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Start your school search with an MBA pop quiz

Jun. 26, 2012 - 10:12AM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 26, 2012 - 10:12AM  |  
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Considering an MBA but worried that it's a superfluous degree in a stagnant economy? There's good news — especially for students with a military background.

Master of Business Administration programs have held up well in these uncertain economic times, adapting and evolving to address the needs of businesses and the economy, says Greg Eisenbarth, executive director of the website http://www.militarymba.net">MilitaryMBA.net.

New specializations and dual-degree programs — including health and medicine, engineering and technology, and global business — afford even greater employment opportunities, he says.

What's more, there is strong value in combining a military background with an MBA.

Veterans "have leadership skills and complementary talents that allow them to combine and multiply value in an MBA degree," Eisenbarth says.

His website's studies have shown that military MBA students overall command higher starting salaries and get better job offers than their nonmilitary counterparts.

But an MBA isn't for everyone. Before you apply, Eisenbarth recommends a careful examination of your own goals, as well as close scrutiny of potential schools.

Self-assessment was an important part of the equation when John Taplett considered going back for his MBA. The 30-year-old former Navy lieutenant, who separated last September after 5˝ years of service, gave a lot of thought to what he wanted out of an MBA.

Taplett has a bachelor's degree in humanities from Columbia University and a master's focused on strategic intelligence from the National Defense Intelligence College. He was interested in government service and originally considered a graduate degree in public policy, but he zeroed in on an MBA after concluding that a policy degree would replicate many of the skills he acquired in the military.

"I didn't think I would have a giant leap forward," he said. "I didn't want to just acquire another credential or another degree to hang on the wall."

Today, Taplett is pursuing an MBA at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. In researching schools, he looked at websites, examined curricula, visited campuses and talked to alumni. He also reached out to veterans clubs, which were instrumental in putting him in touch with other military students pursuing MBAs.

One thing that appealed to Taplett about Booth was the feeling of camaraderie he got when visiting.

It was very much an environment of "we only win if we all win — classmates seeing you not as competition but as a friend and an asset," Taplett said. "I've talked to friends at other schools, and at some places, it is cutthroat."

Test yourself

Eisenbarth says to ask yourself these important questions:

* Can you use it? Will an MBA allow you to do something you were unable to do before?

* Can you afford it? What will your estimated costs be? Remember to calculate your out-of-pocket expenses even if you are using tuition assistance, the GI Bill or some other financial aid.

* Do you want it? Make sure you really want to pursue this — and that you'll take advantage of the opportunities an MBA creates.

Test your school

Some questions to ask before choosing an MBA program:

* Reputation on MBAs. What is the overall reputation of the school, and what is the reputation of the MBA program? Find out the school's track record for graduate employment.

* Reputation on vets. Does the school have a veterans club or Student Veterans of America chapter? Does the school match tuition benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill's Yellow Ribbon program? Don't shy away from asking hard questions about how the school delivers on its promise of being military-friendly.

* The right fit. A school may have a stellar reputation, but if it doesn't offer the kind of program you need — or if you won't be happy there — it isn't the school for you.

Are you falling into the trap of going where you think you should, not where you find the best program for you? Be honest with yourself about what you want in an MBA.

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