You’ve talked to friends, family, and colleagues and made the big decision that you want an MBA. Now, the hard part is determining where you should apply. Some candidates already have their dream school in mind when they begin the application journey and others simply copy and past a list of the top 10 programs. However the majority of applicants have no clue how to get started when it comes to deciding where to apply. Since b-school is one of the biggest decisions you will make in your life, the target school selection process should be treated with a similar level of importance.
Schools put applications through a true 360-degree review process once submitted and you should scrutinize schools the same way when you’re setting up your list. Here are a few criteria to help you put together a list of your target MBA programs.
Where do you want to live? If you’re open, that’s great! You have tons of schools at your disposal. If you have restrictions by city, region, or country this is a good place kick start your list. Also, note that many students work in the region of their school post-grad so make sure you are potentially comfortable with this reality as well. So decide whether your school is more of a regional, national or international powerhouse and how comfortable you are with what this means.
What do you want to do post-MBA? Certain schools are industry feeders, some are well known like Kellogg with CPGs and Wharton with Investment Banks, but others are more nuanced and can be uncovered via a quick peek into the yearly job report.
What are you looking to learn in business school? Focus on the functional areas that you are looking to develop and use that to filter your list. If you want to study media-management then schools that do not offer such specialized coursework may not make sense for you.
So you’ve narrowed down your list and now its time to get real. Are you academically qualified for the schools on your list? GMAT and GPA averages and ranges are a good place to start when making your case here. The farther you skew left or right of the mean will indicate your relative competitiveness for a program on paper. Qualifiers like age, work experience type (analytical vs. not), and undergraduate rigor will all factor into the relative importance of these stats, so keep this in mind as you filter your choices.
People, learning style, and class size should all factor into what type of b-school experience you are looking to have. Determine what settings you thrive in and weigh the pros and cons. In person visits, outreach to alums, and conversations with current students are a great way to get a feel for your programs of interest.
Last but not least is reputation. I know most people start here but I really would caution against it. Focus on other more tangible areas of your target programs and use reputation as an additional filter or as a way to rank your final list. Also, if you still have a big list use reputation as a way to truncate things so you can focus on a realistic list of programs.
Do your due diligence upfront as you determine your target list and it will pay dividends come decision day.
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Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants.