April 13, 2016 | by Dianna Smoljan

Time to Go Back to School?

How to pick the continuing education program that’s right for you


Gone are the days when going back to school was a choice between a master’s degree and an MBA. Today there’s a proliferation of educational opportunities, from executive MBAs and management certificates to professional development programs and online learning. Each offers a unique learning experience and meets the needs of a subset of students.

What are the important questions to ask as you examine the different executive education options? Here’s our list of key determinants.

#1 – What will you walk away with?

Consider the end result, and your end goal: Will it result in an advanced degree or a professional certificate? For some who are simply refreshing their skills or enhancing their understanding, a badge, degree or certificate is less important. How important is that designation to your company, or other companies, as you advance in the industry?

#2 – What is the content?

Most programs have a particular focus or theme. What information will you learn? Will courses focus on functional skills — the complexities of finance or marketing, for example — or higher-level thinking, reflecting on how strategy and leadership work together? MBAs are often more general, with a focus on leadership or international business.  Certificates or professional designations may be specific to an area of study or a particular industry.

#3 – Are classmates similar or unlike you?

For some, further education is an opportunity to build a network across many different industries and set oneself up to make a career switch. General management programs offer students classmates from a diverse range of professions and industries. But for those who want to advance within an industry, an industry-specific program builds a strong network with colleagues, because the student attends class with peers who will also be future leaders in the same arena.

#4 – How often is class?

Programs may meet weekly, online, occasional weekends or, in the case of many executive education programs, in more condensed sessions over a specified period. You’ll want to examine the commitment of students in the program and their engagement and interaction.

#5 – Is this a resident or non-resident program?

Consider how much time you have to interact with classmates and focus on the subject matter. A resident program takes more time away from work responsibilities, but encourages greater focus and interaction, fostering lasting relationships. Online programs or shorter, in-person courses can make juggling school and work more manageable, but you may find that the comradery between students isn’t as meaningful.

Knowing what your needs, goals and priorities are will help you identify the right program for you among the myriad options available. Remember, each program has merit, meeting the unique needs of different types of students—which means a comparison between, for example, an executive education program like Strategic Metals Management and an executive MBA is like comparing apples-to-oranges. Download our cheat sheet to see for yourself.

Learn more about MSCI’s executive education offerings.

Register for MSCI’s Strategic Metals Management.

Find out about MSCI’s leadership training courses.