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The U.S. MBA Program

Deciding and Applying

Most U.S. MBA programs are two years in duration, which to some people seems too long. Why spend the extra year abroad and out of the work force when one year could suffice? The answer is that the MBA was a U.S. creation, so to get the "real" MBA experience; you should go to the U.S. to study. Studying and living in the United States will give you an understanding of how business is done here, but you will also meet with classmates from all over the globe who will add to your information on the global marketplace. Also, an MBA program in the U.S. is both theoretical and practical, with hands-on application of theory. But these are not the only reasons.

There are more factors to consider when evaluating an MBA program in the U.S. For example, a formation of two years is both broad and deep. You will learn the core competencies in each functional area, including marketing, finance, strategy, organizational management, technology management, operations management, communication, and negotiation and conflict management skills. Then you have the opportunity to deepen your knowledge in any of these areas or to explore other possibilities, such as real estate, entrepreneurship, non-profit management, or health care management.

Most top U.S. MBA programs require work experience. That may vary from 2 to 5 years, depending on the school. This is an important aspect to consider when looking at the many MBA programs. You should think about the skills you have already acquired and what you need in order to get where you want to go. Do you really need to know exactly what your career path will be? Yes and no. Yes, because you need a plan and you need to know what direction in which to start. However, every year we see students who come in with one idea and then they discover a job that they didn't even know existed. This is the reason that of all the professional degrees available, the MBA is the most beneficial and has the best return on investment.

With the knowledge acquired in an MBA program, you will have the ability to be very flexible in your future career path. For example, you may start out in finance, but at some point you could be presented with an unexpected opportunity to start your own business. An entrepreneurial venture requires skills in all of the functional areas, not just finance. Or you may want to go into private equity or venture capital, in which case, your MBA education will allow you to analyze and interpret facts and data to facilitate decision making for investments.

Being in a two-year program gives you much deeper relationships with your fellow students, alumni, and professors. These relationships will last a lifetime, and when the economy is bad, as it is today, this very special network can provide you with support and job opportunities that you would not otherwise have. Also, imbedded in the traditional two-year program is a summer internship. This gives students the chance to try out a new area to see if it fits their goals and values, and if not, they don't spend all their time focusing on a full-time job that is not right for them. For other students, it is a chance to step into a non-profit position or work with a start-up company to get additional experience out of their area.

Preparing the Application

Each school is different, so read application instructions carefully. In general, you should count on one year to have the time to get everything done, especially if you are working and have little free time.

The first thing to do is to prepare for the GMAT, the entrance exam required by all accredited MBA programs. If it has been a while since you were in school, you might want to take a preparation course, but you can also take practice tests online.

Then start researching programs. Decide whether you have a geographical preference, if you want to be in a big city or a small town, if you want to be in a huge program with thousands of students, or a smaller more community-focused program. Then narrow that search down to ten programs. Don't make your selection based solely on rankings, since those don't really tell you much about the kind of community you will be in or about the specialization of the schools. Once you have a few schools on your list, look at their websites, write to get more information, and find out whether you can connect with current students or alumni from your country or industry. They are the best sources of information.

Other areas of preparation will be English language proficiency and quantitative skills. Be sure you are confident of your speaking, listening, and writing skills since you will be dealing with people from all over the world who will not have the same accent and who will speak quickly and use idiomatic speech. You will also have to become familiar with business terms in English. It can be overwhelming for the first month, but you'll be more comfortable after that. However, an MBA program is not the place to learn English! If you have never taken a class in calculus, accounting, or economics, you should enroll in one or all of these at a local university/online course. This will make your life much easier when you get to business school.

The next thing to do is to decide on whom your letters of reference will be from. Most schools will want a letter from your current supervisor at work. If that is not possible, then talk with a former supervisor, a client, or a vendor. Some schools want a letter from a university professor if they knew you well. The main thing to remember is that your recommender must be briefed on two main things: (1) the school you are applying to and what they are looking for; and (2) specific ways you have had an impact on the company and how you work with others. Schools are not that interested in strictly technical skills (other than your analytic skills) but they do look for people who are proactive, show initiative, have problem solving skills, and who have good interpersonal skills. Also be sure to let your recommender know the deadline for sending in their letter.

Some schools will also require an interview, while others do not. If you have the opportunity to interview with the school, this is your chance to shine and show them who you are in person. It can be a great idea to visit the schools you have chosen to apply to, if possible, before the application dates. Why? Because each school has a distinct "personality" and if you are going to spend two years there, you want to be sure you feel comfortable and that there are sufficient support services available to you. Also find out how much access you have to professors, what opportunities there are to be involved, and, of course, the strength of the career office—and what companies recruit there.

Think about quality of life when you make your MBA decision. It matters because an MBA education is not just for two years and not just on campus. The relationships you form in an MBA program will endure because of the quality of the life experiences that formed them. Throughout your career, you will continue to benefit from the kind of relationships that your school will foster.