Plato’s tips on how not to choose the wrong MBA for you - Dean Alon Rozen

March 31, 2016


The article was published on the CEO Magazine on 31 March 2016

Alon Rozen, Dean, Ecole des Ponts Business School

As Dean of a leading business school I am often surprised how people choose an MBA. Now there is probably no one perfect MBA for anyone, but many prospective students end up choosing or wasting their time applying for the wrong MBA programs for them.

Step #1: know thyself

Rather than a simple tip, I will call this a “step” as it requires some time and thought. So “know thyself” has been a tip directed by Plato at MBA prospects for at least two thousand years. But what does he mean? Well I can’t be sure, but I think he meant that you need to have a clear idea, notably, about your main objective for doing an MBA – are you mostly interested in learning about business and management, getting a better job, increasing your earning potential, changing your professional direction, joining a valuable network, decorating your CV with a big name, … Once you have that in mind you may want to think about your secondary objective(s) which often include obtaining international or intercultural experience/exposure, opening the door to international mobility, taking a year off, learning a new language, traveling, living a unique adventure, … Once those aspects are clear(er), you should probably give some thought to what your own personal style is – are you more collaborative or competitive, social animal or serious student, conformist or non-conformist, name-driven or values-driven, budget unrestricted or budget constrained, … Finally, as part of this step, you should give some thought as to what kind of MBA is right for you: full-time or part-time, in-class or on-line (or blended), domestic or international, classically-ranked or alternatively-ranked, accredited or unaccredited, …

Tip #2: remember the essential

Too many MBA prospects I meet seem to have the wrong approach to doing their MBA. Plato was said to believe that there are three types of people: lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, and lovers of gain. Many MBA prospects are doing MBAs for the honor (to put a name on their CV) or the gain (the potential post-MBA salary). Not many talk to me about what they want to learn. Those that do stand out both before and during their MBAs. Often these are entrepreneurs or managers, or those aiming to be, who feel that the lack of 360° knowledge of business and management is a handicap. They give thought to the essential, which is the learning. Those who do any quality MBA program and take care of maximizing the learning, don’t have much to worry about in terms of honor and gain. If you know what you want to learn from your MBA, you will have a better idea of which MBA to aim for. And you will know what questions to ask of the marketers, the admissions team, the ongoing participants and the alumni of the program you are thinking about doing.

Tip #3: find your version of quality

Many MBA prospects seem to ignore that mainstream rankings are usually a proxy for size, rather than quality. Like Plato’s reference to wealth, mainstream rankings seem to be “the great comforter”. Without getting into the flaws and politics of these rankings, if you are not a conformist, I would suggest new ranking approaches like the one started several years ago by CEO Magazine. These up-and-coming rankings are free from the pressures of catering to the big name schools, such that they rank the quality of MBA programs, rather than the size and wealth of the schools offering them.  Another way to identify a quality school that is not just a big name is to ask people in your field and/or to find schools that have a strong reputation in the domain you are interested in. Many smaller American and European schools can offer a higher quality experience, but these schools may require more research to find. 

And here again, Plato reminds us that the beginning is the most important part of the work. Avoiding the wrong MBA for you is the first step on the road to finding the right one for you. Enjoy the search!