Does It Matter Where You Get Your MBA?

Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.Holland Webb, MA
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Updated October 27, 2023
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Is attending one of the best MBA programs worth the time and expense, or will any accredited program suffice? Find what matters when selecting an MBA.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Choosing the best MBA program is important, but not for the reasons you might expect.

It’s true that your choice of an MBA program can shape your career. But rather than simply targeting the top 25 business schools, prospective MBA students should think strategically when selecting their degrees.

Prospective applicants should consider their unique needs and priorities. MBA programs have different specializations, strengths, and enrollment options, with a wide range of prices. When researching MBA programs, consider your career goals, ability to relocate, internship opportunities, and schedule flexibility. Carefully weighing these factors can help you find the best fit for your needs.

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Do Employers Care Where You Get Your MBA?

Most employers are more interested in your ability to apply your education and solve real-world problems than in the school where you earned your business degree. Of course, some companies give preference to Ivy League graduates, but most only look for graduates of quality, accredited programs.

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC)’s 2022 survey found that 86% of business school graduates were employed when they graduated, up six percentage points from 2020. The GMAC also found that full-time MBA students received an average salary bump of 50% after graduation. It did not report on differences between schools.

What you study may matter more than where you go to school. The MBA Career Services and Employer Alliance found that the retail, healthcare, and real estate sectors increased recruiting of MBA grads, while there was a downshift in recruiting within the arts, entertainment, and hospitality. The takeaway here seems to be: Choose your concentration carefully.

Can you make more money if you graduate from a prestigious program? Probably, yes. For example, Stanford MBA graduates earned a median salary of $175,000 as of 2022. MBA graduates from Southern Wesleyan University, on the other hand, earned a median salary of $50,678, per the U.S. Department of Education.

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The Impact of MBA Program Prestige on Professional Success

Attending a top MBA program can shape your career. However, finding the right program for your interests and career goals often matters more than program prestige. This section explores how prestige can influence professional success, including when entering the job market, to help individuals choose the right MBA program.

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    Admission

    Gaining admission to an elite program can yield a higher starting salary and more opportunities, but the top-ranking MBA programs also set high admission requirements. If your GPA and GMAT scores nearly match the requirements for your intended school, consider retaking classes to increase your GPA or retaking the GMAT for a better score. However, if your scores do not meet the requirements, you’re better off focusing your energy on finding a school that matches your needs.
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    Program Cost

    Elite MBA programs can easily cost $100,000 or more. Applicants must weigh this program cost against their budget and potential future earnings. While students can qualify for financial aid to pay for an MBA, taking on student debt can limit a graduate’s opportunities. Choosing an affordable program is often the savvier choice.
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    Salary

    Business school rankings often correlate with higher starting salaries. However, prospective students should weigh those higher salaries against the cost of the program and any debt they might incur. After taking into account potential salary growth throughout their careers, graduates of more affordable but less prestigious programs might get a better return on investment, especially if they intend to go into lower-paying fields, like nonprofit work.
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    Geography

    Many companies foster relationships with local business schools. For example, companies like Amazon and Microsoft often hire graduates from the University of Washington Foster School of Business. Students uninterested in relocating should prioritize business schools that are local, as those schools are likely to have professional connections in the area where they want to live.
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    Cost of Living

    In addition to tuition, MBA enrollees must factor in the cost of living and other expenses. Many elite business schools are located in expensive cities, adding to the cost of the degree. However, depending on where the student lives, attending an online MBA program can also allow students to benefit from a lower cost of living.
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    Specialization

    MBA specializations matter. Many programs offer multiple specializations, but not every concentration has the same prestige level as the program. Some programs earn a reputation for a specific specialization that outranks the business school’s reputation. If you want to go into a specific area of business, research what schools rank the most highly for that specific specialization, as that reputation can be more important than the reputation of the overall business school.
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    Networking Opportunities

    Networking can play a major role in a business graduate’s success. Some programs offer strong networking opportunities through alumni networks or faculty connections. For applicants targeting particular industries or companies, networking connections within that industry can outrank program prestige when it comes to job opportunities.
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    Internship Opportunities

    MBA students complete internships to gain practical experience and build connections in their fields, often as part of their programs. Completing a prestigious internship helps candidates launch their careers and make professional connections. Applicants should research each school’s internship opportunities, particularly when considering online MBA programs, as the school’s connections can make a big difference in what kinds of internships students can access.

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Where Should I Get My MBA From?

The “best” school to earn an MBA from depends on the student. For some applicants, a local program makes the most sense. In other cases, relocating helps students reach their career goals. For example, attending a program with strong ties to local companies might make more sense than choosing an out-of-state program. With niche careers, candidates benefit from choosing programs that are well-regarded within that niche.

Applicants must also consider their personal needs, including their schedule and ability to relocate. Leaving the workforce to move and attend a top program might make less financial sense than staying put and working while earning an online or hybrid MBA.

Applicants should also research whether an international MBA program offers benefits over a U.S. program. An international MBA can open different doors, especially for individuals interested in global business or international companies. Some international programs also offer online options for U.S. students.

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How Should I Choose My MBA Program?

The best MBA program for one learner might not serve the needs of another. Rather than simply applying to top-ranked programs, applicants must carefully consider their needs and professional goals. For example, a student who wants to work in tech should prioritize programs that offer technology management specializations. Similarly, an expensive program might not pay off for someone interested in a nonprofit career, where salary rates tend to be lower.

When looking at MBA rankings, balance your priorities against the methodology. Consider what factors the ranking prioritizes and ask yourself how they line up with your needs as a student.

For example, TheBestSchools.org ranks online MBA programs, the most affordable MBA programs, and MBA programs with no GMAT requirement. By understanding your needs and priorities, you can use these rankings to find the right fit for you.

Ask an MBA Graduate

Portrait of Esther Magna

Esther Magna

Esther Magna received her MBA and MPH degrees from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. For over 12 years, Esther has guided MBA applicants in her work as Principal with Stacy Blackman Consulting (SBC), a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. At SBC, Esther provides initial assessment for 900+ applicants annually; these applicants aspire to top MBA programs in the U.S. and around the world, including joint degree, executive, and college senior MBA programs. Esther’s schools of expertise span Harvard University, Stanford University, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, INSEAD, and more.

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Frequently Asked Questions About the Best MBA Programs

What Is The Most Prestigious MBA Program in the World?

Determining the most prestigious degree in any field requires some level of subjectivity. Data-derived online rankings can help you tease out the best from the rest, but no one can objectively state which program is the most distinguished.

Does It Matter Where You Get Your Online MBA?

Prospective students should choose online programs from accredited business schools that meet their specialization, budget, and scheduling needs.

Does Undergrad Prestige Matter for an MBA?

Your undergraduate program’s prestige can matter when applying to the top MBA programs, while other schools care more about work experience. Regardless of your undergraduate alma mater, you can find an MBA that fits your needs.

Does Undergrad Prestige Matter for an MBA?

Your undergraduate program’s prestige can matter when applying to the top MBA programs, while other schools care more about work experience. Regardless of your undergraduate alma mater, you can find an MBA that fits your needs.

Is It Worth Getting an MBA From a Lower-Tier School?

A lower-tier school might make sense if it offers a unique specialization, has a strong network in your local business community or target industry, or offers a more affordable route to the degree that you want.