This is in the category of, maybe you already know it, but maybe you’ve gone through life wondering what this stuff means and how everyone else knows it but you.
None of this really matters that much in the process of applying for an MBA. You can go through the entire cycle and get accepted somewhere great without knowing any of this. However, if you’re starting to look around at schools outside the Top 20, or you’re wondering about some of those ads that seem to be following you everywhere on the internet, hyping schools you’ve never heard of, then it could be useful to understand the market of MBA providers. At least from a high level.
There are essentially three types of colleges in the United States:
- Private colleges and universities
- Public universities
- For-profit schools
What’s the difference between a “college” and a “university”?
These terms are used interchangeably by some, and their meanings may change based on the context. Very loosely, a “university” is going to be much bigger, often, in fact, having “colleges” (or “schools”) within it. Yale University houses the Yale School of Management.
Whether this is accurate or not, we don’t really use the word “college” to refer to a bschool. Bschools are located at universities (except INSEAD which is independent of any other institution).
Colloquially, we would say that a high school student applies to “college” and use that term to mean a school that grants 4-year bachelor’s degrees. Universities do, too, and also have graduate and doctoral programs.
A “graduate” degree typically means a two-year post-baccalaureate degree.
A graduate degree is “terminal” if it does not typically lead to further education in a doctoral program.
A doctoral program spits out doctors — and psychologists, scientists, and many other types of scholars. In most cases (maybe all?) a dissertation is required to earn the PhD. A dissertation involves conducting research into a new area, to contribute to the body of knowledge. There are other doctoral programs that result in different flavors of “doctor” including EdD, PsyD, and some others. Anyone who has completed the coursework, done the research, written the dissertation, and then defended it (by presenting it to a panel of academics in that discipline) can be referred to as “Dr.” It doesn’t have to only be the PhD that earns that honorific.
Law school is typically a three-year program which is more like the MBA, as a graduate degree, and less like a doctorate.
If you wanted to pursue a PhD in a business field, then in most cases, you’d be signing up to doing research on some part of the business world, and teaching. It’s rare that someone pursues a PhD at a business school who intends to be a practitioner in the business world. You don’t need an MBA first in order to go for a PhD in business.
Back to the three types of colleges.
Private colleges and universities, public universities (are there any public colleges? not thinking of any), and for-profit schools.
There’s also community colleges, sometimes called JCs or junior colleges, which are publicly funded — and in some parts of the country offer really high-quality learning, at a very affordable price. The best you can do is earn a two-year associate’s degree at a JC, though you can transfer into a four-year university from many of them, which turns into a much more affordable path to the bachelor’s in the end.
“EssaySnark. Why are you telling us all this today?”
Here’s the reason:
A for-profit school in the U.S. is unlikely to be offering you the highest quality education, nor will it provide the best connections to post-grad employers.
For-profit schools can be confusing, since they look just like other colleges. However, this category of school is where places known as “diploma mills” are found: Schools that will take your money for tuition and have exceedingly easy requirements to meet in order to get the degree. They may even say they’re accredited, and they could be, but the accreditation board that has certified them is not one of the major ones that holds a school to high standards.
For-profit schools do A LOT of online advertising. There are a few of them that have worked to improve what they offer in more recent years, but they still can be iffy, and generally speaking, they’re not well respected. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a school that is in business to earn a profit; it’s not the business model that is automatically the problem. However there have been scams perpetrated by the for-profits as an industry, and they should be considered carefully if at all (it completely depends on your goals for achievement and life circumstances).
The tradition of education being a part of the public good means that the state-owned universities, like University of California and University of Michigan and University of Virginia, to name a few, are the places where somewhat more affordable good-quality education can be found.
Private non-profit universities aren’t all prohibitively expensive. However, the schools considered “the best” in this country are almost exclusively private non-profit. This includes Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern. All the Ivy League schools.
A school might be a “University of [place name]” and not be a public school. University of Chicago is private. University of Pennsylvania, same thing.
Not all state schools are created equal, not even within the same system. University of Texas at Austin is considered a very good school and it’s quite competitive to get in as a freshman (and UT Austin McCombs is reasonably competitive for admission as an MBA). There’s also a UT campus in Dallas, San Antonio, the Permian Basin — these aren’t at the same level of high demand, even though they’re all in the same UT state system. On the MBA side, there’s a graduate business school at a variety of University of California campuses, including of course Berkeley and UCLA, but also one at Davis, Irvine, Riverside. Only Berkeley-Haas and UCLA Anderson of the UC schools are popular enough to be significantly competitive in their admissions processes for MBA students.
Don’t worry, none of this is on the test. You can keep focusing your efforts on the Top 20 MBA programs as defined by US News or Bloomberg BusinessWeek or the Financial Times or wherever you get your rankings from. Mostly this was meant to explain some of these terms from academia — terms that you quite likely had been using already, and possibly weren’t 100% clear on their meaning.
You certainly aren’t going to be asked questions by your MBA interviewer about why you want to go to a private university for your MBA instead of a state school, or vice versa. However, if you’re searching around for an online-only MBA or an MBA with a lower price tag, then buyer beware if you get pulled in by the marketing of a for-profit school.
And a disclaimer: We probably got something wrong here, or have been imprecise in our categorizations. If we got something wrong or the way we described it sounds off, then as always, we’re open to corrections! You can help us out by leaving a note in the comments. Educate us on the education available!