Having considered which schools will best prepare you for the future, you should focus on a more immediate concern – the years that you will actually spend in school. The questions in this unit will help you to identify the schools that have the best academic environment for you. Your goal is to find the schools that are the best match for what you want to learn and the way you learn best.
The questions to answer at this stage of your school selection research are:
- Which schools have an academic philosophy that matches your own?
- Which schools’ degree design best fits your needs?
- Which school is the optimal size for you?
- Will the school offer access to other schools/disciplines?
Which schools have an academic philosophy that matches your own?
To select the schools that fit your academic needs, start by learning about the academic philosophy of the schools on your target list. The academic philosophy of the school is a kind of mission statement that influences how the program is designed and operates. 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, for example, believes in a “discipline-based approach” that mixes cases and lectures.
Ask yourself, which schools have an academic philosophy that will best meet your learning needs. If you were an undergraduate accounting major and feel fairly fluent in the language of business then a case study based program might be a plus. On other hand, if you were a liberal arts major who’s been working in advertising for four years, you might be better off at a school that will first teach you the ABCs of business.
Which schools’ degree design best fits your needs?
Each school puts a great deal of time and care into designing their program. Once again, we will compare Harvard and Chicago. At the time of this writing, Harvard Business School requires all students 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, certified public accountants take the first year accounting course together with the liberal arts majors.
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 prefer.
You need to weight the pros and cons of each program’s degree design relative to your academic development needs.
Which school is the optimal size for you?
The size of the program is another consideration. HBS admits around 900 students a year, and some prospective students think that’s too many. Consider the advantages of 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 320 students per year, has 9,300 living alumni. HBS has around 43,000.
Will the school offer access to other schools/disciplines?
Another question that some applicants have in relation to academic goals is whether they can cross-register with other schools or earn a dual-degree such as a JD-MBA. For example, if your career vision is to start an educational not-for-profit, then MBA programs with formal or informal ties with a top-notch School of Education will likely appeal to you.
If you want to take classes at another school, first find out if this is allowed; second, find out whether or not it is practical to do so. Often times, differences in academic calendars, degree requirements, and class schedules make it difficult to take advantage of courses in other schools.
Unit Review: Select the Best Academic Environment for You
- Identify the schools that best match what you want to learn and the way you learn best.
- Academic philosophy and degree design reflect the school’s belief in how to best prepare the typical MBA-student. Consider the philosophy and design that will best prepare you.
- There are pros and cons to consider regarding school size.
- If you want to cross-register, find out if it is possible and practical.