Alumnus insight: 8 tips for choosing the right business school for you

Alumnus insight: 8 tips for choosing the right business school for you

Hearing from alumni is important when deciding if a business school and Executive MBA programme is right for you. We’ve had to cancel some face-to-face information sessions recently, meaning we can’t connect you with members of our alumni community face-to-face.

However, you can speak to our alumni ambassadors using our ‘chat to us’ feature. Members of our community are happy to take your questions about what studying at Cambridge is like, and to tell you about their experiences.

Chat to our alumni ambassadors >

David Wilson, alumnus from the 2020 Executive MBA cohort, had planned to join our alumni panel at an upcoming information session in London. He has written three blogs about his experience on the programme, covering the criteria he used for choosing a programme and business school, and his tips for striking a good work-study-life balance.

Last week, we shared David’s first blog, asking prospective students to consider why they want to study for an Executive MBA. Today, we’re delighted to present David’s second blog.


There is no such thing as the “best” business school. However, it is possible to find the business school that is right for you!

With over 50 business schools offering Executive MBA programs in Europe alone, here are 10 factors to consider when you are choosing a business school.

1. Culture of the school

The cultures of different business schools vary hugely. For example, business schools can foster a collaborative culture or a competitive culture amongst their students.

If the Executive MBA program includes many group assignments, that tends to indicate a more collaborative culture. By contrast, if students’ grades are partly determined by their individual contributions in the classroom that tends to create a more competitive and individualistic culture.

I recommend that you learn more about the school’s culture by speaking with current students and alumni. You can then consider whether it is a culture where you will thrive.

2. Diversity

An important part of the learning experience will be your interactions and conversations with your classmates. A diverse group of classmates will help you to learn about different cultures and industries, as well as exposing you to new ideas.

Although there are many aspects to diversity, business schools typically provide information on the gender, nationality and professional background of their Executive MBA cohorts.

I found that the mix of nationalities on my Executive MBA program at Cambridge Judge Business School was invaluable for gaining insights into other national cultures and the challenges of doing business internationally.

See the Cambridge Executive MBA class overview >

3. Curriculum

Most Executive MBA programs will include core subjects such as marketing, accounting, corporate finance and strategy.

A differentiating factor between Executive MBA programs can be the courses offered outside of these core subjects. This may include ‘electives’ where you can choose from a menu of different courses. One of the highlights of my Executive MBA program was an elective on Design Thinking that expanded my creative capabilities.

4. Location

Studying for an Executive MBA is time-consuming and can be expensive. If you are planning to travel a long distance to your business school, you will need to consider whether the additional time, expense and possibly jet-lag is a justifiable for you. The extra travel could be worthwhile if it enables you to attend a school that is a better fit with your needs or if you are seeking to relocate to the city or country where the business school is based.

5. Delivery approach

Unless the Executive MBA program is 100% online, you will be spending time in the classrooms of the business school!

The number of days that you are expected to be in the classroom varies between different business schools.

Importantly, the ‘blocks’ of time when you will be in the classroom also vary. For example, at Cambridge Judge Business School the teaching takes place on Fridays and Saturdays, whereas some schools teach in week-long blocks.

The delivery approach will determine the number of days that you will spend away from your workplace and you will need to consider how this will affect your ability to meet both your professional and personal commitments.

Find out more about the structure of the Cambridge Executive MBA >

A Cambridge Executive MBA lecture in Lecture Theatre 3, Cambridge Judge Business School

6. Open days plus access to faculty and students

Many schools have open days that include opportunities to meet with faculty and current students. If the school does not have an open day or you are unable to attend, I suggest checking whether the school has any useful content online or webinars. You can also ask whether the school’s admissions team is willing to connect you with current students.

Open days are also a good opportunity to find out more from the business school’s admissions team on whether you meet the eligibility criteria for the Executive MBA program.

At the time of publishing this article (March 2020), many schools have cancelled their open days due to coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. However, there are still opportunities to participate in online information sessions. Some schools will also connect you with current students and alumni so that you can chat online about their experiences and ask them questions.

7. Financial considerations

Fees, costs of travel and accommodation, and the availability of scholarships or bursaries from the business school all affect the final cost of an Executive MBA programme. Some employers are willing to pay for all or a portion of the costs of an Executive MBA but there is a general trend towards students being self-funded. You will need to work out what you can afford after taking into account your available sources of funding. Remember to look at bursaries and scholarships, and loan providers.

Bursaries and scholarships available to Cambridge Executive MBA applicants >

8. Relationship with a wider university

Many business schools are part of a wider university. You may want to explore whether the business school has close relationships with other departments within the university. This is especially relevant if you are seeking to build connections with students from other disciplines.

By considering these 10 factors, you will be in better position to find a business school and Executive MBA program that is right for you.

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