There is little doubt that the most prestigious business schools command serious consideration. But alas, outside the top 3 programs (and even then), it makes little sense to select a business school based on rankings alone. Most MBA aspirants do not give enough consideration to some key factors that will have serious impact on their business school happiness and success. Here are some factors that deserve your serious consideration and could swing your decision one way or the other.
Factor 1: Location
The location of your business school should be among the top factors in your choice. Usually, unless you have well-defined post-MBA career plans, it makes sense to select a major city where you do not mind working afterwards. Let us examine the reasons why.
First, there is simply more professional business done in cities. In many ways, cities formed to be centers of commerce. Your experience in business school will be vastly enriched by the business community of a major metropolis. From guest speakers to outside seminars to recruitment opportunities, cities offer vastly more for the MBA student. The partner of an investment fund is much more willing to stop by the downtown campus of the local business school over lunch to give a talk. She is much less willing and able to fly in to your municipal airport to give that same talk. Similarly, you might find interesting short-term consulting jobs and term-time internships in cities — opportunities that will not be feasible if you are 3 hours away down the inter-state. You are in the study of business – it makes sense to get closer, not farther, from the centers of business.
Second, there is also more recreation in cities. Business school can offer a lot of free time (or very little, depending on your own style). Whatever the case, the MBA years are a great opportunity to enjoy yourself or develop some hobby. Whatever your peculiar passion or curiosity, chances are that you are more likely to find like-minded individuals in a big city to indulge that activity with. So if you ever wanted to speak Esperanto, dance tango, or cook risotto, now’s the time to give it a shot. For those who are single and looking, there is much more dating in cities than in suburbs (and more things to do on dates). For those who enjoy a night out, there are more places to go in cities. For those who like to shop, there are more stores in cities. In New York, London, or Hong Kong, you will find clubs, courses, and events that suit all your extra-curricular interests. In contrast, your recreational options on everything from restaurants to gyms will be much more limited in a rural school.
Third, cities are more convenient. For some odd reason, business school tends to turn otherwise quiet local boys and girls into well-dressed jet-setting, schmoozing corporate types well before they get the jobs to match. To live that lifestyle, convenience is key. You need to be able to get from a downtown interview back to campus and then back out to a dinner date every other day without being hampered by issues such as train schedules, barbershop opening hours, lack of convenient ATMS, or 10 mile commutes to the dry-cleaners. You will find yourself getting frustrated if food or coffee is ever more than a block away. You will curse when you wait more than a minute for a cab. You will find yourself dashing to the airport at the last-minute. You will, in short, start behaving like other businessmen who value convenience in their lives. To make life simple, it makes good sense to choose a large city.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, big cities can be better for your career. There are more jobs, more industries, and more opportunities to network in a major city. There is also a big chance that you will land a job close to your business school due to local connections, alumni relations, and recruiting convenience. Unless you get sucked into a handful of truly globally integrated conglomerates, recruitment always tends to be local, and it is easier for you to weasel your way into that perfect firm if you are just a cab-ride away. In the future, you will also be able to upgrade to other jobs more easily if you stay in a city – from sneaking out to interview for another job to meeting headhunters on the sly, your career stands to gain if you aim for a city right after your MBA.
Obviously, there are good reasons for being in a small city or even a town — the air is better, and there is more sense of community. Rural or deeply suburban business schools try very hard to convince applicants of the advantages of their locations, but in most cases, the benefits of a city vastly outweigh the drawbacks, at least as far as business school is concerned.
If you aren’t a city person though, there are other top MBA programs outside of big cities. Tuck, Duke, and Darden – to name a few – are all outside of the city, and offer their own unique advantages. For example, MBA students at these schools tend to live on or very close to campus, so you will be closer to, and maybe even living with, your classmates. Schools in big cities generally have a more spread out student population. A majority of students at Kellogg live within 5 blocks of the campus, which creates more of an immersion experience if that is something you’re interested in. Also, if you have a family, these suburban campuses can be more family-friendly and have a stronger sense of community.
Take time to visit the schools you are considering. By spending some time on campus, you can determine if the environment is a good fit for you! Stay tuned for part II next week.
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This Veritas Prep GMAT instructor received a degree in Economics from Princeton, and is currently pursuing a PhD. He has worked as a business consultant, research analyst, and adjunct faculty member at various institutions.