Timeout with Trav: Selecting the Right Program

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Dear Trav,
How can you best determine which school or program is right for you?

While we provide services on everything from resume reviews to essay feedback to mock interviews, perhaps the most important thing you can do to improve your chances of being admitted to your target MBA program is to select the right schools. This is probably the most valuable advice we can provide, and yet most candidates completely ignore it and simply apply to the top 5 schools of their rating publication of choice. This is a huge mistake!

There are a number of factors that applicants take into consideration, and these may have vastly different weights based on your own priorities. Applicants often consider:

• Class Size (HBS has 900 people per class, while IMD’s class is just 90)
• City Environment (Urban, Suburban or Rural locations)
• Geography (East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, Europe, Asia, etc.)
• Academic Methods (case study, lecture, experiential learning in “labs,” externships, etc.)
• Academic Offerings (a major in Technology Management, Media Management, Real Estate, etc.)
• Name Recognition (for example, Yale’s and Georgetown’s name recognition—particularly in international regions—may outshine that of other schools with higher rankings)
• On-campus Recruiters & Employment Stats (how many graduates does the school send into your target industry each year?)
• Campus Culture & Personality Fit (do you feel like you’ll thrive in this environment?)

Based on your goals, you may have very different priorities among these considerations (or perhaps you have some different considerations altogether).

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Employment Opportunities
Business Schools know that your top goal in attending their program is to get a job when you graduate. (Yes, I believe that education has incredible intrinsic value, but let’s be real… you need to pay off those loans!) In my opinion, the #1 criterion most candidates should consider is the Employment Statistics of the school. If you want to go into the media industry, for example, there are only a handful of schools that attract a strong cadre of media companies to campus or send a significant number of graduates into this niche industry. Perhaps no surprise, they are primarily in Los Angeles and New York. If you want to break into a highly selective industry such as Private Equity or Venture Capital, school choice will be vital to achieving your goals. This is not to say that you should only apply to schools that are well known for your target industry. For example, many Kellogg graduates go into Finance and Wharton grads go into Marketing. Just be sure you’re not applying to a program that offers little or no support for your desired career path.

Physical Location
Geography matters much more than people think. Schools don’t have to be considered “regional” to attract primarily local and regional recruiters. Even top internationally recognized programs such as Harvard and Stanford send a high percentage of their graduates to companies in their own region. If your goal is to work in California after B-school, you could certainly go to Columbia, Wharton, Duke, Kellogg or other distant programs and still achieve your goals. However, the California schools such as Stanford, Berkeley-Haas, UCLA Anderson and USC Marshall will have far more California-based companies recruiting at their schools that may offer you more opportunities and choices. Personally, I was working in Seattle prior to B-school and was not planning to return upon graduation, so geography mattered far less to me than other candidates.

School Culture
As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, when I was researching schools I visited their websites, checked class descriptions in their course catalogs, reviewed the rankings and thought I had really done my homework! However, I decided to take an entire week off work and travel from Seattle to visit various schools on the East Coast and the Midwest. Not knowing anything about these schools more than some online research, I was amazed to discover just how different they were! I eventually attended Kellogg, whose warm, friendly, fun and inclusive environment was the perfect fit for me. In hindsight, I realize that I thrived academically, socially and professionally because of the great fit I had with the program. Even though I felt intimidated in applying to B-schools since I had no business background in my professional or undergraduate life, I ended up graduating with distinction and helped shape the school for years to come. Had I attended another highly ranked program with a different approach to academics and student body, I’m sure I would have received a stellar education, but I definitely would not have thrived in the same way.

For this reason, we offer several resources at Veritas Prep that are simply unavailable through any other MBA admissions consultancy. For example, we have School Specialists for every top-20 program and many others. Only at Veritas Prep will you have a dedicated School Specialist for every top-tier school in your Comprehensive School Package. They will help you understand the unique culture of that school based on their firsthand experience at the program.

In addition, we offer the Personalized MBA Game Plan™ Powered by the Myers-Briggs Assessment®. We collaborated with the publishers of the Myers-Briggs personality tests to develop an assessment specific to applying to MBA programs. You’ll better understand your unique strengths and weaknesses to emphasize on your applications and will learn about environments where you will thrive. This is critical to selecting the proper MBA programs for you! Every Veritas Prep GMAT student and Admissions Consulting client may take the Personalized MBA Game Plan™ assessment for free.

I hope these thoughts help you assess your own priorities and find the right schools for you. Of course, we’re always happy to offer our expertise around all the top programs to help you make the right selection!

Very Best,

For more advice on schools and programs, download our Essential Guides, 14 guides to the world’s top business schools. If you’re ready to start building your own application for top business schools, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Travis Morgan is the Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep and he earned his MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served in the Kellogg Student Admissions Office, Alumni Admissions Organization and Diversity & Inclusion Council, among several other posts. Travis joined Veritas Prep as an admissions consultant and GMAT instructor, and he was named Worldwide Instructor of the Year in 2011.