First-round deadlines for business school applications are coming up and I’m starting to field questions from mid-career folk contemplating the value of an MBA. Every year, I get asked some form of this question: “Does it matter where I get my MBA?” and every year I give the same response: “Absolutely.” It is true that an MBA curriculum will not vary too much between a top institution and a less popular school, and it is arguable that the quality of the education won’t be too different either. However, studies have consistently revealed that an MBA from a top school is far more likely to result in a higher post-MBA salary, greater future employability, and easier access to a more accomplished and committed alumni network that can pick you up when you need a career boost. Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t just settle for an MBA from a lesser school.
You go after an MBA in order to brand yourself with the best of the best. By adding a Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Kellogg or Columbia name to your resume (if you don’t already have it in your background) confers immediate credibility and higher esteem on your resume. Again, I’m not talking about whether you actually have ability (which you will need to prove), but your CV will sure look a whole lot more impressive to an employer. An MBA from a lesser known school just won’t have that same wow factor and might as well be invisible.
The worst stories I hear from clients who did settle for an MBA from a lesser known school consist of their struggles to find a suitable job after graduation. The point of attending a graduate business program is the expectation that you will be able to find a better-paying job to justify the financial cost of tuition and the opportunity cost of being out of the workforce for two years. Too many times throughout my years as a career consultant, I hear MBA graduates going right back to their old jobs, amazingly at their old salaries, post-business school from a non-ranked university.
Just as you learned in college, certain companies in certain industries just will not recruit from certain schools. If you are looking for a high-paying, high-profile job in a premier service sector or multinational corporation, luck just may not find you if you choose to settle for an MBA from a smaller school. The career office may not be as organized either, and you will find yourself painfully struggling to land a job that is at the level and pay to meet your needs.
Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.