When prospective M.B.A. students do their research on business schools, they often consider factors such as reputation, areas of academic emphasis (accounting, marketing, international business, etc.), location, job placement, financial aid, and alumni network.
All of the above are important aspects to consider. However, of equal importance, and yet so often overlooked, is the learning environment: the styles, systems, methods, and manners in which the curriculum is presented as well as the general student and business school atmosphere and culture.
[See U.S. News's rankings of the Best Business Schools.]
When doing your M.B.A. research, be sure to evaluate how the curriculum is taught at each of the schools you are considering. It's essential that the style matches your learning preferences. Additionally, make sure you take the time to explore the student atmosphere on campus before submitting an application.
Here are seven key elements to consider when evaluating a business school's learning environment:
1. Philosophy: The overall educational philosophy of the school is a significant factor when deciding what program is the best fit for you. Many M.B.A. programs are more conservative and focus on traditional business models in the curriculum, while others are open to and encourage exploring novel market models such as sustainability. Review the schools' websites to get a firm idea of their general philosophies. Make note of it in writing, so you can easily reference it later.
2. Relevance of the curriculum: Be sure to check that the professors have recent real-world experience. Make sure they bring acumen to the classroom that is up to date and provides academic training informed by concrete business experience. After all, what use are antiquated theories and scholarly discussions that have little to do with today's business world and markets? Therefore, investigate the exposure the faculty has to what's going on beyond the ivory towers and research labs.
[Avoid the 7 deadly sins of business school applicants.]
3. Group vs. independent projects: Which of these do you prefer? In which style do you perform best? Based on your answer, make a list of the number of courses that require considerable team or group work, versus those where students perform most class assignments on their own. Believe me; it can make a big difference.
4. Case method vs. lecture method: Have you considered which of these you prefer? The basic difference is the source and dissemination of the learning. In lecture method, all of the learning content comes from the professor, as a "head coach."
In case method, the content is learned and disseminated from groups of classmates as topics or "cases" are explored. With case method, the professor's role is less of a coach and more of a mentor.
There is a wide variety of course styles, and it's important that you look into this aspect and consider which provides the best educational experience for you, as it will be a critical element of your M.B.A. learning experience.
5. Required vs. elective courses: Some M.B.A. students are more comfortable with curricula primarily set for them, with very few electives. Others like the freedom to choose most of their courses. You need to determine your preference. Based on that, you'll be more informed about what's best for you based on the schools' course offerings.
6. The student community: The general style of a program and overall student-body personality greatly impact your business school experience. It is essential that you investigate this before applying. During my years as a dean of admissions, it was not uncommon to have students in my office, deeply troubled because they weren't fitting into the student culture.