How can you choose the master of business administration (MBA) course that's right for you? And has Covid-19 forever changed how MBAs are delivered? Laura Walshe, an independent guidance counsellor and founder of FindYourPath.ie, says MBAs are a big investment of time and money, so it's important to make the right decision.
“When I meet someone who’s considering an MBA, I ask them: ‘What are you trying to achieve and how will an MBA help you to reach that goal?’”
Michael Bulman, a graduate of DCU's MBA course, had been working for IBM's IT services division for almost 20 years but did not have a primary degree. "The MBA was a way to round out my business qualifications, but doing an MBA can be stressful so picking the right course can make a difference." He is now president of the MBA Association of Ireland.
General MBA or specialist MBA?
The general MBA is aimed at people who have at least three to five years’ business experience and want to progress in their career. “It’s a good way to develop skills and confidence and help them make the transition,” says Walshe. “It can also be a good way to bridge the gap if someone is looking to make a career change and move into the corporate world.
Specialised MBAs, meanwhile – which may hone in on an area like human resources or marketing – are more targeted at people already established in team leader or management roles, opening the door for them to take on more responsibilities at higher salaries.
“I was looking for a general business qualification, but if you’re already coming from a more specialist area like accounting or finance, the specialist MBA may be a better fit for you,” says Bulman.
Full-time or part-time?
“Full-time work makes it very difficult for many to take the year out required for a full-time MBA, so most people opt for the part-time course,” says Walshe. “Of course, there’s a benefit to doing it all in one year, but there is a cohort of students who tend to be in their late 30s or their 40s and may have children as well as work commitments. In the real world, part-time might allow the space to really engage with the process and it leaves you in a good position to translate learning to the workplace. Full-time could work, however, for someone on a career break.”
“Location mattered to me,” says Bulman. “I had to consider the logistics of how I would get to class.”
MBAs are offered in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Dundalk, Carlow and Athlone and, while some applicants may eye up one of the larger and more prestigious courses, commuting for an hour or more each way to get to a part-time course may be too exhausting to even consider.
“At the moment, MBAs have had to move online, but if I was signing up to start a two-year later this year I’d bear in mind that in-person classes will almost certainly resume in the next two years,” says Bulman.
In-person or online?
Networking and group work is a huge part of any MBA, but the pandemic has made in-person teaching – and the chance to really engage with your classmates – impossible. Has it made a difference to the learning experience and will MBAs stay online when this is all over?
“I would imagine there will be a mix of blended learning and face-to-face teaching,” says Walshe. “This might see lectures online but tutorials happening in person. Networking and the chance to meet like-minded people from different areas and roles is an important part of the course, as are debating and discussion which work better face-to-face. What I do foresee is that, with more flexibility for people working at home beyond Covid, it may make MBAs more attractive.”
The price of MBAs can be prohibitive, but the costs can also range from €3,445 for the Irish Management Institute’s five-day “management bootcamp” (previously known as the mini MBA) to almost €32,000 for Ireland’s top-ranked MBA course, held at UCD’s Smurfit School of Business.
What are you paying for? In some instances, you’re paying for the prestige and reputation of the course, the calibre and experience of its teachers, and the strength of its alumni network. The most expensive courses tend to be the ones with the most accreditation, such as UCD’s triple-accredited programme.
“People have very different circumstances when it comes to cost,” says Bulman. “In my experience, some employers will fund or part-fund courses. Other applicants may be on a career break or some will be business people or entrepreneurs who see it as investment and fund it themselves.”
“Regardless of fees or time, an MBA is only worth it if you put in the energy or time,” says Walshe. “You could be on the most prestigious course but if you don’t commit or engage, you won’t get anything from it.”
Don’t choose an MBA?
There are plenty of postgraduate business courses out there, so why bother with the time and expense of an MBA?
“People signing up to an MBA generally want senior management roles and the MBA equips them better than other masters courses,” says Bulman. “They also open up a new network to you, which can be important if you’re running your own company or in a business where your job is to drive sales and growth. Our job at the MBA Association is to keep the experience going in terms of development and networking, and we’re free to all MBAs with discount membership when they graduate.”
Case study: MBAs in a time of Covid – and beyond
UCD’s MBA at the Smurfit School of Business has consistently been ranked as Ireland’s number-one course but, like all higher-education courses, it’s had to make significant adjustments in the past year.
On the one hand, the online aspect is probably great for busy professionals but, on the other hand, they miss out on the networking aspect.
"Over the past year we have delivered our MBA programme through face-to-face learning when permitted by Government guidelines while ensuring all safety protocols; and through remote learning as required," says Sophie Carey, senior manager of MBA Programmes at UCD Smurfit School.
Beyond Covid, UCD says it will draw on the best features of face-to-face learning and the opportunities created by high-quality, technology enhanced learning (TEL) to further enhance the learning experience.
"A positive of the past year is that we've found how simple and straightforward it is to include guest, industry experts in the classroom," says Carey. "In the coming months we will have representatives speaking with our MBA's from Amazon, Citi, Google and multiple start-ups, just to name a few. Webinars, podcasts and virtual sessions [have] allowed greater access to global business leaders who otherwise may not have been available due to schedule and travel limitations.
“This new standard of industry speakers visiting us online – due to the indisputable convenience of that medium – is likely to be a part of the MBA education experience in the years ahead.”