Where you go to school for your MBA will have important implications to your future career and your future in general. An MBA is one of the biggest investments of time, energy, and money you’ll ever make. Not to mention the fact that the school you attend will be on your resume and part of your “personal brand” for the rest of your life. Too many applicants make the mistake of beginning and ending their school research with the magazine rankings. While you don’t want to disregard the rankings, we will show you how to look beyond them so that you can rank schools based on factors that truly matter to you. In this MBA Prep Step™ and the units that it contains, you’ll learn how to look beyond the magazine rankings, the schools’ marketing messages, and the opinions of others.
Just about every school is going to ask why you’re applying to their program. If you follow the step-by-step approach we are going to teach you, you’ll be able to choose the schools that are the best fit for you, and you will have a convincing answer to the “Why Our School” essay question.
We’ve divided the selection process into five steps:
- Select a Program Type
- Select Schools That Fit Your Career Goals
- Select the Best Academic Environment for You
- Select the Best Culture for You
- Apply to Schools that Match Your Qualifications
As you proceed through these steps, you will continue to narrow the field until you have a target list of schools that match what you are looking for. We’ll start with big picture questions about the program design and location. Once you’ve answered those questions, we’ll pose a series of questions that will help you figure out which programs are the best match for your career goals, academic goals, and cultural expectations. Last, we will touch on some final considerations that will help you to prioritize the schools that make your short list, including how well your qualifications match what the schools are looking for. Your answers to the questions we pose in this unit will help guide you to the schools that are the best fit with your qualifications and aspirations.
Exercise: School Research Techniques
In this section, we will pose a number of questions and your answers will enable you to select the schools that are the best ones for you. Before we do, we wanted to offer some general advice on the research techniques you can use to answer those questions.
Visiting the school’s website, reading the program’s brochure, and perusing the brief profiles in business magazines are insufficient.
Here are seven ways to go beyond what an average candidate will do in terms of school research. Have faith that diligent school selection efforts and in-depth knowledge of the programs you apply to will prove to be a huge competitive advantage in the application process.
- Sign-up for Email and Other Information Lists: Many schools’ Admissions Committees publish blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and participate in online web chat events. Sign-up for all of them and take careful notes on what impresses you and what questions you would like answered from your school visits and/or other research.
- Read the Student Blogs: An increasing number of current students are publishing “unvarnished” impressions of their school experiences. Even those that are published through “official” school channels are surprisingly candid and will offer further insights into the culture of the school and what a “day in the life of a student” is really like.
- Visit the School: Visiting your target schools is really important. You need to “be there” to ascertain things like culture and campus dynamics. Moreover, first-hand impressions and observations included in your essays and interview answers will distinguish your application from the pack.
- Complete “Informational” Interviews with Current Students and/or Recent Grads: The most “up-to-date” information on a particular school will come from current students and/or recent graduates. Many will be happy to give you the “inside scoop” on the school, the faculty, life on campus, and many other details that will help you choose the right school and explain in your application why it is the best one for you.
- Contact Student Clubs: Student clubs will be a major facet of your business school experience. Reach out to club officers and members that you would like to get involved in if accepted. They can inform you about club activities as well as other targeted resources the school has that will fit with your academic and professional goals.
- Meet with Alumni and Leaders of Alumni Clubs: The school’s alumni network will be with you for the rest of your life. Contact the local chapter of the alumni association and try to meet with some of its members. You will pick up invaluable impressions and insights to aid you in school selection.
- Interview on Campus: Schools will tell you that it doesn’t really make a difference if you interview on or off campus. Even if that is true, an on-campus interview is a great opportunity to visit the school to learn more about how well the school fits with your needs and how well you fit with the school.