The Fit Grid: How to Pick the Right School

One of the hardest and most critical tasks facing a grad school candidate is picking the right schools to apply to (and then attend). Fit is so important not just for improving admissions prospects, but for creating the best possible graduate school experience. Unfortunately, distinguishing top programs — especially among law schools and business schools — can be very difficult. Plus, there is a propensity to let the tail wag the dog. In other words, students decide the schools they like first and then make any sort of research (visits included) fit the existing paradigm, rather than coming to conclusions based off of authentic exploration.

So how should students go about determining “fit?” If you have the resources, we advise handing over your information — background, skills, goals, etc. — to a trusted expert and letting them give you an objective list of matching programs. Obviously, that requires a significant financial outlay and it starts to feel a little bit strange offshoring the whole operation.

Fortunately, there is a middle ground in the form of “The Fit Grid.”

The Fit Grid is simply a way to prioritize on the front end, based on factors, and then create results on the back end that help move you away from preconceived notions. It is pretty simple and not a perfect solution, but it definitely helps.

Basically, what you want to do is create a list of important factors that you think will play a major role in shaping your graduate school experience. Common factors include: location, prestige of program, career placement (specifically in your area of interest), international program opportunities, ability to take classes in areas of interest, student organizations, cost, scholarship opportunities, admissions chances, and culture.

Once you create your grid on the y axis, you can put all of your schools on the x axis and start filling in the boxes with scores for each program in each area. The goal is obviously to focus exclusively on that factor at each place, so that, again, the preconceived ideas you have about the entire school don’t weigh you down. You can also weight various categories based on what matters most to you.

One example might look like this, for Chicago’s Booth School of Business (to keep things simple, I’ll rate every category on a scale of 1-to-10):

Location — 10, because I’ve always wanted to live in Chicago and it

Success Story Part 4: "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the essays of our lives…"

(This is the fourth in a series of blog posts in which Julie DeLoyd, a Veritas Prep GMAT alumna-turned-instructor, will tell the story of her experience through the MBA admissions process. Julie will begin her MBA program at Chicago Booth this fall. You can also read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to learn Julie’s whole story.)

Since the time this business school idea first occurred to me on that Texas highway, the GMAT had been my main concern and the only real hurdle I had anticipated. Now with that hurdle behind me, I realized there was a whole new challenge ahead. Choosing schools, and writing essays upon essays upon essays

Five Questions You Need to Ask When Choosing an MBA Program

As we mentioned last week, the Bay Area’s Contra Costa Times turned to Veritas Prep for insights on what the value of an MBA is in the current economic climate. In the article, we provided some advice for applicants as they choose which business schools they want to attend. As we always do, we stressed that an applicant must look at so many things beyond just rankings when choosing an MBA program.

Adapted from that Contra Costa Times article, here are five questions you should ask when evaluating how well a certain business school meets your needs:

  • What employers recruit from the school? If you want to switch careers and get a job in banking, but no investment firms recruit at the school, then don’t expect your post-MBA job search to be easy.
  • How far do the school’s reputation and alumni network reach? Many schools provide an excellent education, but only have a regionally strong brand. If you want to get a new job in another part of the world after school, this may make it harder to do.
  • What type of programs does it offer? Most business schools offer a full-time, two-year program. If this may not fit your schedule or you don’t want to quit your job, see if they offer part-time programs that allow you to work and study at the same time.
  • What are its academic specialties? Is the school strongest in one specialty, such as finance or marketing? Or is it a more general management-oriented program? Make sure this strength matches what you want to focus on in school.
  • How much will the school cost you? Obviously, half of the return on investment equation is the size of investment itself. If a school offers you a significant grant or your employer will cover the cost of the program, that may tip the scales in that school’s favor.

This list only begins to scratch the surface, but these are all important questions you need to be able to answer for every school to which you plan to apply.

For more advice on choosing a business school, talk to our MBA admissions experts, and follow us on Twitter!

Specialized MBA Programs Keep Growing

A recent BusinessWeek article explored the growth of specialized MBA programs, especially at schools outside of the top ten MBA programs. These programs are one way for lesser-known schools to stand out from the pack, but are they always a good choice for business school students?

“Not necessarily,” writes Fancesca Levy for BusinessWeek. “While established programs have placement records on par with those of their general MBAs, many newer programs have not yet established the kind of recruiting relationships that guarantee students high-paying jobs at graduation. And graduates always run the risk of getting hamstrung by their specialties later in their careers, when an industry downturn forces them to look outside their specialties for opportunities.”

While specialized programs are often very valuable, their recent growth reminds us of the wave of e-commerce programs that appeared in business schools eight to ten years ago. Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, for example, made a big push with its e-commerce MBA, only to scale back its offering after the dot-com party was over. (A recent search for “e-commerce” on Owen’s site turns up just one Internet Marketing Strategy class.)

We’re not knocking Vanderbilt or any of these schools for rolling out these programs. The market for management education always changes, and it’s often these smaller schools that create real curriculum innovation. Just be careful that you don’t chase any fads or trends that may not suit your goals five years from now, once the next fad comes along (real estate fit that description a couple of years ago, and “green” MBA programs just might be next).

Also, consider what you really expect to get out of your business school education. For many, an MBA is a chance to learn how to think like a CEO, regardless of the industry or function. Other applicants, meanwhile, enroll in business school to learn specific skills that can help them flourish as soon as they graduate. If you’re in the former camp, you may want to skip these specialized programs in favor of a more general management-focused curriculum. If you’re in the latter camp, however, then a specialized program may be a good fit for you.

For more help in choosing a business school, try the Veritas Prep Business School Selector and take a look at our books on MBA admissions strategy, Your MBA Game Plan.