Saturday, December 20, 2008

Finding the right MBA program

As I began investigating MBA programs, I knew that my search wouldn't be easy because I had a number of challenges I would need to align between my lifestyle (personal & work) and the potential programs.  My list looked something like this:
  • The program needed to have an excellent reputation.  Lucikly, living in Raleigh, NC, I'm close proximity to a number of world-class programs (Duke, UNC, WFU, UVA).
  • The program needed to meet face-to-face on a regular basis, and attract a broad background of students.  I knew that making new contacts was as important as what I'd learn in the classroom.
  • The program needed to have flexibility of schedule.  I travel quite a bit for business, so a full-time or weeknight program wasn't going to be possible.  I need a program that met weekends, in some variation.
  • Duration and starting time of the program was important, because of the sacrifice my family was making for me.  I wanted to be done before my kids were in school or actively participating in sports.
  • Cost is always a factor, especially when the cost of today's MBA programs could pay off your mortgage or put your kids through school (assuming you could put it in a 529 today). 
Beyond those four schools, I looked at the weekend/executive programs at Kellogg, Ross, Wharton, and Harvard.  These are all tremendous programs, but the travel requirements were too much for me at this time. 

As I narrowed it down to the four local programs, I really spent a lot of time weighing the pros and cons of each program.  What was the length of the program and when did they meet?  What classes were offered?  How were the classes taught and how much was individual vs. team-based? 

My final decision came down to several criteria:
  1. The case method taught at Harvard was constantly emulated or used by other programs, so I was very interested in a program that used this method.  This included both UVA and WFU.
  2. The program needed to have an international component, but this couldn't be the primary focus of the program.  This ruled out the Duke OneMBA program.
  3. The program needed to have a broad variety of classes, as I was looking to add breadth and depth to my skill set.  All of the programs had excellent curriculums, so this was somewhat of a wash.
  4. Travel to the program should be reasonable.  This ruled out the UNC Executive Program, which met in WashDC.  UVA also was going to be difficult as it was about a 4-5hr drive from Raleigh.
  5. The costs should be reasonably.  UNC and WFU were both below $80k, and then there was a huge jump above $100k for both UVA and Duke.  I know that we're talking about an ROI that extends over a lifetime, but $30-50k is a good chunk of change when you're raising two kids and still paying a mortgage.
So at the end of the day, when I weighed all the pros and cons, I narrowed my choice to WFU Weekend Exec and UNC Weekend Exec.  UNC was ranked higher, but WFU was 6 months shorter and started in August, 2008 rather than January, 2009.  Throw in the case-study method, the excellent curriculum and the previous WFU experience/bias and I decided that another tour at WFU was the right decision for me.