Engineers and Business School - A Match Made in Heaven

Whether to advance to management, work on Wall Street, or turn a ripe idea into a business venture, getting an MBA is a popular career move

3 min read

Quick, take a guess: What fraction of MBA students are engineers?

About a third, according to admissions officers at some of the top programs. It's not hard to imagine why masters programs in business administration want so many math-drenched applicants, but what's in it for the engineers?

"They may have a product idea and recognize they don't have the business skills to make it work," says Linda Abraham, who started the admissions consulting service, in Los Angeles, where 40 percent of MBA admission seekers are engineers.

Scott Shrum, vice president of marketing at admissions consulting firm Veritas Prep, outlines four traits that define successful applicants: leadership (initiative and impact), teamwork (working with and influencing others), creative intellect, and maturity (breadth of experience and how you face adversity). Engineers, he says, typically need help mastering the first two.

What you should look for in an MBA program really depends on what you want: to switch to finance, stay in high tech, move into product management, or do something else, Abraham says. "It's important for engineers to have an idea where they're going. Just hating your job is not a good reason to get an MBA."

IEEE Spectrum compiled a list of five key characteristics that might matter to an engineer, and a handful of MBA programs that stand out in those categories. This is by no means an exhaustive list. (The tuition charges and fees are for the length of time students normally take; median base salaries were provided by the programs themselves.)

Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford, Calif.

Tuition and fees: US $53 118
Graduates' median base salary: $120 000

Silicon Valley's proximity to Stanford and its close interaction with the engineering school through courses and research spell s-t-a-r-t-u-p. The school focuses on leadership and entrepreneurship, and top industry names visit the campus regularly and even teach jointly with professors.

Special mention: University of California, Berkeley (Haas School of Business), Yale School of Management, Columbia Business School

Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper School of Business), Pittsburgh

Tuition and fees: $52 500
Graduates' median base salary: $100 000

CMU's business program and engineering school are both world renowned, and it consistently comes up in lists of engineers' top MBA picks. So it isn't surprising that Tepper is, as The Economist recently noted, "probably best known for…a quantitative approach and cutting-edge use of information technology."

Special mention: Northwestern (Kellogg School of Management), MIT Sloan School of Management, Harvard Business School, University of Pennsylvania (The Wharton School)

MIT Sloan School of Management, Cambridge, Mass.

Tuition and fees: $50 625
Graduates' median base salary: $110 000

Sloan drinks its own Kool-Aid with the Dean's Innovative Leader Series, in which students have in-depth discussions with industry leaders, and the Sloan Innovation Period, one week of intensive leadership seminars and exposure to faculty research. Innovation "is in their DNA," MBA counselor Abraham says of MIT-Sloan.

Special mention: UC Berkeley (Haas), Stanford, University of Toronto (Rotman School of Management)

University of Michigan (Ross School of Business), Ann Arbor, Mich.

Tuition and fees: $45 189
Graduates' median base salary: $100 000

Forty-two percent of Ross's 500-strong MBA class of 2011 come from an engineering, math, or science background. Good news for them: Recruiters and employers rave about Michigan's MBA students, and students rave about Ross's career services.

Special mention: MIT (Sloan), Yale, Georgia Tech College of Management

University of Chicago (Booth School of Business)

Tuition and fees: $53 225
Graduates' median base salary: $100 000

Finance is Booth's top subject, and about half the graduating class of 2009 went to work in the finance sector. Other pluses: The school has generated more Nobel laureates (six) than any other business school and has garnered the top spot in Bloomberg BusinessWeek's past two rankings for U.S. MBA programs.

Special mention: Harvard, Penn (Wharton), Columbia

This article originally appeared in print as "Plan B: B-School."

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