This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
While much of my MBA consulting work is with clients who aspire to attend one of the top business schools, focusing solely on the top ten programs is not the best choice for every aspiring MBA student.
If investment banking or management consulting is your dream career path, then stick with the sterling b-school brands. If you’re looking to switch careers, a top-tier program will get you there faster. If you’re a young applicant with only a few years of work experience, then the nationally or internationally respected name brand will help open those crucial first doors.
However, if you’re in your 30s and have a solid work history of increasing leadership positions, future employers in every industry outside of banking and consulting will judge you more on your professional experience than on whether your MBA is from a top 30 or top 10 school.
Research from the American Journal of Business Education shows that a significant percentage of regional MBAs have different MBA-related goals. These applicants are often older, have more work experience and are more interested in what they can learn to improve themselves with their current employer rather than trying to reposition or advance themselves in the market.
The motivation for choosing a particular region may be personal, such as wanting to stay near family, or professional, if your preferred industry is heavily represented in the area. That means if you want to work in entertainment, focus on the top schools in Southern California. If you want to work in a high-tech field, look at your options in the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Austin.
For nonprofit or government jobs, your best bet is the District of Columbia. If the energy sector is your calling, there are several good options in Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina. In other words, don’t seek out a regional school in the Northeast if your ultimate goal is to end up in Los Angeles.
Keep in mind that a school that places 40 in a national or international ranking may be perceived as a top five school by the local business community. Therefore, if you want to work in a particular geographic region, it makes sense to choose the best school in that region. Local companies can have strong connections with their nearby universities and recruit locally, making it easier to network and conduct a job hunt when you’re already right where you want to end up.
Another plus is that regional business schools are often less expensive than their showier counterparts. Tuition and fees for 2014-2015 at Tulane University Freeman school’s full-time MBA program in New Orleans runs about $53,000. In Texas, the Rice University Jones MBA tuition tops $50,000 a year.
Harvard Business School, meanwhile, charges nearly $59,000 for the full-time MBA Class of 2016, and Stanford Graduate School of Business estimates full-time tuition at a whopping $61,875 per year.
Regional schools might also offer more scholarship incentives, which would make your return on investment come much faster. Or, if you plan to continue working while you study in an evening MBA program, your employer might be willing to foot the bill due to tax advantages.
Whether your decision to pursue an MBA at a regional school is based primarily on financial, academic or geographic reasons, make sure you also look closely at fit. Visit the school, sit in on a class and talk to current students and alums.
If you don’t feel a genuine connection with the people in the program, the professors or the classes, it’s going to be much harder to have a positive b-school experience. Choose wisely and you may find that your regional MBA program goes toe-to-toe with the best of the big league players.