For candidates just getting started in preparing for MBA admissions and for candidates choosing among business schools after gaining admission, many key factors should influence your choices. Of course, for the candidate just getting started, you must assess where you are competitive. But for both candidates just beginning the process and for those choosing among schools after admission, here are two factors you should consider when narrowing your list:
Prestige is not the same thing as “ranking”. A business school can be ranked as a “top-5” business school in one year and be only a “top-7” business school the very next year. Rankings can fluctuate greatly, even year to year. They can also be notably different based upon which organization provided the ranking. However, the “brand” you pick up from the business school you attend can continue on and on, regardless of ranking.
When considering which business school to apply to or to attend, focusing solely on business school rankings rather than also on the long-term prestige of each school can be shortsighted. For instance, when a student who intends to pursue a career outside of the USA must choose between NYU and Oxford, they must think hard about prestige. NYU is a well-ranked business school, but Oxford’s prestige on the whole is gold, even if the business school could improve its ranking. The prestige of an Oxford degree might outweigh the strong ranking of NYU’s business school for a candidate who will be pursuing their career outside of the USA. For a candidate who will pursue their career in the USA, when considering a choice between a respectable regional school and a nationally ranked school, prestige should also be considered. If you intend to move around the USA during your career, the more prestigious nationally ranked school may serve you better. But prestige is a subjective matter. In the South, for instance, Duke’s name carries far and may open more doors than an MBA from the University of Chicago, because in the South, Booth may not be as widely known in spite of its strong national ranking.
Career and Alumni
When applying to business school and also when choosing which business school to attend, you should have a general sense of where you want to take your career post-MBA, both in the years immediately following your graduation as well as in ten or twenty years. Companies that recruit on campus usually have a target list of “core schools” and longstanding relationships with those career management offices. More often than not, your degree is only a stepping stone towards what you want to do later in life. In many cases, you will have two or three job changes in your first post-MBA decade. It is during those crucial moments when your network can make a difference. Many schools offer lifelong career support. Alumni will often favor job candidates from their own school. Your classmates will start companies or rise to senior positions in various industries and offer resources, networks and career advice. Consider the school that will best help to fulfill your career aspirations.
Other significant factors to consider include the academics, culture, student life and financial assistance. I can comment about these factors in a separate posting.