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