Choosing an MBA Program That Best Fits Your Career Aspirations

Two years ago, when I made the decision to earn my MBA, I spent a lot of time debating whether to earn the degree as a full-time student or through a part-time program.  The two options had their pros and cons, and I eventually decided on CSUF Mihaylo’s part-time MBA program.  But prospective MBA’s aren’t limited to just full-time or part-time programs; seasoned business veterans can earn an executive MBA as well.  The right choice for each individual comes down to his or her current career situation and future career goals.  I’ve provided some of the important features of each MBA program in an effort to help prospective MBA students make an educational decision that fits their career goals.

Full-time MBA: Full-time MBA’s require a student’s full commitment to the program, often for two years (a brief description of one-year programs is also provided below).  Most programs require students to stop working and focus completely on their studies.  These programs usually span four semesters, and require students to spend one summer working on an internship.  In the classroom, students focus on their core courses in year one and then specialize and select electives in year two.  Full-time MBA programs tend to accept students from a variety of backgrounds in order to encourage student collaboration and increase their exposure to a variety of life and business experiences.  These numerous backgrounds also help with networking, and when combined with most programs’ extensive career services these features help students obtain post-MBA employment.  And the reason most full-time MBA students earn the degree is to enhance their post-MBA employment.  For some students, their employer will help pay some or most of a student’s tuition.  That financial assistance then requires the graduate to commit to several years of post-MBA employment at the company, but typically after the student is promoted to a higher management role.

Some universities offer full-time one-year MBA programs.  These accelerate programs move extremely fast (students earn a degree in 11-16 months, compared to 20+ months for a full-time program).  Internships are not normally a requirement for this type of MBA program, due to time constraints.  Students pursuing the one-year MBA benefit from the improved opportunity cost of earning the degree quicker (they spend a shorter period of time away from their job not earning an income).

Part-time MBA: The part-time MBA, like the one I’m enrolled in at CSUF, is dramatically different from a full-time MBA.  Part-time programs are structured to fit around work schedules, so students can work and then attend evening classes once or twice a week.  The programs don’t require internships, and career services can be limited to those found in full-time programs.  Part-time programs are most popular with career enhancers who have already developed strong network connections.  For me, CSUF’s part-time program fit within my limited budget and allowed me to continue working while developing my professional skills.  I felt I have developed a strong network through my own efforts, so I was confident in my ability to compensate for the features a part-time MBA may lack when compared to full-time programs.  In my mind, I’m getting what I pay for – an MBA program that is significantly less expensive than a full-time program, but one that offers less extensive features than a full-time program as well.  Therefore, I knew going into the program I’d have to network and job search more on my own; CSUF wasn’t going to get everything squared away for me.  Students need to be aware of these differences before making the decision to earn a part-time MBA.

Executive MBA: These MBA’s are tailored to business executives who want to improve their management skills and move up their company’s career ladder.  Companies often sponsor their executives by paying their tuition, but (just like full-time MBA students) their employers expect several years of service from their MBA investment.  Executive MBA programs require participants to meet on Fridays and Saturdays (usually all day) so employers must provide flexibility and allow for the necessary time off.  Executive MBA programs move extremely fast, and participants often can’t even miss one class period.  Participants have to commit to working extremely hard, as Executive MBA programs require one to balance work and MBA commitments.  Students with families must also weigh the effects on their loved ones, and ensure they fully understand the commitment they’re making to the program and their careers before diving into the MBA.

Prospective MBA students have a variety of degree options available to them that they can tailor to fit their needs.  It is extremely important that students weigh all the pros and cons earning an MBA, because each degree requires a firm commitment to educating and improving oneself.  Relationships and career prospects can suffer if students don’t fully prepare themselves for the challenge of earning an MBA.  However, students that effectively research all their options available and weigh the opportunity costs of each program will likely find the MBA program best suited to help improve their management skills and advance their career goals.

Are you thinking about pursuing an MBA in the future?  Which program do you think best fits your career situation and future goals?  Or do you have questions about CSUF’s part-time MBA program?  Leave your questions or comments in the Comments section below, or tweet me @OrangeCountyMBA.  I’d be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have about earning a Mihaylo MBA.

You Can’t Buy Your Way Into Business School

Have you ever wished you could simply purchase completed MBA group projects to turn in, or hire someone to take tests for you?  A recent SF Gate article states you can now lighten you MBA application workload by purchasing previous applicants’ admission essays.  As helpful as that may sound, I can promise that pursuing that strategy when applying to business school will bring you problems.

Wordprom was founded by two MBA’s (one from Standford and one from Berkeley), and the company provides MBA with previous applicants’ admissions essays.  The service allows interested parties to search for essays based on specific criteria, such as the applicant’s school, gender, graduation year, and even the admissions round the application and essay were submitted.  An essay costs about $50, and a portion of the sales is returned to the author.

I’ll admit, paying someone to essentially write a draft version of my admissions essay sounds great on paper.  But there are three important reasons why using this service is a terrible idea:

1. The essay doesn’t tell your story.  If you purchase a Wordprom essay and use its ideas and structures in your own essay, you’re not telling your personal story in your voice.  One of the essays’ purposes is to give the admissions counselor an idea of who you are, through the personal story you share.  To me, it’s as if you simply bought an MBA Essay Mad Lib and filled in the responses.  It’s not you telling your story; it’s just a paper sharing some details about your life.

2. Buying an essay may mean you aren’t ready for business school.  One of the expectations MBA programs have of their students is that they can effectively communicate.  This means they can share complex ideas with professors and classmates in both written and spoken formats.  If someone wasn’t confident enough in their abilities to write an effective application essay, it’s unlikely that confidence would appear after being accepted into a program.

3. Schools consider it cheating.  Case in point: UCLA’s Anderson School of Management rejected 52 MBA applicants last year after discovering plagiarism in their essays.  The school ran the essays through Turnitin.com which raised the flags with the applications.  Since the essays available for purchase from Wordprom are papers previous applicants had written, it’s no surprise they were uncovered by UCLA.  Applicants should assume schools will always do their due diligence, and that includes screening essays for any possible signs of plagiarism.

Here’s the bottom line: take pride in your background, experiences, and abilities when applying to business school.  Use the essays to showcase your writing abilities and paint a more complete picture of who you are.  Admissions counselors are looking to see whether applicants will be a good fit in the MBA program and whether they will contribute to the graduate school experience.  Don’t sell yourself short and fill-in a cookie-cutter essay.  Find your voice, share your unique perspective, and put your best foot forward when starting out on your MBA journey.

Have you used Wordprom or a similar service when applying to business school?  What are your feelings about buying portions of an MBA application?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below, or tweet me @OrangeCountyMBA.  I’d love to hear what you think!

5 MBA Consulting Project Success Tips

Last week, I mentioned my interest in CSUF’s MBA capstone course.  I’ve been looking forward to the course since I attended the MBA information session.  The capstone course (taken in one’s final semester) centers around a student consultant project.  Local Orange County businesses hire students through CSUF as business consultants, who then help tackle problems and develop new strategies for these companies.  Since I work in the public sector, I feel the capstone would provide an excellent opportunity to practice all my newly acquired MBA skills.  Luckily for me, I get to experience the consulting project ahead of schedule; each of my courses this semester requires one.

(Courtesy of Flickr)

I have been assigned to groups in each class and know which clients the groups will be working for.  This past Saturday, my Marketing Management group met with our client and needless to say I thought it was an overwhelming experience.  We met for 3 hours, learning about our client’s challenges.  In particular, the company has numerous marketing channels they use to communicate with their customers.  They want us to determine which of these channels most effectively attract customers, and then develop a marketing plan to entice more customers to their business.

It was particularly overwhelming learning as much information as we could about the client.  We absorbed details about their operations, toured their site, met with staff, and discussed their vision for our project.  After going through that initial meeting, I walked away with 5 tips that will be valuable for future consulting projects.

Get everyone’s phone number.  And email and any additional contact information.  This probably seems obvious, and it should be the first thing a project group leader does after the group is created.  But having everyone’s contact information is immensely helpful for staying in communication with everyone.  As the group leader for this consulting project, I made sure to ask for everyone’s current work situation and their undergraduate and MBA degree specializations.  My hope is those pieces of information will help us down the road when dividing up responsibilities and coordinating meeting times.

Share documents in the cloud.  Immediately after forming our group, I created a group Google account and distributed the log-in information to everyone.  I’ve used Google Drive in the past, and it’s been amazingly helpful for coordinating project edits and sharing documents.  I upload important information there, and it helps us cut down on lengthy email chains that can grow to ridiculous lengths.  Dropbox is another great tool groups can use to help manage their numerous project documents.

Set up meeting schedules.  In my 10-person group, more than half the participants work full-time.  That makes meeting scheduling a challenging task.  Group leaders should find a time soon after forming the group to decide when everyone can meet, and whether it’s easier to meet in-person or online.  Services like Skype make meeting over the internet free and simple.  Our group is planning on meeting for 30-45 minutes before each weekly class session, in order to touch base and find out how each member is doing with their assigned responsibilities.

Remember you ABC’s.  In this case, ABC stands for “Always Be Communicating.”  I made sure to start calling our client immediately after forming the group, and I contacted our assigned coach as well to begin brainstorming with him.  Communicating early and often helps with scheduling that initial meeting, and my talks with our coach help me think through the next steps I need to take as project leader.

Check out other groups’ projects.  Mihaylo’s Center for Entrepreneurship allows consulting students to visit its office and look through previous projects.  I visited the office this past Monday, and was able to get a better feel for exactly what will be expected for our final presentation.  I recommended our group members visit the Center and check out the samples as well.  Hopefully that will help get everyone on the same page when we meet to discuss the project in the future, and each member will better understand what’s expected of him or her for our final product.

I know these tips will be immensely helpful in my other course this semester, and our group has already started implementing these strategies for that project.  I know I will continue to refine these tips as our groups progress with the projects, and I will share additional insights and developments as the semester marches on.

Have you participated in a similar MBA client project?  What tips or strategies did you find most useful when working on your project?  Share your thoughts in the Comments section below or tweet me @orangecountymba.  I look forward to hearing from you!