MBA—are they magic letters? GMAC seemed to answer yes with their survey a few years back, finding MBA graduates receiving a 90 percent median jump in salary upon graduation. Graduates in the Middle East/North Africa region were seeing an even higher median increase of 156 percent post-MBA. (The blog Poets & Quants has a nice summary of this survey’s results.)

Impressive, but there’s no guarantee, and there’s certainly a cost. The average for a two-year MBA program is around $60,000. Big names such as Harvard and Stanford may charge over $200,000. And it all starts with application and testing fees totaling several hundred dollars. If you choose a program that’s not a good match with your abilities and plans, the only magic may be how fast your money disappears.

So how do you find good matches?

Don’t Limit Yourself

Business school rankings are released annually by U.S. News and World Report, the Financial Times, the Economist, and a number of other publishers. They’re worth looking at as one source of data, and to be aware of the year’s “hot” names. However, for a number of reasons you won’t want to take them too seriously.

  • Rankings are created mainly to sell publications and are not an exact, official, or scientific measure. You’ll see results change every year far more than the schools do, and different rankings will show you different results.
  • Rankings look at a limited selection of business schools. For example the latest U.S. News and World Report ranking surveyed 475 MBA programs. Only 131 of those supplied enough data to be included in the survey results. There are estimated to be over 2,500 MBA programs worldwide.
  • Rankings typically weigh average student test scores and other measures of institutions’ selectivity heavily.The publicity from good standings in a ranking further increases admission difficulty by increasing applications. Generally the programs placing high on the rankings have many more well-qualified applicants than they can accept. You don’t want these programs to be the only ones you apply to.

Consider What You Want

So, start at the beginning to create your own list. First question perhaps would be whether the MBA is the primary or only type of degree you want to consider. MBA study is intended to provide theoretical and practical understanding of a wide range of business functions and concerns. A core of courses in a broad range of business-related fields is provided, typically introducing such areas as accounting, finance, marketing, human resources, operations, microeconomics, statistics, ethics, and leadership. Students then choose what may be a relatively small number of electives to complete program coursework.

While this MBA arrangement may be ideal for students who studied a field other than business at the undergraduate level (a background preferred by many US MBA programs), it may feel limiting for those who already have good grounding and want to specialize. Another type of master’s (MA, MS, MIM, MSM, MEMM…) in the business field of interest may prove a better choice for such students. This blog post from Access MBA discusses differences between degrees further.

That said, never assume. There’s wide variation among MBA programs in the balance between core courses and electives, as well as in what types of electives are available. MBA programs are increasingly offering in-depth specializations, some quite unusual. You’ll want to explore. Also look at teaching methods, types of student projects, and opportunities for internships or other practical experience.

Quality of course is essential. There are many professional accrediting and regulatory bodies that work to assure business school quality; three of the best-known are the AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS. Look at facilities and at faculty backgrounds (the latter  not only to gauge quality but to see if there is a match with your particular interests). Business schools should also be able to supply you with background on their graduates, covering points such as how quickly they find employment after graduation.

In what country (or countries!) do you want to study? Consider where you want to work, places to build networks, opportunities to expand your intercultural knowledge and skills. In addition to school location get information on how international and how varied their enrollments are.

Some typical differences exist between programs in different locations. MBA programs in the United States most commonly last two years while those in Europe most commonly last one. The shorter length saves on tuition though the more concentrated schedule it requires may limit opportunities for internships and other out-of-classroom experiences .

Consider What Programs Want

Entrance requirements also differ by region as well as by school. An example is work experience, a common requirement. Students at MBA programs in the US average 4 or 5 years of full-time work experience; in Europe and Australia it’s more like 6 or 7, and in Asia averages are even higher. Worldwide the great majority of MBA programs require at least 3 years of experience for applicants, though there are a few that specialize in more recent graduates and others that will consider exceptional cases.

MBA programs weigh a number of other factors in making admissions decisions, including undergraduate grade point average, recommendation letters, personal statement/essay, interview, and GMAT test score. You’ll want to see how you match up against the typical student in a particular program before deciding where it’s realistic to apply. (You can find out your likely GMAT score level, then improve it, by enrolling in our test preparation classes.)

Consider Matches Face-to-Face

While comparing university statistics and program features is essential, a chance to speak with MBA program staff is also valuable. One such opportunity, allowing one-to-one discussions with admissions directors, is coming on April 18, when the Access MBA Tour arrives in Cairo. The following day, April 19, the Access Masters Tour will take place, with admissions officers ready to speak about both business master’s degrees and opportunities in other fields, from STEM to the social sciences.

Access registrants are matched to best-fit universities before they arrive, and then spend 20 minutes with representatives from each of those institutions. These meetings are not high-pressure admissions interview situations but a chance to get advice on qualifications as well as learning what schools can offer. Participating can provide background to leave you better informed about the process and your own preferences even if you don’t apply to those particular schools.

Some registrants may not qualify for the one-on-one meetings because of age, lack of work experience, English level, or other reasons. They can still benefit from other elements of the Access events such as the school fairs at the events’ openings. During the MBA event, there will also be a panel on business school study involving the American University of Cairo and ESLSCA Business School as well as a GMAT/GRE workshop. During the master’s event, there will be a TOEFL/IELTS workshop and a presentation, “How to Impress Graduate Schools Before You Even Apply.”

Participating Institutions

So far, the following institutions have definitely confirmed for the events in Cairo:

More schools may join prior to the events.


Registration for these events is recommended at least 10 days in advance to ensure enough time for the one-on-one matching. Free registration is open online now both for the MBA and the master’s events.

Want More MBA Help?

While Access may get you off to a great start, there’s only so much you can learn in a day or two. We at Newton Education Services offer you ongoing support, such as test preparation for IELTS and GMAT and advising services that help you research your options and put together a great application. We look forward to working with you in New Cairo or Sheikh Zayed. Or ask a question here online….