MBA 101: Is It Right For Me? Part II

Bird's eye view of someone studying for a MBA degree

Last week in Part I of our MBA blog Julie Skolds discussed format, modality and options for concentrations in your MBA. We are continuing the MBA discussion this week with program accreditation, rankings, and cost of your MBA. Remember, if your program of choice requires an entrance exam we also have a GRE vs GMAT blog

Specialty Business Accreditation

While researching programs you need to determine the type of accreditation a program holds. I encourage you to select a program that has a specialty business accreditation. Accreditation offers some measure of standardization, regardless of the organization. It means the institution has submitted to oversight by a governing body in terms of the value it offers to its students. Programs will have AACSB, ACBSP, IACBE, or no specialty business accreditation.  

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation is viewed as the “gold standard.” Less than 5 percent of business schools worldwide have attained this designation due to its rigorous quality standards. The focus of AACSB accredited programs is academic research. You might find that as a result of AACSB accreditation, admissions standards are stricter, an entrance exam is required, and tuition is higher. This is not always the case though. 

The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) places a strong emphasis on teaching and student outcomes as opposed to academic research. They reward teaching excellence and were the first to offer specialized business accreditation to all degree levels. The purpose of the council is to instill the need for continuous research in colleges and universities as they feel this is of utmost importance in the business world in order to enhance the quality of the curriculums in which they teach.

The International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE) was founded in 1997 in response to the expressed needs of presidents, CEOs, chief academic officers, and business deans, who wanted an accreditation process that was mission-driven and outcomes-based. Its existence is to promote academic quality and excellence in business education involving all aspects of the institution as a complete unit.

An MBA can sometimes be scrutinized by employers who only want graduates of a program that holds a certain accreditation. For example, some look for graduates of AACSB programs only. You will want to check to see if your current or potential employer expects you to pursue an MBA with a particular accreditation. 

How Programs Are Ranked

There are multiple reputable organizations that rank business programs including: US News & World Report, Princeton Review, Poets & Quants and Forbes. There are four basic qualities that all rankings organizations consider: Selectivity, Outcome, Quality, and Prestige. 

Selectivity. In general, the harder a business school is to get into, the higher its rank will be. Acceptance rates and how admitted applicants score on standardized tests like the GRE and GMAT also influences a school’s selectivity ranking. Outcome measures graduation and employment rates and the salary students earn upon graduation. You want to make sure that graduates are finding jobs after degree completion and that those jobs pay well. The Quality metric looks at accreditation, student-faculty ratio, and the quality of the faculty. What are their professional backgrounds? Have they won awards or achieved other notable accomplishments? Lastly, is the more subjective Prestige, which is basically the perception of the strength of a particular business school. Prestige can be hard to measure, but this is usually determined by interviewing and surveying employers in the field to see how they view the value of a particular degree or by interviewing and surveying peers in other business schools.  

MBA rankings provide a cursory view of various MBA program performances and reputations. They can be helpful at the initial level of your research in that they provide a somewhat fixed baseline for comparing schools. However, while rankings are a consideration, you won’t get a full picture of a business school simply by looking at its ranking on a long list. You need to learn much more about the actual experience of the school itself to determine if it’s right for you. Do you plan to remain working in your state? You might want to select a well-known local program. Do you want the most affordable AACSB-accredited program, regardless of where it’s located? Is there a concentration you are looking for? What do you value and need from a program? 

Covering The Cost

One of the most important questions you need to ask yourself is what can I afford? Does my employer offer tuition support? How much, how often, and is there a lifetime support limit? Also, how quickly do you want to complete the program? If you slow down the pace, can you pay out of pocket? Will your employer tuition dollars cover the costs?   

When looking at programs be sure to figure out the total cost of the program. You can’t just look at cost per credit hour. Some programs are 30 credits while others can be 60 quarter hours. Figure out the total costs including fees, as sometimes they can be substantial. 

Once you have a short list of schools, reach out to their financial aid office to see if they offer scholarships. The harsh reality is that scholarships and grants for part-time students are limited. Many institutions who award scholarships to part-time students offer small awards, and they may not be renewed after the first year or even the first term. Next look for private, local and state scholarships. Try a Google search with your county and college scholarships to see if your community foundation offers support. Look to your state department of education to see if there are grants. And finally try a national search engine like scholarships.com

If you need to finance your education you can apply for federal student loans by completing the FAFSA. You can borrow up to $20,500 per aid year in a federal student loan with no credit check. If additional funds are needed there is a Federal Graduate PLUS loans but it has higher interest rate and fees. Some States have loan programs as well that may have comparable or even lower rates. If you borrow for your education be sure you know the total needed and the payment required.  

My best advice to you is to choose the best school that you can afford. You don’t have to spend $100K on an MBA. There are AACSB accredited programs under $20,000. You need to decide what is important. Is it the name, a good quality degree, cost, or acceptance rate? 

Good luck with your search! We will be offering our MBA 101 webinar in the fall if you have additional questions.

Written by: Melissa Kessler

June 14, 2021

About the Author

Melissa Kessler headshot

Melissa brings 25 years of experience in higher education to Bright Horizons, including 15 years as the Assistant Director of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships at Rochester Institute of Technology and 7 years advising within a Nursing program. Melissa holds a Master’s in Career Development.