The A-Z guide to negotiating the MBA process

Our guide covers all the bases when it comes to making that key decision

How should you negotiate the MBA application process? Is it worth the investment of time and money? And what do you really need to consider?

Accreditation: A key consideration for potential MBA applicants. Accreditation is a guarantee that an external body has assessed the course and that it meets certain standards. The EFMD Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) pays particular attention to the level of internationalisation in business schools. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) accredits business schools that meet its quality standards, while the Association of MBA (AMBA) focuses entirely on postgraduate business courses and has some of the most stringent criteria for accreditation. In Ireland, only UCD's MBA has triple accreditation.

Business: MBAs are primarily about developing the skills needed for leadership roles in business, but it's worth bearing in mind that many MBA students come from outside traditional areas like commerce, banking or finance, with engineers, medical professionals and indeed anyone who would like to progress to a leadership role signing up.

Cost: MBAs are costly endeavours, with course fees ranging from €12,500 over two years at Dublin Business School to €27,000 over two years at UCC and almost €32,000 at UCD. The higher-ranked MBA courses in Ireland may be able to justify the cost but that's not to say that less expensive options are low-quality. They are often simply newer and less established – but there may be a trade-off between price and the perceived status of the MBA.


Develop: Before taking on an MBA, it's worth asking yourself what they can give you that other business masters can't. If you're specifically looking to develop into leadership roles, such as MD or CEO it may be the right fit for you – if that's not necessarily your goal, think twice.

Executive MBA: Aimed at working professionals, an executive MBA is generally part-time over two years, as opposed to a full-time, one-year MBA.

Family: MBAs are one of the most time-consuming postgraduate courses you can take on, with evening and weekend classes and study involved, so anyone with a partner and/or younger children should make sure the whole family understands the decision and is on board.

GMAT: The Graduate Management Admission Test is a standard test taken by all applicants to MBA programmes. It includes an assessment of your problems-solving, analytical, logical and critical reasoning skills.

How: Perhaps the key question in this guide: how, when you consider cost, location and the impact on your current job and family, can you fit the MBA into your life?

Interview: Interviews are a standard part of an MBA application. But it's not just about the business school interviewing you; you also want to make sure that they're the right fit for you.

Justify: MBAs are a big commitment and they require a certain mindset from people with defined career goals. Don't sign up to it lightly.

Knowledge: Different courses will have a slightly different emphasis, so be sure to check the websites of each course and get a good overview of what you can expect to be learning.

Location: Another key consideration for MBA applicants. Before the pandemic, most courses required attendance and, while things have moved online for now, in-person classes are likely to resume post-Covid. So while you might be particularly keen to sign up to, say, a particular MBA in Dublin, it may not be worth it if you've to commute three times a week for two or three hours each way. Sometimes, local is best.

MBA Association of Ireland: An organisation connecting over 2,000 MBA graduates from around Ireland, with continuous professional development and networking events held throughout the year. Membership is free to current MBA students while graduates pay a fee.

Networking: A dirty word, yes, but networking is all about making sure that the people who can give you professional opportunities see what you can do. MBAs, by their nature, include students from a range of backgrounds and so can provide opportunities for job or career changes, as well as helping to make contacts that could help drive future growth in your business. The networking aspect of MBAs has taken a hit but it remains a key part of the whole experience and most courses will want to see students mingle in person again.

Organise: MBAs are not just about the skills you learn: they'll also help you to become a more organised, focused and disciplined person.

Psychology: MBAs attract a certain kind of person: ambitious, driven, highly goal-oriented and willing to make sacrifices. Interviews and application tests, particularly in the more prestigious courses, are trying to make sure you have what it takes.

Quality: Do your best to make sure that the MBA is of a high quality. Check who accredits it. Ask whether it is recognised abroad. Are there guest lecturers on your programmes? What have previous graduates gone on to do? Talk to the course directors and, if possible, to past students.

Rankings: Rankings are important but not necessarily the be all and and all. If you're hoping to use your MBA to travel and work abroad, this is where the ranking may count.

Scholarships: Some MBAs offer scholarships or partial scholarships to applicants who perform best in the GMAT or excel in other criteria.

Time: If you decide to go for it, and you've narrowed down the choice between a full-time or part-time course, it's a good idea to have a time management plan in place. Find out how many hours will be expected of you each week (between lectures and assignments) and find a way that works for you.

University: Traditionally the preserve of universities, more and more higher education institutions are now offering MBAs.

Variety: One of the great attractions of MBAs is that they attract a wide variety of people from different professional backgrounds. The more diverse your class is, the more you're likely to learn new things.

Work experience: Because MBAs attract working professionals, work placements are relatively rare. You're not a junior fresh out of college in need of workplace experience. But a good MBA should link its students with real companies and executives to solve problems and develop ideas.

Xenial: MBAs by their nature tend to be global in outlook, so the best – and highest ranked of them – include a diverse range of people from different countries and cultures. If you like meeting people from across the world and have an international outlook, an MBA may appeal to you. From a cold, calculating business standpoint, diverse teams bring diverse ideas and ensure that your company can reach a wider range of people.

Yonder: MBAs can be a great launchpad to the international world of business and a chance to work and live abroad.

Zoom: Like much of life in 2020 and 2021, MBAs have had to move online for the duration of this pandemic. We've all become used to Zoom. MBAs will likely return to the classroom later this year but some will remain more virtual than others, so it's worth asking yourself what suits you better and what the course provider's plan is for the next few years.