How to Select the Best Business School for You

Harvard Business SchoolSelecting the right schools for you can appear to be a simple and straightforward task.  Pick among the top ranked schools and choose 4, 5 or 6.  Add some online research, maybe attend an information session and you think you might have enough material to convincingly explain why school X is a great fit for your career goals.

I am not saying this approach cannot be successful for a select few, but there are a number of reasons why you would want to be more thorough in your school selection approach.  After all, you will spend 2 years of your life on campus, invest a significant amount of money, forgo salary and be part of the school’s brand and alumni network for life.  More importantly, without more thorough research you will not gain the necessary understanding of how a particular MBA program will help your career.  Hence, your essays will suffer and that is something you cannot afford.

The ranking lists are indeed a good starting point. They do act as a proxy for brand and network, among other things.  Rankings should, however, not serve as the tiebreaker for any of your MBA admissions decisions, whether putting together the initial school list, or selecting between schools once you have been admitted.

Applying a geographical filter is helpful in the early stages.  Do you want to be on the west coast? East coast?  Somewhere in between?  International campus? Urban or rural campus?

At this initial stage, you should aim to produce a list of 8-10 schools.  The eventual goal is to get the list down to 4-6 schools.  Be careful not to exclude schools at this point based on preconceived notions, e.g. you don’t think you would like Chicago as a city, but have never visited and hence don’t see yourself applying to either Booth or Kellogg.

Next you need to determine a few key things. First, you need to understand how well each school’s resources fit your career gap, i.e. how well do the curriculum, individual classes, extracurriculars, practical learning resources and alumni network prepare you for your short-term and long-term career goals?  Keep in mind that your career goals could change over time so you want to understand the flexibility offered in switching paths as well as the support available after graduation.  Ultimately, the strength of the alumni network is extremely important.  If you see yourself working globally, or returning to your home country, you want to understand the strength of the alumni network in that part of the world.

Second, you need to understand the culture of the schools. What are the students like?  What is the spirit of the school like? Collaborative, cut-throat, proactive, supportive, other?  This is harder to pinpoint and will rely on your interactions with current students, alumni, campus visits and interactions with admissions office.  It is the kind of thing where you will get a sense for where you fit in the best.

Using a spreadsheet or other ranking system to track the career gap analysis and cultural fit is a good idea.

For both the career gap analysis and cultural fit you should attempt to have at least one meaningful interaction with the following: current student, alumnus/a, professor or administrator outside of admissions office, admissions committee member, and a club officer of a club you are considering.

First time applicants can afford to be more selective, and might not include any real safety schools (where chances of admissions are very high).  Reapplicants should typically include one safety school.  Obviously, we know from working with our clients that there are many other professional and personal factors that could be considered, but these initial thoughts should get you moving in the right direction.

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By Marcus D.  Read more articles by him here, and find the expert who’s right for you here!  Visit our Team page today.