Lifelong education is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity. It remains, however, a significant investment that must be carefully thought through. In absolute terms, executive programs can be quite expensive, and you shouldn’t neglect the immediate impact attending one will have on your personal life. Ensure you talk to those around you about your plans: not only because you’ll need their logistical and emotional support, but they’ll often prove themselves to be your best advisers, too.
Before you start browsing the web, you must consider your study goals, your post-graduation expectations, and the academic community you aspire to belong to. This reflection will help you narrow you research, avoiding unnecessary stress and waste of time.
WHAT IS YOUR STUDY GOAL?
Top executive programs offer you up-to-date business knowledge, practical skills to improve your performance at work, an expanded professional network, and an upgrade in terms of personal branding. Depending on your professional situation and age, some of these factors are more important than others. If you’re a CEO of a successful company, personal branding will likely be less relevant to you than learning about best current management practices or successful leadership techniques. If, on the other hand, you’re a young professional looking for new professional challenges, networking is crucial.
Since different programs offer various combinations of these factors, look for programs that emphasize what matters to you the most.
Finally, run a quick check on faculty background, course contents, teaching and learning methods, and assessment options. Unless you have a specific interest on a subject matter or you are planning to explore a career as a lecturer, writing a thesis, for example, won’t be as important to you as conducting a field project.
WHAT ARE YOUR POST-GRADUATION EXPECTATIONS?
There are literally hundreds of executive programs you can choose from. Faculty members are often interchanging and many teach in English. A less-known institution can be the right choice for you for a number of factors (it’s closer to home, it fully satisfies your desire to update your knowledge, it’s perhaps cheaper, etc.), but always start your search by looking at universities and business schools with a very good reputation in the market. Apart from the prestige these may add to your CV, they tend to have a wider range of programs on offer — including flexible teaching and learning modalities — and better student and career services.
Going back to the example of the CEO: Maybe you’re perfectly happy with your job. Nevertheless, gaining access to efficient career services can be useful when looking to fill a vacancy at your firm. If, instead, you’re that young professional looking for better prospects, you should probably invest in attending an institution that attracts students with potential from varied backgrounds, nurtures good corporate relations, invests in students’ market exposure and soft skills development, creates networking opportunities in and outside the classroom, and sends students abroad for work or study.
IS THIS A COMMUNITY OF STUDENTS AND ALUMNI YOU ASPIRE TO JOIN?
The best networking is always done among peers. Younger students looking to change jobs are more likely to have and exchange information about job openings or referral programs; more mature students with longer careers and money to invest tend to focus on other kinds of information. Of course you can, and will, always learn from your fellow students, regardless of age and experience. You should look to maximize your investment on all levels. Investigate the composition of executive programs’ former cohorts on the institution’s website or by scheduling an appointment with its counselors. And don’t neglect the potential of a well-organized and active alumni network.
Always bear in mind that you will be the student and there’s no such thing as a perfect executive program or business school. Your aim must be to find the right program for you. Analyzing yourself is the first step toward a successful choice.
Marta Andaluz is Director of Marketing and Admissions at The Lisbon MBA, a joint venture between two top European Schools based in Lisbon: Católica-Lisbon and Nova SBE. They offer a 1-year Full-Time MBA and an Executive MBA in collaboration with MIT Sloan School of Management.