What is on my roadmap for a Top 20 MBA program? And how do people pay?
November 27, 2012 11:42 AM   Subscribe

What is on my roadmap for a Top 20 MBA program? And how do people pay?

The Question
Assuming for a moment that a Top 20 MBA is indeed a pre-req to the work I want to do:
1. What do I need to do to get a great GMAT score?
2. With great specificity, how do people pay for an expensive MBA?

Back Story
As I look around my workplace, I find that the people doing what I would like to do in 5-10 years all have MBAs from places like Harvard and Stanford. They do much more of the parts of my job that I love and much less of the things I don't love. I had a talk with one of these people and he felt that (1) an MBA is a pre-req for the work I'm interested in, (2) given my past experience the only thing between me and a Top 20 acceptance is a GMAT score, and (3) if a person is eligible for a Top 20 MBA, they have to jump at it.

Potentially helpful details
I am willing to pay to improve my chances.
I often test weaker in math than verbal.
I think I would like to apply for Fall 2014.
I have worked full-time for 5 years since undergrad.
I have a B.S. from a good school, a good GPA, and a good experience with Americorps
posted by jander03 to Work & Money (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak specifically to a Top 20 program, although that is what I thought I wanted when I started studying for my GMAT. I also test better in verbal and hadn't really done math since high school (I was a liberal arts major in college). I can't speak highly enough of my Kaplan class. The GMATs are weird and are different from other standardized tests and learning the tricks of how to approach the questions was great. I also did the one where I was able to have my final practice test at the actual testing center where I took my GMAT which helped relieve the stress so much. I also think the Kaplan tests are much harder than the actual GMAT which made the GMAT seem much easier. I got a score high enough to put me in consideration for a Top 20.

I also liked the tricks at Beat the GMAT.

In the end, I chose a local program where I didn't pay a cent, but I'm also now unemployed 6 months after graduation. YMMV. Good luck!
posted by hrj at 11:55 AM on November 27, 2012

Practice! & Assistantship from shcool
posted by daveg02 at 11:56 AM on November 27, 2012

If students aren't employer-sponsored, they usually take student loans. Which for a top 20 school, means massive loan debt.

Unless you have a top-20 school with a part-time program near you, I don't advise going the top-20 route. While your co-worker is probably correct that an MBA will be a requirement for further advancement, you don't want to give up your current employment to attend school full-time with no promise of future employment. Of course if your employer is willing to sponsor and guarantee a position when you graduate, that's a different story.

The more important thing is to gain the base knowledge and critical thinking skills you will learn in a good MBA program. Arguably, it may be better to go to a lower ranked (but still well regarded) school part-time near you, where you can demonstrate your learning at work in real-time. This will show your superiors first-hand that you are capable of the higher level stuff, even more so than an expensive diploma would.

GMAT review programs are the way to go as well. Kaplan, Princeton Review, and others are all good. You have plenty of time to take a class, then possibly follow up with individual tutoring if there's only one or two areas where you still need improvement.
posted by trivia genius at 12:09 PM on November 27, 2012

Not so sure I agree with the idea of a low ranked part time program if you work in an industry of diploma snobs (I do too, its not really meant as an insult). In my business you'd probably be better off with just an undergrad than an MBA from a second or third tier school.

Unless you get some in state tuition deal that makes a program very cheap the ROI on a non-Top 10 MBA is very low, and even for Top 10 schools its not so impressive for non-career changers. Is there really no one in your business that didn't get an MBA?

It is professional school, so everyone is paying with savings and loans. If you have to do loans you need to think long and hard about the payoff.

GMATs are quite strongly correlated with SATs. How you prepare for them is basically impossible to say without understanding your learning style.
posted by JPD at 12:23 PM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

My employer paid for my MBA, at a decidedly not Top 20 School. Typically the employer contribution is based on the Tutition Aid Program at your company.

Mine sponsored up to $6250 per year (in 1994.) That was a semester's tuition, give or take. What really helped was that I got a new job (same company, different division) before the 3rd semester started, so technically I could re-start the clock. So instead of having $20k in loans, I had $0.

I took the GMAT cold and blew out Verbal and passed Math, just okay. Weirdly enough, I did great in stats, so...YMMV. I had a solid 2.0 in a BA in English that it took me 7 years to obtain. Yeah, Arizona State. Party on!

I would think long and hard before paying out of pocket for an MBA. Mine hasn't really helped me all that much. In my cohort, everyone went to school part-time for an MBA. But EVERYONE. So now we all sit here, doing our calculations and number crunching and data analysis.

My MBA program was awesome. The instructors were folks doing the actual stuff they were teaching in high-level jobs. It was a "survey of business" at an advanced level.

If you didn't major in Business, you may want to take the pre-requisites you'll need. Accounting, Macro, Micro, Finance, etc. I had to do these simultaneously with my MBA and it was kind of a handful.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:29 PM on November 27, 2012

I went back one year after graduating undergrad - Top 10 part-time program that happened to be in town so I could go at night and still work full time. My employer paid 90% for an A, 80% for a B, so they picked up about 85% of the tab, which was really nice. Even better, I had no commitment to them when I graduated 13 long quarters later, so when they didn't ante up with a promotion and raise, I split.

I always thought people were more impressed that I was getting the MBA while working full time then they were once I was just another guy with an MBA. YMMV, especially at a Top 20 school, but think long and hard about the effect of the debt plus 2 years of lost earnings plus two years off the corporate ladder on your long term financial and career health. This ain't 1998 anymore, you can't assume a six figure job is waiting for you just because you have a Havard MBA.
posted by COD at 12:43 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regarding your "background" section, it sounds like you're basing your plans on what exactly one person has told you. I strongly recommend additional research before spending significant funds preparing for, applying to, and potentially enrolling in a program. In particular, what he says about the GMAT score being the only thing between you and admission strikes me as an optimistic oversimplification. Top MBA programs look at considerably more factors when evaluating an applicant.

That said, the first thing I'd do in your position is take a sample GMAT exam to get a sense of your baseline score. (These will be included with many study guides as well as with some online tools. Upon registering for the exam, you may also be provided with some samples in electronic format.) Then, compare your score to the range of scores of admitted students at programs that interest you. Knowing how much improvement is needed will help you gauge how much time and money to invest in further preparation. You may decide to take a review course, or you may study on your own. That's up to you.

Once admitted, you will of course need to pay for your MBA program, supplies, and living expenses for the time when you are enrolled (and potentially job-hunting after graduation). Some people get funding through their employers, some use money they have saved, and some take out loans. With loans, you will fill out paperwork to qualify for subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, personal loans, etc.. If you're going to a top program, someone in the financial aid office can help to guide you. (If you own anything of significant value (e.g. a home), you may also be able to take out a loan based on that ownership (e.g. a home equity loan). So basically, how you pay depends on your situation.)
posted by cranberry_nut at 2:04 PM on November 27, 2012

if a person is eligible for a Top 20 MBA, they have to jump at it.

If it's Harvard or Stanford, I'd say it's a no-brainer for all but a few people. But outside of that it's not at all a no-brainer. And I don't think "Top 20" is a thing.
posted by mullacc at 4:05 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To summarize answers so far:

How do I get a great GMAT score?
Take a sample GMAT before doing anything else.
Take a Kaplan course (or any other Prep course).
Follow a class with individual tutoring if necessary.
Visit BeatTheGMAT.com for tricks (and possibly a study plan).

How do I pay for an MBA?
Consider a cheaper option (I probably won't, per JPD).
Investigate "tuition reimbursement" and/or strike a deal with my employer.
Take out a loan (ugh!).
investigate scholarships (apparently they exist!).

Other thoughts
Identify examples of people in the role I am looing at who do NOT have an MBA.
Identify the academic pre-reqs: Accounting, Macro, Micro, Finance.
"Top 20" might not be a thing :)
posted by jander03 at 4:29 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seems like you've got the right answers. One thing you're missing is that the interview is super-important at the top schools (not sure about top-20, but at least the top 5 or 10). Make sure you're ready for that, because if you don't nail it the GMAT will be wasted. Remember they're looking for a certain type of person. Speak to people who interview for those schools and do practice interviews. Take their feedback seriously.

Beyond that, getting a good GMAT score should be straightforward if you've done well in college - study a lot, take as many practice tests/questions in test-like environments (timed, in a library) if you can, and wait to take it until you know you'll do well.

In terms of paying, certain companies which count on MBAs will pay for you to go to school if you first work there for a few years, and then commit to come back after your MBA (you have to pay if you don't). These are companies like McKinsey, BCG, and large corporations with management tracks.

Otherwise, take out loans. You're going there to make money, not to save the world or further human knowledge, so people won't be lining up to help you pay. But if you go to a good enough school you can pay it back quickly.
posted by iamscott at 5:54 PM on November 27, 2012

"How do I get a great GMAT score?"

I used the Manhattan GMAT books. It's mostly a matter of knowing the types of questions they'll ask. Don't sweat the score, it's used to exclude, not to include. As long as it's high enough to be in range for your target institution, it'll be fine. The essay is a joke, just write a completely typical 5 paragraph essay with no glaring errors and you'll get a 6. This is the least of your concerns.

"How do I pay for an MBA?"

I did loans. One of my friends had an employer that paid for the entire thing (even though it was a full-time program). Several of my other friends had substantial scholarships, in part found by choosing less popular coursework (like doing an MS/MBA). Booth is the only top 10 program I'm aware of that offers a part-time option. (excluding EMBAs)


As for part/full-time, when my wife and I were both planning to go to biz school we made a spreadsheet with financial projections that included several options. Our analysis showed that if we got into a top-tier school we should go (even with loans) and anything less than the best for our respective fields, we should just part-time one out at a lesser institution.

When evaluating schools, we broke it down into three major criteria:

Connections - who we'd be likely to meet

Credentials - how would our degree be viewed by others

Curriculum - what we'd actually learn

And go to a school that fits you. One of our good friends was accepted to Booth and Berkeley and he thought he'd grow more by being at Booth. In reality it just meant that he networked far less because he didn't truly mesh with his classmates.
posted by grudgebgon at 5:57 PM on November 27, 2012

I went to a Top 20 school, but not the highest ranked school which accepted me. Instead I went to the school which offered me a whopping scholarship. Cheaper and lower ranked programs often seem to offer far less in the way grants. My degree had a list price of around 90K, but I ended the two year program with very little debt. (I paid most of that off with my signing bonus for my first job, but signing bonuses are few and far between these days.)

My advice is to apply to the best schools that you think will accept you then compare financial aid packages.
posted by 26.2 at 10:22 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regarding top 20. There's not a firm line at 20, particularly since Business Week started using the term top 25 a few years ago. However, conceptually there's a group of top tier schools. Those schools have some additional benefits.

The top 10 is always has: Chicago, Harvard, Penn, Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, the rest of the top 10 schools varies a little each year, but no school is going to come back from the 30s and break the top 10. Then there's the schools that are always in the top 25: UVA, Cal Berkeley, Dartmouth, MIT, NYU, Columbia, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Texas, Cornell, MIT, Notre Dame, Carnegie Mellon.

Top tier schools are going to have a few advantages:

- More recruiters coming to campus. Top tier schools don't send you to job fairs; many big companies will come to campus and do the first round of interviews there. Then they'll fly you out to company headquarters for the second round. This gives you huge efficiency in being able to talk to more companies without wasting a few days on a recruiting trip.

- Well placed alumni who are willing to help new grads. MBA programs drill it into you to maintain the alumni network. All schools are going to have some alumni network, but top schools are going to have tons of alums at Goldman, Bain, McKinsey and any other big firm which appeals to you. A big, successful alumni network is to your advantage.

I'm not a degree snob and I don't think that Duke and Berkeley are inherently better than the school ranked 30 or 300. However, if you want to work for Bain then you should consider getting your MBA at University of London - because that's where Bain recruits. The school you select should match your career aspirations.
posted by 26.2 at 8:40 AM on November 28, 2012

I have some experience with the whole MBA route:

1) If you are already inside the career or industry you want to be in then consider a top part time program such as Chicago Booth or NYU.

2) If you are not in the career you want to do, I would only quit to go to a top ten program.

3) How do you pay for it? You have to make sure that the career you want post-grad is the type of career where you get a big boost in your salary after an MBA and you use that money to pay that back.

For me the MBA has been definitely worthwhile. However, I went to a school ranked in the top 10. Even then, nothing is easy and luck is involved but a 100% of my classmates who HUSTLE, get the position they want..a lot of people think oh I am at (insert your top 10 school here) and do not have anything to do to get the job...but that is farthest from the truth....

I have made the best of it...worked way too hard, did ok in some classes, did much better in others....but today I can say that things are going my way...lots of amazing opportunities are now available to me and I have grown a lot as a professional but even more as a person.
posted by The1andonly at 11:04 AM on November 28, 2012

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