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Ask Farnoosh: What’s the Right Business School Program for Me?

Farnoosh Torabi
Ask Farnoosh: What’s the Right Business School Program for Me?

Todd emails: Thinking about going to business school to get my MBA. Do certain schools offer a bigger bang for your buck? I'll most likely take out loans to pay for tuition.
While it would be ideal to earn a full ride to, say, Harvard Business School, most people pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration will need a viable Plan B – namely, a program that meets their career objectives while carrying a price tag that doesn’t keep them indebted for decades to come. (For what it’s worth, the top three schools with the highest average indebtedness of full-time MBA students are New York University, University of Virginia and Duke University, according to U.S. News and World Report. The average debt loads at these schools all surpass $100,000. That’s relatively high, but if you earn $100,000 or more upon graduating, keep your spending straight and are free of other debts, it’s not unmanageable.)
In lieu of offering you a short list of “bang for your buck” MBA schools, I urge you to do the homework yourself and consider the following factors recommended by a couple of MBA admissions pros:
Irene Hurst, director of MBA programs at the University of South Florida, says prospective MBAs should first consider where they are in their career trajectory. Timing matters. If you’re fresh out of college with little work experience, a top-tier school could be money well spent. It can open doors for a novice, thanks partly to connections. If you’re mid-career, though, where you go to school won’t make as big of a difference, she says.
Also ask yourself: Why do I want an MBA? What do I plan to do with it? If your goal is to just get promoted at your current employer, no need to apply to name-brand elite schools. Stay local and go somewhere that’s inexpensive or offers you a generous aid package. Or see about attending a part-time or executive MBA program at night, in which case, maybe your employer can provide educational support.
If your aim is to make a career change or move up the ranks in business world, narrowing your area of focus should help you narrow your list of suitable programs. “Look for a school that has focused programs with emerging areas in your field. Competitive intelligence, for example, is a hot concept right in business and having studied it will give you an edge in the job market,” says Hurst.
Once you’ve identified the area of business you’d like to pursue, Wendy Flynn, who runs the consulting firm MBA Admissions Coach, says to review MBA rankings to develop your own detailed ranking "short-list." U.S. News and World Report, Businessweek and The Financial Times provide some of the better-known rankings. “Include information such as tuition, program length, average starting salary, percent of students placed at graduation and at three months after graduation,” says Flynn. She recommends applying to three to five schools. 
And don’t wait for the free money to come to you. Your dream school – at first glance - may be financially out of reach. It’s up to you to find ways to make it a better value. “MBA applicants don't realize that scholarship offers from MBA programs can often be negotiated to a higher amount,” says Flynn. “I worked with a client last year who was able to effectively and professionally negotiate her scholarship from a total amount of $20,000 to $40,000.”
Daniel writes: What is your obligation when a collector takes over a debt? Are you obligated to pay? What can you do legally?
If you hear from a debt collector that’s a sign the creditor means business. The bank, retailer or cellphone company is now paying out of its own pocket to outsource a collection agency to resolve the outstanding debt. Prepare to pay up. Otherwise, it’s not uncommon for debt collection agencies to sue.
One scenario in which you wouldn’t be legally obligated to pay is if the debt is “time-barred” – in other words, expired. That means the date since the bill was first due has surpassed a certain period, usually several years. The statute of limitations varies from state to state and for various kinds of debts. Here’s the full list
According to the FTC, if a collection agency tries to sue you to collect a time-barred debt, you have every right to reject it by telling the court your debt has officially expired. Consider it your Get Out of Jail Free card. The agency can still call and ask you to pay back the debt, but it just can’t sue. You can also make a request in writing for them to stop calling you, and they’re required by law to oblige.
It’s critical to know the time status of your debt before speaking to any collectors, as they may not be so forthcoming about the fact that your debt is time-barred. According to the FTC’s website, even agreeing to make a partial payment over the phone, in some states, can reset the clock “and a new statute of limitations begins.” This means the collector can possibly sue you to collect the debt in full, along with interest and fees.
Got a question for Farnoosh? You can reach her on Twitter @Farnoosh or email her at farnooshfinfit@yahoo.com.

Got 10 minutes? Want to earn chance to win cash? Farnoosh is conducting a survey for an upcoming book on money and relationships. At the end of the survey, learn how to qualify for a $100 American Express gift card giveaway. There's one each week for the next several weeks.