APPLYING FOR an MBA can be a lengthy - and an expensive - process. Before you start filling out application forms, do your homework or you may waste good time and money. Worse, you might find yourself in a programme that does not meet your needs, or one you cannot keep up with. Start with a basic needs analysis. Answering these questions will help: Why do you want to do an MBA? Is it to jump-start a stalled career? Do you want to fill in gaps in your training and/or experience? Do you want to change careers? Look for a programme that will help you accomplish your goals. Why do you want to do an MBA at this point in time? Generally speaking, you should have had two to three years of postgraduate working experience. If you have had more extensive experience - or work at a senior level in your firm - consider an executive MBA. It is more expensive but the teaching approach would suit someone with your skills and experience. Do you want to study full time or part time? Part-time study can be daunting but the advantages are that you can apply immediately what you learn to your job. Many potential employers look favourably on the time management skills people gain from balancing work, study and family life. Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years? If your future is in the mainland, you might want a programme with a strong China focus. If you see yourself stationed in different countries around the world, look for a programme with a global focus. Candidates expecting to spend most of their working life in such countries as Australia, Britain, Canada or the United States would be well-advised to enrol in a programme based in one of those countries. What is your favoured learning style? Do you prefer working things out yourself? Then you should look for a programme that favours the Harvard model, an inductive approach based on case studies that lead students indirectly to general principles through the analysis of specific cases. If you prefer a traditional (lecture-based) approach, the University of Chicago model would suit you. Professional guidance is available in the form or organisations such as The Princeton Review, which offers advice and tips on all aspects of the application process. The website has a useful search engine that matches business schools with preferences.