We all know that the REAL key to choosing an MBA program is to go to the best school you can get into. But what happens when you are torn between two schools with similar reputations? Where should you go? How should you choose? What SHOULD or SHOULDN’T you consider when making that choice?
If you’re facing that problem, congrats. Around here, we call that a good problem to have. But it’s a problem nonetheless, and you need a solution. And we’ve got one. Well, eight, actually. I’ve rounded up our team of consultants and asked them to weigh in. What do they have to say about choosing a b-school?
If you’re one of the lucky few who received multiple admits, a huge congrats!! You’re a rock star! Now how do you choose which one to accept? Well let’s go back to the beginning…….waaaaaaay back when you were thinking about why you wanted to get an MBA. It probably all started because you were looking to gain some particular skill set or experience that would get you one step closer to your career goals. Maybe you wanted to gain hands-on learning through a consulting practicum or get international exposure through some global immersion program. Maybe you felt that you wanted to build deep relationships and strong networks in more intimate environment with a small class size, or you were dead-set on becoming an entrepreneur.
You probably had a long list of all the reasons you wanted an MBA and another list of all the wonderful things you thought it could do for you. Go back to that list and see how each of the schools score on those factors.
Culture is another HUGE factor to consider. If you haven’t visited the schools yet, take the opportunity to do so if it’s feasible. Sometimes you just have to see for yourself to know if you can picture yourself being happy there for the next two years. Whatever you choose, just know you’re in a good spot and congrats!
One of the factors that always receive insufficient consideration is the location and setting of the school. There is a huge difference between living in a city like New York or London and finding yourself in say, Hanover (Dartmouth) or Fontainebleau (INSEAD). After all, you WILL have a life outside the classroom and this is your chance to live in a different place and experience what that place has to offer. Sooooooo, what kind of experience do you want?
I tell applicants to look at the obvious and the not-so-obvious. The obvious things are the reputation of the school, the quality of the student body, and the proliferation of alumni in corporate leadership positions. A not-so-obvious quality would be how successful is the school in placing students in their field of interest. Consider it all. That’s how you’ll make the best choice.
Probably the three most important considerations are:
1. Prestige. This can change from country to country; some b-schools are more famous in India and some in China, and some in France.
2. How well the school fits your SPECIFIC goals. How do you choose between, say, Booth and Wharton? Stanford and Harvard? It’s not easy for anyone. But you should look into how well the school serves your specific industry, and how people with similar goals as you have fared in the past.
3. Fit. Don’t underestimate this! Fit is super important, because it will define your day to day LIFE at the school – what friends you make, how involved you get, and how much you get out of the program.
Ignore financial aid packages. Go to the most elite school you get into. All else equal, choose the school with the bigger international reach.
If you’re lucky (or smart) enough to have gotten into both US and European schools, I would pick the continent based on where you want to work right after school; that’s pretty obvious. Now, within the US or Europe, if you can visit the schools beforehand to get a gut sense of the place, do that; that’s crucial information on top of whatever else you’ve heard second- or third-hand. If you cannot go and check out the campuses in person, I would use the following criteria in order:
1. The school’s reputation in your home country (assuming that’s where you want to live and work long-term).
2. The school’s reputation in your particular field of interest (tie with #1 if you’re doggone sure of where you’re headed careerwise).
3. Your fit with the school’s culture (you can always find a subculture within a school that you feel comfortable with).
Business school should be about pushing your limits, so consider which program is going to challenge you the most. Which program will offer the best resources (classes, clubs, alumni networks) that will support your career goals? For example, if you want to work in marketing — make sure the school you’re going to has first class connections to the best marketing companies. Does the DNA of the school mesh with who you are, and did you like the professors and people you have met? That’s going to be one of the best indicators.
If you are accepted to multiple schools, you should still ask yourself the same question you asked when you first applied to schools: do my short term and long term goals REQUIRE an MBA with a top “ranking” school? Those ranks you see on Business Week and so on focus on such a narrow list of criteria that may very well be irrelevant to what you wish to accomplish in your career. Make sure you look at each school and select one that has the right focus for you, has a growing community in the industry you wish to join, and professors involved in the field you will be a part in in order to reap the most out of your MBA.