In this competitive business environment, deciding on pursuing a management programme (PGDM/MBA) in order to pursue a corporate career is a wise decision – but which B-School to choose is a big question among MBA aspirants, particularly with the proliferation of B-schools. What should a student look for in a B-School? In general, while serious B-school aspirants do look at a few key factors, such as fee, hostel availability and costs, placements (% placed, highest and average salaries), faculty profile, infrastructure etc., many aspirants fail to look at a few equally major factors. I will dwell mostly on these factors, which slip below the radar screen of most B-school aspirants, but which are supremely important in the B-school selection process. I am listing them below.
- Placements – Highest Vs Average Salary: While B-school aspirants do look at placement salaries, most of them do not look at the relationship between the two numbers. In general, a large gap between the two numbers suggests that either there are not many jobs close to the highest salary, or, there are many jobs at salaries well below the average salary. Both are red signals. My advice is, look at B-schools where the gap between the two numbers is not very high-the average salary should ideally be at least 60-65% of the highest salary. For example, if the highest placement salary of a B-school is Rs. 10 Lakh, its average placement salary should be at least Rs. 6.5 Lakh, or preferably higher.
- Fee Structure and Return on Investment (ROI): You should check out the fees and other charges of the B-school that you are looking at very carefully, particularly if you plan to finance your management studies through an education loan. More specifically, you should check out the B-school’s payback period, which is defined as the period in months that it takes to recover the B-school’s fees, excluding hostel rent, based on the average placement salary for that school. For example, if you are looking at two B-schools, one of which charges 10 Lakh and has an average placement salary of Rs. 7 Lakh, while the other charges 8 Lakh and has an average placement salary of 6 Lakh, the latter B-school has the higher payback period/ ROI, though the former has a slightly higher average salary. While it is good to be optimistic, and aspire for a placement with higher than average salary, it is advisable to be prudent in financial matters, and check whether you will be able to comfortably repay the loan along with accumulated interest, after providing for all your living expenses, if your first placement salary is 10-15% less than the average placement salary of the school.
- Approval by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE): Approval by the AICTE guarantees a certain minimum level of faculty-student ratio and infrastructure. While all PGDM programmes have to be necessarily approved by the AICTE, not all MBA programmes that are affiliated to a university are approved by the AICTE. MBA programmes that are offered directly by universities also do not necessarily have to be approved by the AICTE. It is left to the university’s discretion whether it would like its MBA programme to be approved by the AICTE. As securing AICTE approval requires significant investment by the B-school on infrastructure and faculty, my advice to MBA aspirants is that they should apply only to AICTE approved MBA/PGDM programmes. If at all you wish to apply to a university, my advice is, apply only to those universities whose MBA programmes are AICTE approved.
- Number of seats/enrolments: In general, the more the number of students, the greater the challenge for the B-school concerned to secure good placements for all the graduating students. My advice is, avoid any B-school whose intake exceeds anything over 360 students, that is, six batches of students in AICTE jargon, unless it is among the top 25-30 B-schools in the country. This intake, by the way, includes admissions across all specialisations, such as MBA (Finance), MBA (Operations & SCM), MBA (Retail) etc. This is because, while most B-schools can secure good placements for the top 25-30% of their students, ensuring quality placements in terms of good company profile and attractive salary level will become increasingly difficult, the more the number of students. This point also ties up with the point that I made above about AICTE approval. There are very few institutions that offer AICTE approved MBA/PGDM programmes with an intake of over 500, because AICTE is very strict in according approval to more than six batches, that is, 360 students.
- Date of commencement of Programme: Most reputed B-schools, including the IIMs and XLRI, commence their PGDM/MBA programme in the 2nd or 3rd week of June, and finish the programme by end-February or early March of the second year. This enables the students to join their employers by end-March or early April, which is the hiring calendar of most regular campus recruiters. You should accordingly look at only those B-schools whose PGDM/MBA programme commences in June, or, at the latest, by the 1st week of July, and concludes by the 3rd or 4th week of March, or even earlier.
- Location: Location is of paramount importance for all professional programmes that offer placements. In general, industry interface is best in metro cities that are industrial and business hubs, followed by quasi metros and large state capitals, in that order. In genera,l MBA aspirants should avoid B-schools located in medium-sized or small cities, as placement prospects and the scope for corporate interfacing in such cities may be limited.
- Programmes Offered: Most of the time, niche specialisations such as MBA (Retail) or PGDM (Insurance) offered by B-Schools become irrelevant when the students finish their programme. Core specialisations like Marketing, Finance & HR, which enjoy traction across all sectors, are everlasting and career growth prospects in these domains are always attractive. Also, new specialisations offered by B-Schools should be in line with the demand from sunrise industries or in areas of growing demand – for example, Business Analytics is an area where there is considerable and unmet demand for skilled resources.
- Faculty: Ultimately, the strengths and experience of the faculty in a B-School will determine the quality of academic delivery. Faculty with a mix of experience in industry and academia, with qualifications from reputed colleges/institutions and a proven track record in research are the core qualities to look for. While most quality B-schools have a large proportion of faculty with PhDs, what you should look for specifically are (a) whether the proportion of full-time faculty with PhD exceeds 85-90% of all full-time faculty, (b) how many faculty are graduates or PhDs from top institutions such as the IIMs, IITs, IISc etc., or from leading overseas universities in the USA, UK, Singapore etc. and (c) the ratio of full-time faculty to sanctioned student intake across both years and programmes-this should ideally be 1:15 or less.
Finally, how does one ascertain the quality of a B-school? One should not depend on any single source, but should cross-check with multiple sources before taking a final call. These sources, not necessarily in order of priority, are: the B-school’s website and prospectus; the B-school’s faculty, admissions staff, alumni and present students; heads and owners of CAT/MAT coaching institutions; faculty of other B-schools located in the same city or state as the B-school that you are examining; rankings across different publications (please don’t restrict your search to only one publication); and last, but certainly not least, business executives, particularly those from HR.
I wish you good luck in your B-school selection process.