Choosing the Right Green MBA Program For Career Success: 10 Key Factors to Consider

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Discover the 10 most important factors you should be using to select a green mba program and how to use them to select the right program to put you on a successful career track.

by Chris de Morsella, Green Economy Post

If you are exploring the option of a green MBA program it is important to look beyond simple ranking metrics of a school and the green MBA program(s) that it offers.  This very important life choice is one that warrants a careful and in depth examination.  Here are 10 important factors to consider when evaluating your options.  They will help you narrow your focus to the select schools and green MBA programs that are a good fit for you.

If you want more information or are not sure why a green MBA might be a good option for improving your career prospects,  read our article Thinking About a Green MBA? It delves  into the many benefits,  and some of the key trends indicating that green MBA hiring may be on the rise.

1. Clearly Understand and Define Your Own Objectives and Goals

Before investigating any programs,  begin by carefully defining what it is that you want to accomplish by completing a green MBA program.  For some of you no doubt this is a no brainer, but it is amazing how many often very intelligent people tend to gloss over taking the time to think this through.  Be sure to put these thoughts down in a clearly organized manner.  This will help you bring focus to your  search.

The Types of Questions to Ask:

What are you career objectives? Where are you on your career trajectory? Are you about to graduate or are you already a working professional looking to switch to a green career, or to further green your credentials in order to help you achieve your goals?  What is the area or areas within the green economy and sustainability that you are most interested in?  There are a great number specialty areas to consider. For example, popular specialty areas encompass a wide range including, but not limited to: green supply chain management,  energy efficiency, renewable energy development,  green design and packaging, green building, carbon accounting, carbon footprint management, environmental management, product life cycles, waste management …you get the picture.    Many of the different green MBA programs and certificate programs being offered cater to some quite specialized areas.  For example, Marylhurst University offers four sustainability specializations:

  • Energy Policy & Administration- Provides a detailed study of environmental law. It also deals with the policy and issues surrounding water availability and use, land use, waste disposal, and other concerns of sustainability-minded businesses. Students also study and research the historical, economic, business, socio-cultural, and political factors that have affected energy policy in the United States.
  • Green Development - The Marylhurst green development concentration addresses what it takes to build sustainable communities and create an environmentally friendly and socially conscious green building business presence. Students explore the environmental factors, government regulations, and laws that influence building plans and construction efforts, as well as the economic and social forces that impact urban planning and development.
  • Natural & Organic Resources - The natural and organic resources concentration covers the practices and procedures associated with organic farming and ranching, and the effect these foods have on individuals as well as communities.
  • Renewable Energy – This program examines how fuel alternatives and renewable energy sources can positively impact  business planning and marketing efforts, while providing a new perspective on energy consumption. Students learn how to build a strategy for operational management that accounts for energy use, supply chain management, production, inventory and Total Quality Management (TQM).

2. Factoring in The School’s Reputation

It is important to remember that the reputation of a traditional MBA might not necessarily lend itself to the reputation of the school’s green MBA program.  A school may have a well respected traditional MBA program, but this by itself does not mean that its green MBA program is necessarily as well known or respected.  When you are evaluating a sustainable or green MBA program research how that specific program is viewed by the business and professional communities.

Perhaps one of the schools you are looking at may provide an excellent education, but only be regionally recognized.  The wider recognition of the program you choose becomes a more important consideration if you are going to be relying on it to help you to get a new job in another part of the country or the world, where the school may be relatively unknown.

3. How Green Is a Given Green MBA Program?

Be aware that some programs that label themselves as green MBA programs only provide some basic sustainability instruction that has been tacked onto a general business program.  It is crucial that you know what you expect to get from your green MBA before you enroll and what the program actually offers beyond the title.   Try to find out in as fine detail as you can about the programs’ coursework and related real world experience programs offered.  This kind of in depth evaluation can often also help you in defining your own objectives.  (Don’t forget to check out our Directory of Green MBA Programs and Certificate Programs.  There are over 80+ programs listed.)

4. Does the Green MBA (or Certificate) Program Match Your Career Objectives and Strengths?

Make sure the program’s strengths matches what you want to focus on in school.   A few things to do that can help you make this determination are:

  • Look at the syllabus to see if it includes topics that are relevant to your career objectives.
  • What electives are offered and are they of interest to you.
  • Is the course content suited to your particular needs and abilities?
  • Does the program offer practical training and real life experiences that will help you as well?

5. Look at the Types of Programs the Schools Offer

How do you plan to complete your program? Most business schools offer a full-time, two-year program.   One variation on this is Harvard University’s MBA program. While the school does not have a sustainability specialty, they integrate sustainability  courses throughout the entire MBA curriculum.  Another unique approach are schools that are established entirely around sustainability  Two examples are Bainbridge Institute and Presidio Graduate School.

Attending full-time for two years may not fit your schedule– particularly if you have a job that you do not want to quit.  You should focus on green MBA (or certificate) programs that are offered on a part-time basis or offered as online programs that will allow you to work and study at the same time. For many people, online Green MBA programs are the best options to pursue, especially when in the middle of a busy career and busy life.  (See our directory of 18 online green MBA programs).

Some traditional programs with sustainability offerings are working to adapt their programs and provide students with additional training by offering specialized certificate programs.  These programs are also excellent tools for people who already have an MBA, who are looking for ways to green their credentials. Look at how these different formats will impact on your lifestyle.

Going for an MBA program that is offered by a top A grade business school, which has the highest ratings may seem like the right course of action, however you will not reap the benefits those institutions offer if their programs do not fit with your lifestyle. If you are unable to stay with the program or complete the course, then even the best of programs will do you little good. Ask yourself how these different formats will affect your ability to balance work and studying, affect your family life and whether you will be forced to give up working full-time.

The following are some examples of the variety of formats provided by many of the schools.

  • Argosy University. Argosy University has an extensive online program, but also has campuses in 19 U.S. cities.  Argosy maintains an online student social networking community and students are provided with a student advisor, a faculty mentor and a liaison at career services.  It provides on demand tutoring and networking through their global professional network.
  • Goddard College. Goddard College has a low-residency socially responsible business and sustainable communities program and students are offered an optional one-year, 24-credit certificate of graduate study.
  • Green Mountain College. Green Mountain College also offers an online MBA in Sustainable Business Practices that requires a brief residency designed to introduce students to faculty and to each other. Following the residency, a series of six-week online courses are taken sequentially, so students can focus on the content of each course as they proceed through the program.  They also offer a certificate option which provides a four-week exploration into the theory and real world implementation of sustainable business.
  • Marlboro College. Marlboro College MBA in Managing for Sustainability is taught in person and online, with students and faculty coming together for three days each month. Community Sessions offer students an opportunity to participate in college decisions and offer program evaluations. The learning community created during these face-to-face sessions continues online, using collaborative learning tools.
  • Walden University. Walden has an Online MBA with a concentration in sustainable futures designed to be flexible to accommodate working professionals.  While it is an online program, it features internships, practicums, field study and study abroad options. Walden also offers with small study group sessions that communicate via threaded discussions and options for in-person academic residencies, students experience collaboration online and in-Person. Online interactive forums are held regularly and archived for on-demand viewing later for those who have schedule conflicts.  Mentors, advisors and tutors work with students via phone and the Internet.

6. Student Support Within The School

There is a growing trend among MBA programs to have support mechanisms put in place for students.  The support a school provides can make a big difference in what the students get out of a programs and in some cases even determine their degree of success.  So look into this issues to determine the resources and tools each school provides. Find out if journals be accessed online or if will you be forced to trek out late at night after work to gain access to research.

If it is an online program, look into whether they provide on-demand resources or active social media platforms to facilitate online networking.  Find out whether they have internship or mentoring programs to facilitate you applying the knowledge gained to the real world.  Check for the availability of career services, tutoring, and other student assistance programs designed to get students though life changing events.

7. Look at The  Program’s Placement Stats

It is important to pay particular attention to a school’s placement stats.  But keep in mind that since so many of these programs are new, there may not be enough data to make an informed assessment.  When this is the case, pay particular attention to the companies and industry leaders that have alliances and partnering relationships with the school.  Look into their track record with placement in other specialized programs they have created.  You should also pay close attention to where alumni have landed.  In addition to using the schools to conduct this research, don’t forget about using social networks like Linkedin and JustMeans to get these answers.

Part of the evaluation process should include looking at the companies that regularly recruit from the program. For example, if your objective for completing a green MBA is to help you get on a career path in corporate sustainability, but corporate sustainability departments are not recruiting at the school, then don’t expect your post-green MBA job search to be easy.

8. Rankings Can Provide Insight into Green MBA Programs

When investigating green MBA programs, consider looking into their rankings as a means of  finding out more about a program. This will not only give you a way to assess the quality of the MBA programs you area evaluating, but also it will help you get an idea of the schools that recruiters may be paying close attention to. School ranking is also an excellent branding tool for schools.  This serves the interests of its students as well when it comes to how the hiring managers view the program. Unfortunately, green MBA programs have not yet garnered the attention on mainstream lists that their more traditional counterparts enjoy.  In the sustainability arena, it might pay to look at specialized alternative ranking lists. There are two that most people in sustainability look to:

9. How Much Will the Green MBA Program Cost You?

MBA programs cost a lot of money and green MBA programs are no exception. It is important to keep in mind that half of the return on investment (ROI) equation is the size of investment itself. Will this MBA, which is quite costly, be a justified expense, when all is said and done?  You need to makes sure that the program fees, living expenses, travel costs, and other expenses involved in the particular program do not put an immense financial burden on you. If you take out a loan make sure that you will be able to handle the interest on the loan and factor in how long it will take you to be in a position to repay it.  Most schools maintain departments with dedicated personnel to help you address these issues.  When applying to these programs it is up to you to reach out to these people.

10.  Identifying Alternative Ways to Pay for Your Education

Some other important considerations might be determining what grants may be available or are on offer to you from a given institution, or for some, whether an employer will cover or partially cover the costs of a given program. These factors may tip the scales in one direction or the other.  Along these lines, investigate what grants, scholarships and additional student aid programs are available for green MBA programs you are interested in and are evaluating.  Finding grants, fellowships or scholarships that cover even a portion of the cost of a green MBA program can significantly reduce the long term overall cost of the program when compared with purely loan based financing especially when factoring in the additional burden imposed by compounded interest rates on the loans.

Since sustainability is a relatively new MBA specialty, there are not many scholarships or fellowships designed specifically for this specialty. However, there are plenty of award programs for MBA programs in general.  One of the best ways to find relevant scholarships, fellowships and aid, is to check into the actual schools. Many of these schools have professional staff who will work with prospective students to track the best financial aid options available.  Another approach is to research the scholarships of local business and sustainability organizations.

Of course there are many other factors not mentioned here that will go into your decision making process.  Every person has unique expectations, desires, needs and motivations.  What we have presented here hopefully will help you form the basis of your own personal selection process and help you clarify what some of the important criteria are in selecting a green MBA program that is suited to your needs and circumstances.

Our hope is that we will have helped you become a stronger applicant, and also given you some good advice that prevents you from making a big mistake with an investment as large, in time, effort and money as a green graduate business education.

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© 2009, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.