Friday, February 11, 2005

Many kinds of M.B.A.
An article in the

Business school education has come a long way. "M.B.A. programs in the 1950s [generally] provided people with a narrow set of applied skills," says Gilbert Whitaker, dean of the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management at Rice. "It was sort of a 'how to run a shoe store' mentality." Today's B-schools, however, are extraordinarily diverse, with a range of concentrations–from E-commerce to environmental management–as well as a wealth of learning opportunities, like group projects that solve real companies' problems. Even better: As the economy shows signs of life, and flight to grad school is less common, application numbers for full-time programs are falling at many schools–which means more favorable odds of getting in. This year has seen the lowest Graduate Management Admission Test volume since 2000. A few issues to consider before drawing up your short list (and tips on how to score an acceptance letter or two):

What would you like to learn? At Dartmouth's Tuck School, everyone earns an M.B.A. in general management. If you aren't sure what skills you're looking to develop, you might focus on this kind of institution. If you have a specific subfield in mind, however, look for schools with well-respected programs in that area. The E. J. Ourso College of Business Administration at Louisiana State, for example, has one of the best internal auditing programs; its grads are heavily recruited nationwide.

Part time vs. full time? In the past, part-time M.B.A. programs have been criticized for a lack of rigor, but the gap in quality between part- and full-time programs has shrunk substantially. At Berkeley's Haas School of Business, part-time applicants are subject to the same test-score and work-experience requirements as their full-time counterparts. Part-time students also are taught by the same faculty and are offered many of the same study-abroad options.

Where do grads go to work? Even if you don't know where you want to work after school, you should think about how marketable you'll be. For starters, many schools have a regional focus when it comes to placing students in jobs. If you're considering Rice's Jones Graduate School of Management, for instance, you should be aware that 73 percent of its students last year found their first jobs in Texas and 21 percent in the energy industry. At the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, 77 percent of grads go to work in the Midwest.

Get work experience. Once you've chosen your dream school, brace yourself for a few weeks of cramming for the GMAT. A good score on this exam, which tests basic verbal, math, and writing skills, can help grease the skids for your application. But, admissions officers insist, there is something even more essential: work experience. Most M.B.A. programs require at least two years, and successful applicants at top schools should also demonstrate a track record of advancement within a particular company, says Marci Armstrong, an associate dean at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business. International experience doesn't hurt either: Last year over 50 percent of Cox's students worked abroad before starting school. But job hopping is typically frowned on. "Less than 18 months at any one company is going to be a bit of a red flag," says Armstrong, unless you can show that you switched jobs to move ahead within your industry.

Show them that you care. Even if a program doesn't require an interview, try to schedule one. It's your best opportunity to show the fire in your belly for a B-school education. Be specific about how their program is going to help you reach your particular goals. Most schools don't expect you to know exactly what you'll study, but "it helps to have an industry you're particularly interested in or a passion for a certain kind of business," says Dan Dalton, dean of Indiana University's B-school.


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