Each applicant's assessment of what school is "right" for them is very personal – so don't be swayed by other people's opinions. Do your own research!
In this video, we'll outline the essential strategic questions you need to answer to converge on a handful of schools that best match your needs. Those questions are grouped into five categories:
- Type of Program (Full-time vs. Part-time)
- Career Goals
- Academic Environment
- School Acceptance Rates versus Your Profile
"Why are you applying to our School?" It's a question that you'll be asked in essays and interviews for just about every school you apply to. If you follow the research steps and due diligence program that accompany this course, you will be able to choose the schools that will best prepare you for your career aspirations and, at the same time, you'll be generating the content for a persuasive, elegantly tailored answer to that question.
In this class, you'll learn how to look beyond the magazine rankings, the school's marketing messages, and second-hand opinions. This course will equip you with a research program and a list of due diligence questions that you will use to you to identify the schools that are the best ones for you.
Let's take a look at how a typical applicant responds to the question "Why are you applying to our school?"
In the caption on this slide, we've printed the answer of a wanna-be MBA student. Pause the video for a moment and read his response:
He will cut and paste this response into all of his applications, assuming he's adequately explained his motivations for applying. Months later, he'll scratch his head and wonder what went wrong when the "ding letters" start rolling in.
You can seriously undermine your chances for admission to a top tier program with answers like this one to the "Why Our School" essay question.
Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions officer for a second – would Juan's answer convince you that he knows what sets your program apart from the others? Has he proved to you that your program is an excellent fit with his career goals, academic needs, and cultural expectations?
Answering the "Why Our School" essay correctly begins with selecting the schools you are going to apply to via thoughtful research. It's going to take more than browsing the magazine rankings and spending a few minutes on the school's website. You need to understand at a deeper level what you're looking for in an MBA program and then figure out which schools best meet your needs.
Too many applicants never properly answer the admissions committee's question about why they are applying to their school -- They don't – and the acceptance letters go to the candidates who do.
If you follow the research program we're going to show you will be able to choose the schools that will best prepare you for your career aspirations and, at the same time, you'll be building the content for an excellent answer to the "Why Our School" essay that can radically improve your chances for admission.
Let's take a look at our School Selection Due Diligence Exercise.
In this exercise, we'll outline the essential strategic questions you need to answer to converge on a handful of schools that best match your needs.
First, you'll determine what type of MBA program is the best fit given your career progress and your post-MBA career aspirations.
From there, you'll figure out which schools are the best match with the Career Goals you defined.
After you've assured yourself that the school's that make your shortlist will prepare you for the future you envision, you can further refine your search by determining which schools have the best Academic Environment for you.
Next, you'll need to visit the schools and meet with people affiliated with the programs to figure out which programs are a good cultural fit for you.
Finally, you need to look at acceptance rates of the schools on your short list to ensure that your qualifications are in line with the profile of students they accept.
In the materials associated with this lecture, you'll find a School Selection Due Diligence Workbook to gather your research and answer the questions that are pertinent to deciding where to apply. You'll want to keep detailed research notes along the way because the information you gather to make an informed choice will supply you with content for the essays and interview questions that require you to explain the reasons you're applying.
The first step in School Selection is is to decide which type of program is best for you.
There are a range of other options, namely accelerated programs, fully-employed and part-time MBA programs, and executive MBAs. In recent years, you also have a range of options for earning an MBA online or via a hybrid of on-campus and online.
When it comes to choosing a program type, the most important factors to consider are the stage you've reached in your career and your immediate career aims. The criteria we're about to discuss are not hard and fast rules but they will give you some guidance to help you with this decision.
The traditional MBA degree is a full-time, two-year program with a summer internship between the first and second year. The 2-year programs are generally best-suited to individuals who are earlier in their careers. Also, if you're going to school to change careers then the two years with an internship in between is probably your best option. You should also know that in certain fields, such as management consulting and investment banking, the full-time degree is practically a right of passage.
Accelerated MBA program allow you to complete your degree requirements in 12 to 18 months. Accelerated programs typically start in January and don't break in the summer for an internship. These programs may be better for a candidate who has already entered the ranks of junior management and intends to return to the same firm or at least the same field after graduation. If you fall into that category, an internship is going to be less important.
According to Forbes magazine, Over 50% of MBA students opt for a Part-Time MBA Program. Part-time programs allow you to avoid the financial burden of taking one or two years off from work. These programs tend to appeal to applicants who plan to stay in their current jobs, at least in the short-term, but need the skills and credentials an MBA provides. Because the biggest financial impact on MBA students is typically lost wages, the least costly option is to attend a part-time MBA program.
As the name suggests, Executive MBA programs are designed for individuals who have climbed the corporate ranks and want to complement what they've learned on the job with more formal business and management training. Executive MBA students typically attend classes on weekends or during intensive periods throughout the year. Many, if not most, of the members of an Executive MBA are being groomed for C-Level leadership by the companies that are sponsoring them for their degree.
Some schools offer a menu of program types, allowing you to choose the one that is best for you. Others may only offer a single option. Once you've figured out what type of program is best for you, you'll be able to narrow your search to the schools that offer the type of programs that you are looking for.
Going to business school is the first step in the career action plan you developed in the last lecture. At this point, you need to identify the MBA programs that will best prepare you for the career you've set your sights on. In the next slide, we'll cover the three primary factors that you should consider in your search for MBA programs that will ready you to achieve your career aspirations.
Geography is the first factor to consider. Assuming you have some degree of flexibility about where you can go to school, you should be thinking about where you intend to build your career once school is over. Location matters because recruiting opportunities tend to be the best in the region in which the school is located.
If you plan to work in the U.S. upon graduation, then a U.S. business school is probably your best choice. By the same token, if your goal is to work in Europe or Asia, you should be considering the best programs in those countries. There are, of course, schools that have such a strong international reputation that you'll have the credentials to go wherever your career takes you.
Proximity to the industry hub of your field of interest is another important factor when it comes to choosing the best location to go to school. Going to school close to the hub of your future industry means it will be easier to build important industry connections during school, participate in field studies and master classes in that industry, and have the CEO of the 800-lb gorilla in your field swing by campus for a keynote address. Moreover, schools tend to develop a symbiotic relationship with the firms closest to them, and that kinship will be an advantage to you when recruiting season rolls around.
Tackling the geography questions is another way to to narrow the field considerably.
You're next step is to review the Capabilities Inventory you created in Lecture 2(c). Your knowledge of the field you want to work in and the skills & knowledge that you'll need to succeed in your future career will will guide you toward the school's that will best prepare you for that future.
Business schools tend to specialize in certain areas – entrepreneurship, marketing, finance, and so on. They also may have programs geared towards a particular industry such as high technology, health care, or financial services.
Your task now is to identify the school's with the most resources specifically targeted to the development needs you identified in your Capabilities Inventory. Targeted resources include courses, clubs, conferences, and research centers that appear tailor-made for your career.
You can learn a lot from the schools websites and by reviewing the course catalogues for the MBA programs for relevant courses and programs.
You should also talk to current MBA students and recent graduates with similar career goals. One way is to reach out to officers of industry-focused clubs such as the Private Equity Club, Real Estate Group, or Energy Club. An email exchange or brief call may reveal other clubs, conferences, and research centers that are aligned with your career interests.
Another way to choose the schools that best match your career goals is to find out where the thought leaders in your future field are reaching. For example, if you want to work in investment management find out where the professors that "wrote the book" on the last thinking in the field are on faculty.
Your informational interviews should have also offered you some initial impressions on which programs have the have the strongest reputation and alumni presence in your field. You're next step is to do more extensive research to determine which MBA schools the firms in your field hold in high regard and which schools have the most extensive alumni presence in your future field.
Often reputations goes hand in hand with alumni presence but there are other ways to generate some insights about school reputation in your field.
We always caution candidates about over-reliance on magazine rankings, but if magazines have ranked schools according to the strength of their offerings to future professional by industry those rankings may point you in the right direction. You'll still need to do your research to figure out why those schools hit the top of the charts.
To supplement your findings in your informational interviews, you may want to do some brief telephone interviews with other people who work in your field and take an informal poll of any recruiters or HR professionals in your industry to learn which schools they most respect and tend to hire from.
A short call or email exchange with a representative in a school's career placement office might give you further assurance. You can see how many of the firms you might be targeting interviewed on campus or at least offered jobs to student from the program in recent years. A proactive placement office that has cultivated relationships with recruiters in your field can be invaluable.
An extensive alumni presence in a certain field is an important signal about the school's reputation in that field. You want to get a sense of where the majority of senior people in the firm's you're interested in went to school. A strong alumni presence in an industry indicates that the degree is valued and that the skills and knowledge acquired by graduates correlates to long-term success. From a more practical standpoint, alumni connections will help open doors that will lead to job opportunities at graduation and career success longer-term.
You can also reach out to alumni organizations to see if they can offer you any insight into the alumni presence in the field you want to go into.
Answering the questions I've just posed will require significant research, but going to business school is one of the biggest investment decisions you'll ever make – so you need to do your due diligence to assure yourself that the MBA schools you decide to apply to will position you for future success.
Up to now we've talked mainly about the future, let's focus on a more immediate concern – the one or two years that you'll actually spend in school. The questions we pose next will help you to identify the schools that are the best match for what you want to learn and the way you learn best.
When it comes to identifying the schools with the best academic environment for you, one of the first decision you need to make is what size of program appeals to you. A school like HBS admits around 900 students a year whereas the Haas School of Business at University of Berkeley admits around 250.
There are certainly advantages to smaller programs – you'll probably get to know everyone in your class and the culture tends to be more closely knit. On the other hand, bigger schools can offer a broader number of electives than smaller ones and generally have more resources. Keep in mind that a smaller class also means a smaller alumni base. Darden, which admits only 320 students per year has 9,300 living alumni. HBS has almost five times that number.
The next consideration is which schools have teaching styles that match how you learn best.
Harvard, for example, is completely committed to the case study based on the belief that it's the best way to educate future leaders. By contrast, Chicago believes in a discipline-based approach which mixes cases and lectures. A few schools like HBA are 100% case study but other schools offer a mix of teaching styles; so you need to decide what mix feels right for you. If you were an undergraduate accounting major, like I was, and feel fairly fluent in the language of business then a case study based program might be a plus. But let's say you were a liberal arts major who's worked outside of business in your career thus far, you might be better off at a school that will start off with the "ABCs" of business.
Regarding teaching style, you may also want to look at what percentage of classes entail team-based learning and group projects. Another trend to pay attention to is whether the program offers master class opportunities which combine classroom theory with hands-on projects with actual companies.
A third question is "Which schools degree design fits your needs?
Let's again compare Harvard and Chicago. HBS requires all student to take every class in the core curriculum, whereas Chicago has a flexible curriculum that allows you to test out of subjects you've already mastered. At Harvard, CPAs took the first year accounting course together with the liberal arts majors. While there are some obvious advantages to programs that allow you to tailor your degree, you may be disappointed when the star-accountant places out of the introductory accounting course and isn't around to help you unravel the mysteries of debits and credits.
Another difference in degree design is whether or not you choose a major. In certain programs like Harvard you don't, which means you can take any variety of elective courses you like while still allowing you to concentrate on a specific discipline if you want to.
For some applicants the ability to cross-register with other schools or even earn a dual-degree such as a JD-MBA is important. I recently worked with a client whose career vision was to start an education not-for-profit. In her case, she was very interested in MBA programs that had either formal or informal ties with a top-notch School of Education. If you want to take classes at another school find out if this is allowed and also whether it's practical. Oftentimes, differences in academic calendars, degree requirements, and class schedules make it difficult to take advantage of courses in other schools.
Curriculums change, teaching styles evolve, and professors come and go but one thing that rarely changes in any significant way is a school's culture, which is the next factor we'll consider. How you fit or don't fit with the institution's culture is one of the most important aspects of deciding which MBA program is right for you.
When we talk about the culture of an MBA school, what we're really talking about is the school's personality. That personality shapes everything from the way a single classroom is run to what kinds of professors are hired and – more to our purpose – what kinds of students are accepted.
We encourage applicants to look at culture along three dimensions – the school's leadership culture, student culture, and alumni culture.
A school's leadership culture is very important because the school's leaders make the strategic decisions that influence the school's academic philosophy and vision. The academic philosophy is a kind of mission statement that influences how the program is designed and operates. The vision statement will help you to understand where the school plans to go in the future. This future trajectory is a valid consideration because the power of the school's brand and what it stands for will be on your resume for the duration of your career. Spending some time reading the speeches of deans and other school leaders can be valuable – decide if you are excited about the direction the school is going in because it will have implications to your experience in school and the long-term value of the school's brand name.
The student culture is a more immediate concern because it will have the greatest impact on your experience in the program. You may have heard any number of things second-hand about the culture of certain MBA programs – "this school is competitive, that school is collaborative, etc." I want to encourage you to look past stereotypes. The best way to decide where you fit culturally is to experience a school firsthand:
Attend information sessions, visit campus, meet 1-on-1 with students, and sit in on a class. While doing so pay careful attention to how students interact with one another and the student-professor dynamic. Do you have a sense that students go out of their way to promote each other's success or out of their way to promote their own? Is there a sense of inclusiveness? Do students seem engaged in class and eager to participate or are they checking their emails and more interested in their Blackberries?
The third aspect of culture to investigate is the alumni culture. It's really important to identify schools where alumni support one another and promote the success of their fellow alums. When talking to alums ask for examples of support they've received from their classmates and others in the alumni network. Try to gauge the degree of alumni involvement in the region where you live. Another signal about a supportive Alumni network is the extent that the school offers Alumni services and actively promotes alumni interaction via periodic class reunions, a database of alumni career advisors, and job search assistance. Building a supportive alumni culture doesn't just happen on its own -- it requires dedicated energy and attention. You'll find that some programs are committed to ensuring that the school's alumni culture is active, supportive, and inclusive.
Your investigation of culture can be both formal and informal. Pay careful attention to the personalities you encounter and the vibe you get from everyone you meet during your school selection due diligence. You want to build a "personality profile" of the schools on your short list and decide which program's culture is the best fit for you.
On the next slide, we'll share an exercise that you can use once most of your school visits and meetings are complete that will help you decide which school's culture is the best fit for you.
The "Party Exercise," adapted from a book called What Color is Your Parachute, may help you to identify school with culture that are a good fit for you. Imagine that you walk into a party consisting of all the people you've met from each school during your school research and over the years – students, alums, professors, admission officers, and so on. Congregations have formed according to the schools that each person is affiliated with. The question you need to answer is :"If you could only chose one group to spend the entire evening with, which would you join?"
Of course, the party can include more than four schools. In your imagination, fill your with as many schools as you have on your short list. After deciding which group you'd join, think about why you made your selection and write down some of the reasons. What is it about this group of people that makes you feel at home with them? Once you've made your decision then imagine that your favorite school congregation exits the party and you have to choose another school's corner. Where do you go next?
You can continue this exercise until such time as you'd simply rather leave the party than join any of the remaining groups. Clearly, the schools remaining at the party after you leave should be removed from your short list.
The last step in finalizing the list of schools that you will apply to is to consider the competitiveness of your candidacy versus the acceptance rates of the schools.
On this slide, we've categorized a selection of MBA programs based on their acceptance rates, which are calculated by dividing the the total number of applicants into the number of applicants admitted.
My philosophy is that you need to be realistic when it comes time apply to school, but you need to avoid becoming your own admissions officer. One thing's for sure: if you don't apply, you won't be accepted!
At this stage, I do think it is helpful to review your ding diagnostic exercise. As the number of potential flaws in your application increases – whether it's your GPA, GMAT score, or gaps in your leadership portfolio, the more you should consider applying to schools with higher acceptance rates.
Even if it's a reach you can always apply to your dream school, but I tell my clients who have some significant weaknesses in their application who can't wait another year to go to business school that they should certainly apply to some programs with less stringent qualification requirements.
When your school research is complete, we think it's helpful to summarize what you've learned in a chart like the one of the following page.
This chart is just meant to be a helpful representation to show you how you could summarize how well each school fits what you're looking for along the eight dimensions we've talked about in this lecture. Color coding your conclusions about the degree of fit will give you a visual representation and might allow you to more easily detect which programs are most attractive to you.
It would be nice if some number of schools scored highly across the board but realistically you will need to make some tradeoffs. Think about which of the criteria are most important to you and weight them more heavily. For example, if the location of the school is extremely important then schools that have a low degree of fit on this variable can probably be removed from your list.
At this stage, my clients often ask me how many schools they should apply to. Anecdotally, I've discovered that four is a good number. It allows you to choose a range of programs with varying degrees of fit.
OK, so it's time to start your School Selection Due Diligence.
You'll find a School Selection Due Diligence workbook available in your self-study materials. Please download it and start working through the questions. Remember that each person's assessment of what's "right" for them is very personal – so don't be swayed by other people's opinions – get out there are do your own research!
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Reference: Lecture Slides and Speaker Notes