Traditionally, the list of best MBA programs* in the United States has almost always included notable (Northwestern), Columbia, NYU, Fuqua (Duke), UCLA, Kenan-Flagler (UNC), and USC[i]. These high-ranking MBA programs are highly selective and well respected, but you do not have to earn your MBA from one of these institutions in order to graduate with a degree that may be respected and valued by potential employers. When you are considering where you would like to enroll to earn your MBA, the question you should ask yourself is not, “What are the best MBA programs?” rather, you should ask, “What is the best MBA program for me?”
When you first set out to find the MBA program that will best match your unique interests you may want to first consider what you plan to do with your MBA. The best MBA schools may offer prestige, but depending on your needs it might not make the most sense. If your interests lie in a particular business field, for instance, you may want to find the MBA programs with the best course offerings in that area of study – not just the best overall ranking. The same idea applies to the kind of job you want to pursue. Those interested in an international career in finance have different educational needs than those seeking a managerial role within another field. Those in the former category may benefit most from a high-profile program since they offer some of the best training in the world for these kinds of careers. Those in the latter category, however, might do just as well at a school with a solid but less prestigious MBA program where they can acquire the kind of business expertise they may need to support their educational, professional, and personal career goals.
You will also want to think about how and where you want to earn your MBA. Some candidates will want to immerse themselves in full-time study; others will prefer to keep working and attend classes on a part-time basis or even online. You’ll need to find the best match for you, both in terms of time and money. Full-time mba programs may cost more money in the short term, since you have to pay tuition while having little or no income and may need to relocate. You may be able to finish more quickly, though, and will be able to focus exclusively on your studies rather than having conflicting professional responsibilities. Alternatively, getting a part time mba may keep you from sacrificing income. But, the challenge of balancing work, classes, and personal commitments may not be worth it to you.
Lastly, you’ll want to think about the overall value of your degree. Depending on your career goals, the costs associated with earning a degree at a “Best MBA Program” like NYU or Columbia might not provide the return on investment you are hoping to gain. If the starting salary you anticipate upon graduation is relatively modest, you might benefit as much from a more moderately priced program in a more affordable part of the country rather.
Ultimately, the best MBA program for you is the one that best suits your professional goals and your personal needs. There are many options available, and there may be one that is right for you.
*The term "best" relates to the U.S. News & World Report 2013 ranking of 380 master's programs in business. A complete listing of the rankings can be found at http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/....