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by Vault Education Editors | March 31, 2009

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To a potential employer, a business degree implies that the candidate can crunch numbers, read a balance sheet and understand basic business jargon. These are among the fundamental abilities a person needs to succeed in business.

But that's not all. The most attractive MBA skills include the ability to think analytically, plan strategically and lead effectively, according to most corporate recruiters and the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

While these advanced skills are clearly more difficult to quantify, there is only one way to acquire them: experience.

For an MBA education, this means that the most important part cannot be learned from a book, but rather from hands-on experience in the business world.

That is why one of the most important parts of comparing MBA programs is the relative emphasis each places on the case study method, where analysis, strategy and leadership skills emerge.

The Case Study Model

Championed over the years at all of the top business schools, the case study method forces professors, through their research and interactions with corporate leaders, to ensure that the MBA program remains relevant and relevancy to today's business environment means experience through teamwork.

The team experience is at the heart of the Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business where faculty and corporate partners engage students in practical case study learning.

Starting with the orientation program with fellow classmates, the faculty and staff give new students opportunities to practice some of the skills needed to be successful at Fisher.

From there, team learning and analysis are the guides to an MBA education.

Virtues and Rewards of the Case Study Method

With a strong understanding of business planning and case study analysis, five 2004 Executive MBA graduates from The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business early this year won a prize of $50,000 to turn their business dream into a reality. Of the 58 teams in Fortune Small Business magazine's national competition, Ohio States Vertebration Inc. won for its plan to market a newly developed implant for spinal surgery.

Competitions like this also supplement local motivation. Fisher College's Center for Entrepreneurship, for example, awards top honors of nearly $90,000 for its business plan competition.

"This is a testament to the strength of our MBA program," said Joseph Alutto, dean, Fisher College of Business. "It also demonstrates the success of our Center for Entrepreneurship and of the talent we attract in our very own case competition."

And when a team has an important idea, like the Fisher group whose device is designed to relieve chronic back pain while reducing the cost and improving the outcome of spinal surgery, they collect the top award in both competitions.

"These students already had established professions but decided that additional education at Fisher College would benefit them," Alutto added. "It was truly a worthy investment."

The top programs and schools integrate their research and feedback into new course offerings, allowing MBA students to benefit immediately by being among the first to learn of faculty discoveries and to study first hand with the creators of new principles for business practice.

Ultimately, the entire business community is improved when its members learn under the rigors of realistic education. The case study model and competitions contribute to a sense of ownership and realism.

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