There are numerous benefits to studying for a master's in business administration with common drivers among participants. Career progression, personal development, a desire to acquire new skills and knowledge, and the opportunity to network with like-minded executives and senior managers from differing backgrounds and nationalities are just some of the reasons that students choose a Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme.
Such an undertaking should not be taken lightly. Not only do prospective students have to consider their mode of study (full-time, part-time/executive, distance or blended learning) but also which business school best meets their needs.
What do you want?
When choosing an MBA self-awareness is vital. How do you like to learn? What stimulates interest in you and a desire for knowledge? Do you want lots of printed or online materials to read and review? How much interaction with other students do you want? How much access to faculty do you expect? Do you want face-to-face contact and networking, or are you happy with online support and group-working?
All programmes are different and business schools operate differently. What suits one individual can be quite wrong for another, so consider your personality type and learning preferences and choose a programme accordingly.
Modes of study
There are three main modes of study to consider when choosing an MBA programme and the most appropriate will depend on your work situation — can you give up work to study full-time? Do you want to combine work and study with on-campus, face-to-face seminars, or do you need total flexibility and the option to take your studies with you wherever you are in the world?
No matter what your location or circumstances, there will be an MBA programme to meet your needs.
Full-time: For those who can dedicate at least months to study full-time, on campus and have the financial resources (through personal funding or company sponsorship) to take time out of work. When studying full-time in the Middle East a key benefit is meeting like-minded professionals from the UAE and other GCC countries. Studying full-time also involves face-to-face seminars, brainstorming sessions, case study analysis and presentations in a classroom environment.
Part-time/executive: Ideal for those who want to continue working while studying, putting their new learning into practice instantaneously, but still having the opportunity to meet fellow students and faculty face-to-face. Part-time or executive MBA students enjoy the same rich learning experience as full-time students but in a compressed time period, with supported self-study in between the campus-based sessions.
Distance/online: This is the most flexible option, designed for students for whom studying on campus is a logistical issue, and for those who want total control over when they study, when they interact with other students and faculty (this will often be online) and where they take exams (the top distance learning providers offer exam centres around the world). The distance learning option is also perfect for professionals who travel for business purposes as they can study while in transit and for those whose jobs involve international assignments. Their studies are portable and they are not tied to any one location. Most distance learning providers also allow students to take a break between modules if their personal or professional circumstances require it.
Selecting the appropriate mode of study is one key decision prospective students have to make — the other is which education provider to choose.
MBA programmes are provided by thousands of business schools globally, so it is important to choose a school that has a good reputation and provides the most appropriate mode of study.
Everyone will have their own personal requirements, but some of the factors to consider when looking at an institution include accreditation, the size and experience of the faculty, the number of teaching hours, the type of learning environment, the flexibility of the programme, use of technology and, of course, the cost.
When you check out accreditation, find out whether the school or its programmes are accredited by any of the business education bodies, and whether it appears in any of the numerous rankings or listings that are produced by the media. Among the most respected of the rankings are those produced by the Financial Times.
If you are going to study on campus (either full- or part-time) it's vital to visit, meet the faculty, see the facilities and assess the atmosphere. Can you visualise yourself studying there?
Talk to current participants and alumni to get their feedback and look at the support services available, for example, the careers service for help with future employment. If you are choosing the online/distance option again, ask to speak (by email or phone) to current students or alumni, to hear first-hand what the experience is like.
Taking an MBA is one of the most important investments a professional can make, so it is vital to take time and investigate all the options before selecting a provider.
— The writer is MBA Programme Director, Dubai Campus, Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University.