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Student Experience

5 Ways to Spot Your Perfect MBA Program

How to save money on your MBA investment

By MBA Program Office

March 1, 2018

MBA students gather to discuss why an MBA is worth it.

When Julianna Masterton, a top marketing executive, was hoping to pursue an MBA, she got overwhelmed comparing program features and costs. Masterton wanted a school that would give her the career she imagined without leaving her buried in debt. She started by narrowing her focus to schools ranked in the top 35 by U.S. News & World Report.

Like Masterton, many people can see the amazing career benefits of an MBA. But with all the buzz around the amount of debt MBA students carry after graduation, it is no surprise that people think hard about taking the leap to return to school. The question often centers on return on investment, or ROI. What value will you get and how much debt are you willing to take on for a career-boosting MBA?

The Fundamentals of ROI

  • Ranking. A high-caliber program can lead to a prestigious job offer. But the Ivy League’s steep sticker price is just one path to a lucrative career. Other highly ranked business schools with lower tuition also deliver six-figure offers.
  • Salary. Many MBA graduates earn more than $100,000. Averages differ based on job, industry and location as well as long-term growth potential. Consider how salary will play out for your specific path.
  • Long-term impact. Look at the career trajectory of the program’s alumni. Where do they end up in 10 or 15 years? Alumni outcomes reflect ambition, but also indicate how well an MBA program provides core skills to advance to top roles.

Ballpark Your Debt, Total Gains (scholarships, paid internships, post-MBA salary) minus Total Costs (tuition, salary loss, living expenses) equals Actual cost of MBA

When you do the math, it quickly becomes clear how the cost of earning an MBA can add up to some serious debt. But there’s good news. You can find high-caliber MBA programs that don’t break the bank.

And while the numbers tell a part of the story, there are many less tangible considerations that add value and impact your future. Here’s where it really pays to do your homework.

Beyond the Numbers: 5 Program Features That Help You Find Your Best Fit

Program intangibles can add considerable value to your MBA education.

  1. Career-goal alignment. A good admissions staff member can guide you to the best program fit, by looking at things like the program’s recruiting history and company partnerships. And they can do this without solely trying to sell their own program.
  2. Specialized course paths. Some programs offer a specialization model, which provides a deep dive into an area of business. You’ll add specific skills to your résumé and gain real-world experience.
  3. Class size. Smaller MBA programs offer more individual support in and out of the classroom. When faculty know your name, you benefit directly from their knowledge and contacts.
  4. Alumni. Reach out. Are alumni engaged? Do they respond to your inquiries? Do they return to teach or coordinate consulting projects? Responsive alumni are a great resource after graduation.
  5. Location. Good recruiters travel to good programs, so don’t restrict your geography. Many great programs have far-reaching placements not limited by where you studied.

Keep Calm and Do the Research

Your best program fit may not be the most obvious choice. Narrow your career goals, look at the numbers, and consider the power of the intangible benefits. Your reward can be a jump start to a better career and quicker debt payback.

Julianna Masterton did her homework and found her perfect fit at the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.  “Wisconsin offered it all for me. I am crafting the perfect career path in brand management. The industry connections here are outstanding. I will leave with a top-ranked MBA, minimal debt, and career-ready knowledge that I would not have gotten in a general program,” says Masterton.

Wisconsin offered it all for me. I am crafting the perfect career path in brand management. The industry connections here are outstanding. I will leave with a top-ranked MBA, minimal debt, and career-ready knowledge that I would not have gotten in a general program.

—Julianna Masterton

The Wisconsin MBA rose to the top of her list once she narrowed her career objectives and considered all the ways Wisconsin delivered on value. High ranking, low tuition, six-figure average starting salaries, and strong recruiting success across the U.S. made the Wisconsin School of Business a clear — and affordable — choice to fast-track her career.

Finding your best MBA fit gets easier when you combine ROI and the intangible factors that make a program unique. Narrow your focus, do your homework, and talk to alumni to find a quality MBA that sets you up for success without the debt.

The Wisconsin Full-Time MBA is ranked No. 1 in the nation for FTMBA Return on Investment for Grads Earning $100,000+ and No. 2 for lowest tuition among the top 35 MBA programs by U.S. News & World Report. Wisconsin delivers value and reputation to help you fast-track your career in a specialization that sets you apart from day one. See where a Wisconsin MBA can take you.