Should I attend a lesser-known program where I have been offered a full scholarship, or a Top 100 school where I have to pay in full?

I got a stupid question, I am sure it is, but I would still really appreciate your help.

I am European and have to make a decision this week whether to do my MBA at a rather unknown, small University in California (accredited though) with a full scholarship or at a (lower) TOP100 Financial Times MBA Ranking school that I have to pay almost full. Both programs take the same time. What would you recommend me to do?

The Harvard MBA says:

As usual, the answer depends on your circumstances.  Here are the variables in play:

1) What is the relative value of the two different MBAs for your career?

For example, if you are a business owner, the delta in value is relatively small.  On the other hand, if you’re looking to get a job at a major management consulting firm, the delta in value is high, since these firms hire disproportionately from the top schools.

One way to gauge this delta is to find alumni from both schools in your chosen field, and ask them about their thoughts.  Not only will their opinions help you make a decision, simply comparing their relative achievements may provide an answer.

Geography is also important; if the lesser-known school is a big player in the area you want to live, it may be a better choice, even if the more prestigious school would provide a better platform in other geographical areas.

2) How much hardship will paying for the more expensive MBA entail?

Your financial circumstances also need to be taken into account.  In many cases, a more prestigious MBA can provide a delta of $30,000 per year or more over a lesser-known school; at that rate, you’ll make up the cost difference in a matter of years.  Don’t forget that you have to consider pre-tax dollars, unless you are able to deduct the cost of your MBA from your taxes.

On the other hand, if you already have hefty student debts from college, or don’t have enough of a cash cushion to easily afford the investment, you might want to do a little scenario planning.  Let’s say the global economy doesn’t recover by the time you graduate, and you have trouble finding a job…would adding the additional debt represent too great a risk?

3) Which school do you think you’ll enjoy more?

One final thing to bear in mind is whether or not you like the students and faculty at the school.  You’re going to spend two years of your life there; that’s a long time to spend with people you dislike.  Make sure you either spend some time there, or talk with alumni of the schools, to get the story on student life.

For example, while both schools are certainly prestigious, it is generally acknowledged that it’s a lot more fun to attend HBS than MIT’s Sloan School!

Good luck with your decision.

One Comment

  1. sohotosoho
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    There’s also the issue of which, if either, will have more cachet back in Yurp, where many firms could care less about the “top 100” but one name may be more recognizable to them.

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