What's the best MBA program for you?
Now we’re gonna address the first question everyone googles when they start to get serious about an MBA. “What’s the Best MBA Program?”
The short answer is: it depends. Ha!
On you. Your goals. Your needs. And your constraints.
You need the MBA that's best for your career, as a very wise person says in this video:
I'm Angela, Founder of Career Protocol and I made this whole company to help you build a career that matters.
For more info about how to home in on YOUR dream MBA, read on!
Or go download our comprehensive MBA Career Report. It's over 120 pages of insight and analysis on placement and statistics at the top 30 schools.
Here's what's inside this article
The Best MBA Program: It's All Relative
There is no one best school for everyone no matter what the rankings try to claim.
Notice how the rankings don’t even agree on who’s the best!! Each publication has its own methodology and algorithm to determine which schools come out on top.
- Financial Times ranks Stanford GSB #1
- The Economist ranks Chicago Booth #1
- Forbes ranks Wharton #1
- US News ranks Wharton #1
- Poets & Quants ranks both Harvard and Wharton #1
- Bloomberg Businessweek ranks Stanford GSB #1
And that’s just the 2018 rankings. Check back in a few months and you’ll see an entirely different school list. Maybe Bloomberg Businessweek gives schools the most points in the ranking equation for, say, highest average GMAT score at the school. (We actually don’t know how they rank schools – even rankings that publish their criteria and weighting do not publish granular data on individual schools, so it’s hard to make real sense of the rankings. Especially when weird things sometimes happen, like when NYU dropped 10 ranks for missing a single data point – number of students submitting GMAT scores - on the 300-question submission form.)
But think about it. Do you personally really care how high your classmates’ GMATs are? Heck no! In fact, if someone came up to you and introduced himself and said: “HI, I’m George. I got a 740 on my GMAT.” You’d probably immediately cross him off your “potential new friends” list and politely skirt across the room.
The things that matter to you specifically aren’t the same things that matter to ranking agencies. The thing that matters to them is clicks and ad revenue. You’d be wise to remember that.
So if you’re about to spend $200,000 on this investment and give up two years of salary and work experience to better yourself, you’d better figure out which program is going to better YOU the most! And that school won’t be the same school for you as it is for someone else.
The MBA is personal. So to make a good choice you need to do three things:
Step 1: Understand yourself and what you really need from your MBA.
Step 2: Understand how competitive you are at the various programs.
Step 3: Understand what the schools actually offer.
If you take the intersection of those three things, you’ll be able to create your own personal MBA ranking and target the schools that are truly best for YOU.
This article is going to take a close look at Step 3. We’re going to give you new and exciting information about what schools actually offer so you can compare apples to apples. This data has never been compiled or analyzed like this before.
If you need help figuring out Step 1, check out this article: How to Choose the Best Business School For You. If you need help with Step 2, figuring out your own competitiveness, schedule a free MBA Strategy Session with us.
Read on for much more insight into what schools actually offer.
Differentiating Among MBA Programs
I know, I know! All the schools seem amazing and pretty much the same based on their websites. How are you supposed to choose between Stern and Columbia? Or Darden and Tuck? How different are they, really?
Here’s why you need to look past the rankings and the stereotypes. We’ve had clients come to us absolutely set on a school, only to realize that that school doesn’t even offer what they’re looking for. It’s really easy to get caught up in the rankings, but you’ll want to make sure that once you’re there, the program is going to help you achieve your dreams. We talk about this at length with our clients, but this is why it’s so important to network with the schools early on in the process – to learn what they offer, what current students say about the program, and what opportunities in your industry of interest exist post-MBA.
But before you start asking questions, we want to arm you with all the information you need to know! Below, you’ll find data we compiled from the Placement Reports of the top 30 MBA programs. With it, we looked at where MBAs end up – which functions, which industries, and which companies – and sorted through it to make it really easy for you to start distinguishing between MBA programs that seem similar. Keep reading to see what we found!
Industry and Function
The most common way to think about different career options is in terms of Industry and Function.
The Industry defines the landscape you’ll be working in, or the type of company you want to work for. For instance, consumer packaged goods (CPG), oil & gas, and technology are three different types of industries. These aren’t MECE though (mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive), because consulting is often considered an industry, and within consulting you could work for a CPG, oil & gas, or technology client!
To make it even more confusing, a lot of new, young companies work across multiple industries. Think of Uber, Paypal, or Airbnb – those are all tech companies, but they’re also transportation, finance, and hospitality companies, respectively, that sell directly to consumers (so, kind of consumer goods too!). Sometimes it’s easier to categorize older, more established companies like Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, or Dell into a single industry, but then look at a conglomerate like GE that works across healthcare, consumer goods, and the financial services industries!
As you’re narrowing down your industry, be specific. Do you want to work at a technology company that makes a product, or at a retail company that sells the product? Or do you know you want to be at a company that does both, like Apple? What industries excite you? What industries do you read articles about? That can help you start narrowing in on where you want to be.
The next way to think about your career options is by Function.
Your function defines your responsibilities, your expertise, your role. What you do day to day will be determined by your function. For instance, someone working in Marketing at Apple will have a very different job from someone working in Finance at Apple, even though they’re in the same industry, at the same company. Common functions include Strategy, Finance, Marketing, Operations, etc. – think about the names of the C-Suite: CEO, CFO, CMO, COO – all named after various functions within a company. However, there are WAY more functions than that. You could work in Product Management, Design, Business Development, Partnerships, Fundraising, or even a Leadership Development Program that involves working across a series of functions.
As you narrow down your function, the more specific you can be, the better. Ideally, you’ll want to find the actual name of a role at a company to make sure it exists. For instance, if you want to be a Product Manager at Airbnb, awesome! They have 89 different postings for Product Manager jobs. If you want to work in Marketing at General Mills, you’ll probably have to get a bit more specific. Do you want to be an Associate Marketing Manager at Annie’s? Awesome! There’s a job posting for that.
As you’re writing your personal statement – and thinking about what MBA is best for you – it helps to know what industry and function you hope to enter post-MBA. But… you’ll knock it out of the park if you can name some of the specific roles at companies you’re interested in! It will show that you not only know what you want, but you’ve already started doing the work to get there. Schools will love you for that!
To help you visually see your post-MBA options, here’s a partial Industry / Function Matrix:
Keep in mind, this is a simplified version – we could get far more granular with distinctions. Within tech, for example, we could have consumer tech, software as service, hardware, software, apps, games, etc. And similarly, with functions – within finance you’ve got business development, accounting, mergers and acquisitions, risk management, etc.
So, what jobs does an MBA actually help you get?
While it’s absolutely possible to leverage your MBA to land a position as a Product Developer at Spotify or a Product Manager at Airbnb, we want to level set with you. The majority of MBAs get jobs in Consulting and Finance, followed by General Management and Marketing/Sales roles, most commonly at Technology or Consumer Product companies. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get those other jobs!! We just want you to know, ahead of time, where most of your classmates are going to end up.
Figure 1 Function Placement Data from Top 10 MBAs
Figure 2 Function Placement Data from Top 30 MBAs
Figure 3 Industry Placement Data from Top 10 MBAs
Figure 4 Industry Placement Data from Top 30 MBAs
Like all these nerdy charts? Go get the full report. It's free.
As you can see from the charts above, just over half of MBAs end up working in either consulting or finance when they graduate. You might be wondering why these two industries will capture so much of your graduating class, and hey, you might be among them!
There are a few reasons why these two industries top the charts year after year:
- Consulting and financial services firms are powerhouses in terms of recruiting. Firms like Bank of America Merrill Lynch recruited from 21 different MBA campuses in 2018, and McKinsey & Company recruited from 20! These firms have a massive and continuous need for talent, so they come back year after year to top Bschools and hire MBAs by the handful.
- They also pay really well. Some consulting firms offer tuition reimbursement or tuition sponsorship if their highest performers return to the firm, most offer attractive sign-on and annual bonuses, and base salaries usually start at $125K or above.
- They offer some of the best and fastest foundational learning experiences. This comes with a tradeoff though, as employees at these firms often have the worst work-life balance.
- It keeps options open. Because of the accelerated learning consultants and financiers get, they are able to parlay those experiences into a wider range of options afterwards. So for folks who aren’t 100% sure what they want to be when they grow up, finance and consulting give them a little more time to figure it out, while still helping them strengthen their professional profile.
Figure 5: Industry Representation among Companies that Recruit from >10 MBA Programs
Now you know the most common post-MBA functions and industries, but what about the rest of them?? Check out our detailed reports on function, industry, and specific companies.
The Best MBA Programs by Function
Dig into detailed statistics about placement into the top post-MBA functions at the top 30 programs.
The Best MBA Programs by Industry
Dig into detailed statistics about placement into the top post-MBA industries at the top 30 programs.
Where do the World’s Best Companies Recruit MBAs
Learn which companies recruit at the most MBA schools and where to get your MBA if you want to work for your specific favorite companies.
Check out our comprehensive MBA Placement Company Analysis to see where the world's best companies recruit MBAs.
In case you missed our other two hints, go grab the full report. It's 120 pages of charts and graphs and cool analysis about MBA career placement.
You'll love it.