After reading "Musings on Kellogg's Differentiators" by Managing Magic, who describes well a few distinguishing characteristics at Kellogg, I decided to explore the factors MBA applicants should examine to uncover the differences between programs. Researching these elements will help 2010 MBA applicants as they start their school research. They may also be worth a second look for 2009 applicants happily handling multiple acceptances.
Managing Magic points out in his posts that the schools frequently sound very much the same in their marketing materials and presentations. So how is an applicant wisely researching her options able to discern the points of difference?
A few suggestions and not in order of importance:
- The employment profile. See where graduates find jobs. Which schools send the most grads to the companies, industries, and locations you are most interested in?
- The class profile. Do you really want to be in a class that draws over 70% of its students from engineering, business, and technical fields? Or would you prefer to be in a class where 46% came from the social sciences and humanities? Both MIT and Stanford provide outstanding MBA educations, but their class make-up is very different. You may prefer one or the other.
- The curriculum. Would you chafe at Harvard's rigid first year where everyone takes the same classes? Or would you be lost with all the options at Chicago, which prides itself on its flexibility? Is the ability to pass out of prerequisites important to you? Do you want a lot of teacher cooperation and integration of business functions such as is provided by Tuck or Yale.
- Methodology. Do you prefer a mix of methodologies? Check out Wharton. Do you seek an emphasis on projects and hands-on learning as at Ross? Do you want strict case method? Take a closer look at HBS and Darden.
- Clubs and extra-curriculars. Managing Magic correctly points out that many schools have imitated MIT Sloan's business plan competition. But not every one has a social enterprise competition (HBS does). If you are interested in social enterprise, that competition may be particularly appealing. What are some of the unusual clubs at the different schools that you might be interested in. For example almost every school will have a Marketing Club, but only some, like Columbia, will have a Luxury Goods Marketing Club. Again, if this is your interest, the existence and health of that club may be an important attraction for you.
- Professor research. If there is a prof or two researching the niche appealing to you, he may be the magnet pulling you to that program. Are there independent study opportunities? Does he teach MBA students? What classes?
- "Fit." Then there is that almost indefinable quality called "fit." Visit the schools you are considering to determine fit. If visiting isn't feasible, talk to current students, read MBA student blogs, and follow the student body newspapers.
Understanding the differences among business schools isn't easy, but it is worthwhile. Grasping these points of difference will enable you to make more intelligent application and acceptance decisions.