We make a living helping applicants get into the world’s most competitive business schools, law schools, and medical schools. So, it’s fair to say that applicants’ desire to get into the world’s top graduate schools is what puts food on our plates at night. (And those plates carry all sorts of food; the Veritas Prep team includes devout vegans, die-hard carnivores, and everyone in between.) But today we’re going to offer what may seem like a slightly contrary stance, one that some applicants need to hear this week after getting getting rejected or waitlisted by a top grad school: Your whole career and life are NOT determined by what grad school you attend!
Whoa, did I just write that? I can see the traffic to veritasprep.com dropping as I finish this very sentence. Fans are deserting our Facebook page by the dozen. Our Twitter feed has become a veritable social media ghost town. I think I just saw an ASCII-rendered tumbleweed roll by. But it needs to be said: A top-tier MBA, JD, or MD can significantly improve your career prospects, but how successful you will be in life still depends on YOU, more than anything.
Where’s all this coming from? It was prompted by a question from a very thoughtful applicant. he has a very specific, realistic goal for what he wants to do after business school, and he’s currently making plans to help achieve that goal (including applying to business school this coming year). He wants to go into investment banking, and is carefully considering what schools will give him a realistic shot at landing at a blue-chip firm such as Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. He basically had two questions: “How hard will it be to get a blue-chip banking job at a ‘top-twenty-ish’ MBA program, and will a not-so-prestigious MBA hurt me my career prospects after my first post-MBA job?”
The first question is actually one that some applicants don’t ask enough. Sadly, every year some students enter business school or law school assuming that there will be plenty of job opportunities with a certain firm or within a specific industry, only to find out that recruiters from that company/industry don’t recruit much from their school. So, it’s good that he asked. In his case, he’s considering a very good lower-ranked school that actually does send some grads to Wall Street every year.
The difference between that school and a top-ten school is usually more in the number of jobs that those firms hand out on campus. For instance, Goldman Sachs may make dozens of offers at HBS, but more like half a dozen at this particular school (which happens to be a much smaller program, too). So, he may have to hustle to get one of those jobs, but he seems so strong that we bet he will be able to, if he goes there.
Now, for the second part of his question: Assuming you go to a less prestigious school and get your foot in the door at a high-caliber firm, then the rest is really up to you. That’s what many grad school applicants miss: How you’ll do in your career over the long-term depends far more on how you perform and who you make connections with, rather than on what school name is on your resume. Of course, a “better” school gives you access to a “better” alumni network, which may always help, but even that matters less than what experiences you gain and what accomplishments you can start to rack up in the first several years out of business school.
In this way, the working world and the admissions world are not radically different: What undergrad school you went to and what company you work for now certainly matter, but what’s even more important is what impact you’ve had on the company and the community around you. That’s a far better predictor of success in your career… and in life, for that matter!