Choosing a Business School

A great time to get a MBA is when you have about 8 to 10 years of work experience. That’s about the time when you have worked in 2 or 3 different companies and have had some experience in management. I waited until I had 14 years of experience. Why? Inertia (some might call is laziness, but I prefer “inertia”). When I finally got serious about getting an MBA, one of the first questions I had to answer was the choice of school. There are several factors that need consideration, and I am documenting my selection process.

My requirements –

  1. I live and work in Los Angeles, so the business school had to be in the greater Los Angeles area. I was not going to drive / fly to another city every week for classes.
  2. The MBA had to be a part-time program – I wanted to keep working while getting my MBA. A full-time MBA was not an option for me.
  3. The school had to be good school – with a good curriculum, excellent alumni network, renowned faculty. If I was going to invest 2 years of my life and $100K+, the school had to be worth my while.
  4. The school had to be well-ranked. I did not want to get an MBA just for the sake of getting an MBA. I arbitrarily decided that I would only enroll in a US-top-20 business school.
  5. Since I had ~15 years of work experience I would qualify for an Executive MBA. Most part-time (fully employed) MBAs and Executive MBAs have the same curriculum, but the Executive MBA is significantly shorter than the part-time MBA: 2 years as compared to 3 years. This is significant.
  6. I preferred a school that only had classes on weekends. You can manage classes on weekday evenings, but I wanted to avoid it – because depending on where you live/work and where the school is you might have to leave work at 4PM on school days. That would also mean no time to go to gym, or for social outings. (BEWARE: A number of schools advertise a “weekend” program, but they require you to come in on one of more Fridays every month, for the whole day. This is downright false advertisement and the schools should be ashamed for this.)
  7. Business Schools are not cheap. I arbitrarily decided that I was only going to spend ~125K on the MBA.
  8. I wanted the flexibility of being able to continue the MBA if I moved to the Bay Area.

So with these requirements in mind, I started narrowing the field.

  • Based on (1) above, I considered these business schools –
  • Based on (2), (3) and (4), I narrowed the filed to Cornell-Queen’s (CQEMBA), Ross, UCLA, USC, UCI and LMU.
  • Based on (5) and (6), I narrowed the field to CQEMBA, Ross and LMU. The Executive MBA programs at UCLA, USC and UCI require you to attend classes on Fridays. That was a deal-breaker for me. UCLA Anderson and UCI Paul Merage advertise “weekend” classes but require you to attend classes 2 Fridays every month.
  • I attended info sessions and/or applied to CQEMBA, Ross and LMU. There is a significant price difference between the 3. Based on (7) and (8), I narrowed the field down to Cornell-Queen’s.

    I created a spreadsheet that might be useful – spreadsheet

    CQEMBA is a Executive MBA offered by a partnership between the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University and Queen’s School of Business. Johnson is ranked top-10 in the US and Queen’s is ranked top-10 in Canada. The CQEMBA Program’s learning model features a combination of on-campus residential sessions and multi-point, interactive videoconferencing sessions. The videoconferencing sessions are held on weekends in selected cities across North America (Los Angeles being one of them).

    All things considered, Cornell-Queen’s Executive MBA (CQEMBA) was my choice #1, Ross (despite being $20,000 more expensive than CQEMBA) was my choice #2, and LMU was my fallback choice #3. The CQEMBA did not require me to take the GMAT and TOEFL (which I had not taken at the time). Also CQEMBA did not require me to get transcripts from my University in India (North Maharashtra University) – which would have taken weeks, and I would have probably missed the application deadline.

    I applied to CQEMBA, was accepted and enrolled in May 2013 as part of the Class of 2015. The program began in July, classes finish in October and the Commencement is in May (Memorial Day weekend).

    The program consists of classes every Saturday 6:30 AM to 3:30 PM Pacific time – 2 classes of 4 hours each, with a 1-hour lunch break in the middle. There are a few weekends off, but there’s no month-long spring break or such. There are 3 residential sessions – one each at the beginning, middle and end (June/July, Jan/Feb and October). The first 2 residential sessions are held in Queen’s University and Cornell University (one week each) and the last residential is held in some major city in the US (Washington, DC for me). During the residential sessions, the cohort is divided into 2 sections – with 1 section in residence at a time, the other section following 1 week later. The final residential has the entire cohort in residence together. Single-occupancy lodging, meals and transportation during the residential sessions are all included in the program fees. During the residential sessions, students are also given some school-branded swag (blankets, sweatshirts and the like).

    The program puts a lot of importance on your learning with your Boardroom team. So its imperative that you develop a good relationship with your Boardroom teammates. 50% of your grade for every course is based on your Boardroom team’s performance, and the other 50% is based on your individual performance. There are about 20 to 25 Boardrooms in major cities in the US and Canada. There are also boardrooms in Monterrey, Mexico and Bogota, Colombia. Each boardroom has 4 to 8 students each. In my view, 6 students is the about the ideal number: just enough people to share the workload, and not too many to make you feel crowded (we have 7 in Los Angeles). Things move very fast: at times the program will feel like a full-time program masquerading as a weekend-only executive program. At times, it will also feel like the MBA is your primary focus, with your job and family just a couple of things on the side. But with proper planning and studying regularly (15 to 20 hours every week) the workload can be managed and the MBA can be a rewarding experience. [Incomplete post .. more to be added]