Pursuing a Ph.D. in Business Administration in USA

 | April 10,2010 01:00 pm IST

Over the years, I have received numerous e-mails from students interested in learning about a Ph.D.

Program in Business Administration, and to know its prospects. I thought this article can help these students make an informed decision.


Why a Ph.D.?

You should do a Ph.D. in Business Administration if you are interested in academic research or in a consulting career. Financially, Ph.D. in Business Administration has an edge over MBA because you are typically assured of a scholarship. Additionally, most Ph.D.s joining consulting firms, or Universities, get starting salaries ranging from $90K to $150k. To some, a Ph.D. and an academic life offer flexibility and independence that you normally do not get in the corporate world.


What do you need to get into a Ph.D. program?

In order to get into a Ph.D. program, it is essential that you have a good academic background. A "Good" academic background does not mean that you have to be from a top ranking Indian university or institute. What is important is that you have excelled in your subjects, and your teachers know you to be academically inclined. Your teachers (or managers, in case you are a working professional) will write your recommendation letters. These confidential letters should reflect your ability to be a good researcher.


If you have done exceptionally well in a four-year bachelor's program, you may not even need a Masters Degree. Most universities do not require MBA as a pre-requisite for Ph.D. in Business Administration.


Before applying to any university, you are required to take the GMAT Test as well as TOEFL Test. You should complete GMAT and TOEFL before November (latest by December) so that you have sufficient time to apply to different schools. Most Ph.D. programmes admit students only for Fall Semester (August).


The admission decision made by Business Schools is based on your overall academics, GMAT score, letters of recommendations, and Statement of Purpose (SOP). In your SOP, you should clearly outline why you developed interest in doing research.

If you have already chosen any research area, you may want to state that in your SOP, and explain why it excites you.


Where to Apply?

The decision to apply to a particular Ph.D. program depends on certain specific criteria. However, I must state that there are exceptions and these are based on my personal judgments. 


i) GMAT Score and Academic Background: If you have a very high GMAT score, and you have strong academic background, then apply for top ranking Ivy League schools like Harvard, MIT, Wharton, Stanford, and Kelloggs. However, remember that the competition to get into these programs is intense. So, a high GMAT and a strong academic background does not guarantee your admission. Your SOP, experience, and Letters of Recommendations will be crucial. 


If you have scored less than 700 in GMAT and you have a good academic background, you should avoid applying to Ivy League Schools. 


ii) You should also look at your research interests, and find if your school is having qualified faculty in those areas. For example, within MIS discipline, Michigan State University and Ohio State University are popular for their Supply Chain Management. Similarly, Boston University, University of Kentucky, and Morgan State University are popular for their Knowledge Management programs. Further, certain universities excel in inter-disciplinary research. For example, University of Kansas and Morgan State University have faculty doing research on Accounting Information Systems. 


The Ivy League Schools usually have adequate faculty members in any area of research. Unless you are very specific about your research problem, it is safe to join any of these schools. 


 You should go to individual websites of these schools and find out if faculty research interests and your research interests match. You should also e-mail individual faculty members if you have any questions about faculty research.

iii) All good Business Schools provide funding to their Ph.D. students. The level of funding varies between different schools. However, you must take into account the cost of living in a particular area when you are comparing funding from different schools. For example, Los Angeles is an expensive place to stay, and Lansing, Michigan is an inexpensive place. You are better off with a $12,000/year funding in Lansing as compared to $18,000 per year funding in Los Angeles. You may use a Cost of Living Calculator website to estimate your expenses and compare your stipend.  

What is the Structure of a typical Ph.D. program?
The format of a Ph.D. program may differ between various Business Schools. However, US Business Schools can be generalized to follow an overall structure.

i) Coursework
In most US Business Schools, you are required to take coursework for the first 2 years. The coursework will consist of a number of subjects related to Statistics, Research Methods, Teaching Methods, and some courses related to your area of specialization. Unlike other disciplines, Business Schools do not club their Ph.D. courses with MBA courses, as the objectives of these two programs are completely different. However, those who join the Ph.D. program may be required to take a few MBA courses to get a perspective of business education.

ii) Comprehensive Exams
After you have successfully completed each of the courses, you would be required to sit for a comprehensive exam. Most Schools will have a written and oral component in their comprehensive exams. The comprehensive exam tests your knowledge as well as your ability to conceptualize research problems. 

iii) Proposal and Proposal Defense
After the first two years, you start working on your own on a research problem defined by you under the supervision of a Professor. You start going through different research papers related to your focused problem. This phase is called the literature review. 

Based on your literature review and your research problem, you decide the particular research method that you are going to use. At this stage, you are asked to present your Research Proposal to your committee.




iv) Final Research and Defense

After defending your proposal, you continue with your research, which might involve data collection if it is an empirical research. You write the complete dissertation, which are divided into several chapters. In the end, you defend the dissertation in front of a committee, and anyone who is interested in your research. 


Typically, the Ph.D. should take you about four years. However, there have been examples like that of the great management guru C.K. Prahalad who finished his dissertation in two and half years. However, as a Ph.D. student you should be ready for the long haul. However, as you will realize later, it is worth the effort!!!