Monday, April 23, 2007

Choosing an MBA Program (1)

Two weeks ago, Skeelo asked whether I'd recommend the Big Picture School's MBA and I left a brief comment in response. Choosing an MBA program starts with what one plans (or hopes) to do afterwards and where that might be.

Almost every incoming MBA candidate (here anyway) wants to be an investment banker or a management consultant. 5% might actually know what either profession involves, but hope is held out until the Christmas Dean's list dashes the hopes of two-thirds, at which point selling soap flakes looks pretty good. For the rest, the appeal is quashed by a summer spent aligning boxes on PowerPoint slides. All kidding aside, if there's any chance that you want to be an investment banker or a management consultant, you should go to either the Big Picture School or the University of Toronto since those are pretty much the only places where these employers recruit.

If you just want to become a general manager with an interesting company or get ahead in your present line of work, it really doesn't matter where you go. I don't see any advantage in going to Big Picture or U of T, where you'll get stressed out by grades and pay a (now slight) tuition premium. You learn the very same things at Laurier and McGill that you do at the other schools, but you pay less, are more likely to graduate at the top of your class, and will have a more relaxing time.

Things change if you plan to work in the U.S. when you're finished. While it's not impossible to be recruited by an American firm out of a Canadian school, it requires plenty of initiative and becomes something of a lottery. You really have to go to an American school to be certain. If you plan to work in Canada right away, and you'd just like to have Wharton on your resume, you're paying a big premium for which you won't be rewarded. To recoup your investment, you really need to work there for several years because that's where all the money is.

Part 2 - Teaching Methods.


webber said...

Interesting... could this same logic not apply to undergrad?

David said...

I suppose so, but a lot of other factors come into play for your undergrad, e.g., town, where your friends are going (or didn't go), where your parents went, etc. Also, outside of undergrad business students and engineers, most people have no clue what they want to do.

With respect to undergrad business programs, the U.S. consideration doesn't come into play. There are only a couple of undergraduate business programs in the U.S. that are any good, so U.S. recruiters come to (certain) Canadian programs in droves. Regarding banking and consulting, the same logic applies - you have to go to certain schools to get recruited.

One comment that I would add is that there's some misalignment between various schools' undergraduate business programs and MBAs. Some have exceptional MBAs, but their commerce programs lag and vice versa. For example, the Queen's School of Business is arguably Canada's best business school (I would argue that it is), but it let its MBA program wither by specializing in science and technology field. Next year they will return to a general management curriculum. If the MBA becomes even half as good as its BComm program (which, I think, is without question Canada's best and probably #2 in North America), it could challenge U of T for top spot among MBA programs in Canada.

webber said...

So they have abadnoned their Science and Tech focus? Interesting.

I always wondered if it made more sense to go to a school where the academic competition may or may not have been as tough.

David said...

I guess it depends on how confident you are that you can compete and how important the class ranking is. I know a couple of guys who went to the University of Regina for law school because they knew they'd graduate closer to the top of the class there. They landed at big law firms in Toronto, so they swear by it. Not sure three years in Regina would be much fun...

Skeelo said...

I think another important consideration when choosing an MBA program (which I have started to look into, and for what it's worth, which isn't much, I am looking to the US) is the type of student you want to be surrounded by. Too many people just want the MBA as opposed to learning anything whole they are there.

For most of the people in Canada who want to become Investment Bankers I would suggest skipping the MBA all together and getting your CFA designation, it's worth a hell of a lot more to your annual income.

David said...

I agree that the quality of student is a critical consideration. I pretty much wrote off U of T at a reception where I met the people who had already been admitted to what would have been my class. Everyone seemed to be an engineer who had either been laid off or hated their job. The sample was likely skewed since I'm not the most social of people at these things.

Re banking - you're right that the CFA would suffice to prepare anyone for the skills needed in banking. The reason for doing an MBA is to enter a fresh recruitment pool. An engineer or procurement analyst who wants to switch into banking probably can't get recruited as a direct hire. A management consultant or a lawyer, however, could do so easily.