How to Select the Right MBA Program for You

How to Select the RIght MBA ProgramJust as the quality of a stage production or musical performance depends on all of the work that went into months and months of rehearsal before the performance, how successful you are in your business school applications depends a great deal on all of the work you do before you ever start drafting an essay. Remember that your application is a mere snapshot of who you are (and how well you can present yourself) at one point in time. How well that message will be received will partly depend on whether you’re targeting the right schools, and how well MBA admissions officers at those schools see a good fit between you and their institution. And this comes down to knowing how to select the right MBA program for you.

There are at least a dozen factors to consider when researching MBA programs and narrowing down your list of target schools. Some of very mundane, such as the size of a school, and others may be less obvious but no less important, such as whether a business school offers a particular program or specialty that interests you. All of these are valid criteria to consider, and two very reasonable applicants may give different weights to each of them.

Today we’ll break down three criteria that, while not surprising, are absolutely, 100% necessary for you to consider at some point in your business school selection process:

At full-time programs, you will spend most of two years with your classmates in an intensive learning environment. It therefore matters a great deal how well you fit into a business school’s culture, and how well it fits you. Imagine yourself working with teammates on a group project at 2 AM (it will happen at some point)… You want to make sure you’ll be in a group full of people you like personally and work well with, and you will want to be that same great learning ally for your classmates. And the importance of an MBA program’s culture doesn’t stop there! You will also be part of that school’s alumni network for the rest of your life. You may see your fellow alumni at local and national events, may network with one another for job opportunities, and so on. How well the school’s culture fits you will matter forever.

Without a doubt, the best way to judge a business school’s culture is to visit! Do the tour, sit in on classes, and take advantage of all of the official opportunities the MBA admissions office will provide. Don’t stop there, though. As much as possible, we recommend just wandering around a school, taking a seat in one of the common areas (it’s not hard to blend in as a student at most schools) and just generally “taking in the vibe” at the school. Do students seem glad to see one another? Do people keep to themselves? Do people seem stressed? (This will partly depend on what time of year you visit, naturally.) Take all of this in. And don’t ignore your gut… It’s one of the best measures of a school’s culture that you have at your disposal, and it’s free!

While a great education is a universal language that can benefit you no matter where you are in the world, the fact of the matter is that most business schools will naturally attract far more recruiters from within a 100-mile radius than they will from other regions. At Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, for example, about 60% of 2013 grads ended up in the eastern or southern United States (see Fuqua’s employment statistics). Although the school does attract recruiters from all over the country, it attracts more than its fair share of recruiters from its home region.

This makes sense given that, as strong as Duke’s reputation is, it’s strongest on the East Coast and in the South. If you want to work in Silicon Valley, for example, this definitely does not rule out Fuqua, but pay attention to how many California-based companies recruit at the school. You may end up having to do more hustling on your own to land an interview at one of those companies.

Job Prospects
For most applicants, the number one reason for wanting to attend business school is to improve their job prospects. The job’s the thing, and the first job that grads land after earning their MBA of course has a huge impact on how successful their MBA experience was. I am always amazed by how often an applicant will say that he wants to get into a certain career and wants to go to a certain business school, and when I ask him, “Do you know how many grads the school places in that company/industry?” the applicant will have no idea. When I ask, “Do you know which companies recruited at the school last year?” I usually get a similar response.

Of course, that’s where we come in as MBA admissions experts, but you absolutely have a duty as an applicant to know what type of job search you’re in for, depending on the school you attend and the career you want to pursue. If your target company or industry is not well represented in on-campus interviews at a certain MBA program, that doesn’t mean that the school is a bad fit for you. But, if you arrive on campus and only then learn that your dream company doesn’t come to your campus for recruiting, then you have made a huge mistake in the business school selection process. Fortunately, most schools publish this information online (and LinkedIn is a tremendously valuable research tool if you want to quickly find Chicago Booth grads at Morgan Stanley, for example). You have many resources at your disposal… Be sure to use them!

Need some help in the business school selection process? Not sure how to select the right MBA program for you? We offer a free 30-minute profile evaluation, with absolutely no obligation to continue. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Scott Shrum.