5 Mistakes to Avoid in Choosing Executive Education6 min read

5 Mistakes to Avoid in Choosing Executive Education6 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Shopping for an executive education program is kind of like shopping for a vacation. We look to purchase something in advance that we cannot touch or feel, and we use all kinds of indicators to get an impression of what awaits us. The best case scenario is that we end up with an enriching and fruitful experience. The worst case? We waste our precious time and money.

The truth is that sometimes the most popular methods of planning often lead us down the road of more mistakes. That’s why we’ve surveyed our customers – business owners, CEOs of companies large and small, executives and executive coaches – to uncover the top mistakes that people make when choosing an executive education program.

Let’s get right down to it. Here are the top 5 mistakes to avoid in choosing your executive education.


1. Taking the same program your friend or colleague did

Maybe you’ve already had a thought like this cross your mind: “My friend just finished an incredible sounding program at Columbia Business School. He keeps raving about it. I should probably take it too, right?”

Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Perhaps you should listen to your friend – but first, it’s wise to take a step back to evaluate. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How reliable is your reference? Executive education is a costly enterprise, and oftentimes it is hard for people to admit (even to themselves) that there could have been a better way to spend their time and money.
  • Did your friend have a chance to compare it with all possible alternatives? When we choose a car, we don’t doubt that BMW makes great vehicles. The real question is whether the specific BMW make and model is better for us than a similar one built by Mercedes Benz or Lexus. Why think differently about executive education? This digital marketing course at Columbia is definitely great – but what about the equally excellent digital marketing class at Wharton, or dozens of other digital marketing classes all over the world?
  • Does your friend have the same learning needs as you? Keep in mind that even if one executive education program works for them, it won’t necessarily work for someone else.

2. Shopping by brand

Brands are often reliable indicators of quality, and that’s why we often become loyal to certain names and logos. For example, we know that Harvard Business School or Stanford Graduate School of Business offer top executive education courses. Yet, brands can be easily lead us down the wrong path for our own interests.

We often think that top schools offer the best possible course quality on every topic. However, the truth is that nobody can offer everything. Choosing from Top 2, Top 5, or even Top 10 schools inevitably limits selection. Given the vast selection of top level executive education courses offered at various leading schools globally, why impose limitations? It would be a sure way to miss the “hidden gems” – unique choices that offer a deep dive into industry- or region- specific education, such as Supply Chain Leadership courses and Global Oil and Gas Accounting courses.

Moreover, no one is the best in everything. FC Barcelona may be the world’s best football team, but it does not mean that every Barcelona player is the best in the world in his position at any given moment. The same logic applies to business schools and other executive education providers – some courses at INSEAD or IMD are world class, but that doesn’t mean similar classes at Columbia or Berkeley are inferior.

Chances are, there is more than one excellent program for you out there. Limiting yourself to a small number of brands increases your chances of paying more, traveling farther or waiting longer for enrollment.


3. Choosing the most (or the least) expensive program

Program pricing rarely is directly connected to program quality. Rather, it is connected to a school’s overall pricing policy and, sometimes, the marketing strategy for a specific program.

In most cases, all programs at the same school are priced the same for a day in the classroom. For example, if the average class day price at a school is $2,000, then a 3-day program would cost $6,000 and a 5-day program would cost $10,000. Although programs at different schools do differ in price, most of them fall somewhere between $1,000-2,000 per day. Minor deviations within a school are still possible, yet they in no way reflect program quality.

That being said, in some cases, certain programs cost significantly more than the average school price. For example, the CEO Academy Program at Wharton costs $20,000 for just two days. We might simply view this as a marketing tool aimed at showcasing the exclusivity of the program. However great the program may be, its price does not necessarily indicate much at all.

Choosing the least expensive program, on the other hand, may be an even greater mistake. Think about it: when an executive gives up their valuable time to commit to executive education, they are already making an expensive decision. Why cheapen the opportunity by not selecting the best possible course – independent of price? While saving a couple thousand on a program may seem like a good cost-cutting strategy, these savings might prove worthless if a participant does not get the expected value.


4. Choosing the most popular professors

We all know of the rockstar management gurus who have gained notoriety from writing bestsellers, teaching generations of successful people and devising concepts that advance our understanding of management. They make the industry go ‘round, and taking an executive level class from one of them has become a popular practice over the years. But this practice only makes sense if the professor has coined or specialized in the specific concept you want to learn.

In short: A superstar name is not the main driver for your ideal classroom experience – one that will help you reach top level productivity and advance your career. Other factors such as class design, participant engagement and learning materials are all far more important components for lasting learning. The last thing you would want is to end up in a classroom with other participants who are primarily there as fans, as opposed to learners.

The best decision you can make is one based on a course design and purpose that works for you, and that is led by an experienced faculty member.


5. Not thinking about specific business/personal development goals

One of the most common mistakes in looking for executive education is not outlining specific development goals ahead of time. Executive education is certainly exciting – getting away from your workplace, meeting new people, learning and discussing ideas, etc. Sometimes, the fanfare can take attention away from the actual goals.

On the contrary, if specific development targets are tied to pressing needs and a robust agenda, then executive programs can lead to total career evolution or a completely new path in life.

Now that you’re aware of a few common mistakes in choosing executive education, we hope you feel better equipped to select your game-changing program! Start your search here.

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