good reputation is critical. Some are known for quality across the board, others for strength in a particular sector, or for the warmth of their welcome for overseas students. Rankings tables are crucial in providing information for students to judge what’s best for them.

“Reputation is everything for business schools,” says François Collin, executive director of Cems’ head office.

“It nurtures the virtuous circle that enables schools to attract and recruit the top professors, the best students and the influencing corporate partners.”

It will come as no surprise then, that the reputation of a school or programme will go a long way in affecting how you are viewed by potential employers.

Serious schools are also branded for the quality of their courses by accreditation bodies such as the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) in the US, the EFMD (European Foundation for Management Development), and Ceeman (the Central and East European Management Development Association).

And although the top ranked schools are likely to be the best resourced, they are also more likely to be oversubscribed, and are often the most expensive.

As such, it is important to be realistic about what you apply to do. How good are your credentials? Is there an alternative that is more suitable? Might you do better to become a graduate trainee, gain experience and study for an MBA at a later date?

However, if you are unable to secure your first choice, all is not lost. “If you can’t get into a top school, look for those on the up and ride the wave of success,” says Ulrich Hommel, an associate director at the EFMD.

Most masters in management programmes include some form of work-related experience, from supervised research projects within a business environment to an internship. “A good programme will mix academic rigour with corporate relevance,” says Prof Hommel.

Therefore, potential students should seek as much information as possible about any corporate partners affiliated with different schools ­– not just whether an internship is available, but with whom and in which sectors. Another consideration is which companies hire alumni from the school. “Admissions officers are a good source of information, but ask to speak to alumni and current students too,” Prof Hommel advises. They have a good insight into what it is like to study a particular programme and are in the best position to point out any pitfalls.

Depending on where you see your career taking you, it is worth researching the international dimensions of a school. Find out what proportion of faculty and students is from overseas – diversity is likely to bring a wider range of perspectives to a programme. Dual degree programmes, where participants spend time in two institutions in different countries and are awarded a degree from both, are a popular way of gaining international exposure.

Consider, too, how the programme is delivered. Those keen to avoid traditional “chalk and talk” methods should look for new learning techniques incorporated into the programme. The use of interactive technology and action learning, such as trading room floor simulations and role plays, are good indicators of an innovative programme.

Once you’ve discovered all you can, then pay the school a visit.

“Talk to the current students, talk to the administrators, talk to the faculty,”’ suggests Susan Roth, director of MSc programmes at Cass Business School at City University, London. “Do you get a buzz walking through the door and feel it’s where you want to be?” When all other parts of the decision-making process have been worked through, trust your instincts.


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