Finding MBA programs and shortlisting programs is as much art as it is science. But there are some things you should always keep in mind when doing research! Applying to business school is a big investment. Aside from buying a house, it’s probably the biggest one you’ll make. Unless you buy a boat, but we digress. As an applicant you’ll be balancing school visits, applications, recommenders, and the GMAT along with that full time job and personal life of yours. If you are like most people and require a reasonable amount of sleep, this means you are going to need to make tradeoffs in the number of schools that you apply to. These time constraints mean our clients typically apply to 4 – 5 programs and rarely more than 7 across the first two rounds. With that said, it’s absolutely essential that you have the right criteria in place to create a shortlist of schools that you are applying to so that you are concentrating your time into only the programs that you are truly interested in.
While we have talked about selecting the right school in a previous blog [Decisions, Decisions – How to Pick Schools] and provide a pretty thorough list of criteria to consider in our [Choosing MBA Programs] free resources section, we wanted to take some extra time to really walk through fit. Throughout the application process, you’ll hear the word fit a million times. The reason for that is MBA programs want to make sure they are selecting students that will succeed in their programs and support the culture and image that they are trying to foster. They also want to make sure they’re the right school for the applicant – something a lot of applicants don’t think about! By putting time and thought into determining fit at your target programs from the beginning, you make things easier for yourself and the school when it comes to creating a strong match. Think of it as doing some due diligence before saying yes to going out on a first date.
So what are some of the more important factors when figuring out if schools are a fit for you? Here are some of the more important factors to consider when shortlisting programs:
Post-MBA Career Enablement
We’re not just talking about the cursory, “does the company I want to work for hire here” – we’re saying dig deeper. Most of the large companies recruit at most of the top programs. If you’re going into consulting, for example, most of the top 16 programs will hire graduates. However, if you’re looking to go into a specific industry or function, then things like geography, career services relations, and others things will come into play. Furthermore does the school have a strong reputation and curriculum in the industry or function that you are interested in to give you the additional credibility you need when it comes to changing careers. There are a few other things to think about too! For example, how robust of an alumni network does the school have with your target companies? Have people who share your background and career passions been successful getting into what you want to get into? These two questions are extremely important if the opportunities you’re pursuing are off-campus! And on top of all that, if the companies you are interested in DO hire at the program, what are your chances of landing that internship or job? Companies take the best and brightest they can so how do you compare against the rest of the student body? Lastly, there are a host of secondary things to consider such as involvement activities and the strength of the career services department. They’ll all come into play! At the end of the day, remember why you’re getting an MBA – for most of you it’s to give your career a kick in the pants!
The School’s Culture and Your Personality
Nothing will dictate the kind of experience you will have in your MBA than the culture, values, and personality of the school. Do you prefer a competitive environment where you will be challenged every step of the way? Or are you better suited for a more relaxed setting that truly focuses on relationships and collaboration? Not to say one is better than the other but it comes down to which environment fits best with what you are comfortable with. Also, make sure you are truly comfortable with what you think you want. A lot of applicants want grade non-disclosure but when boots hit the ground, they are just as focused on grades!
That’s why school visits are so important. Go check out campus, meet faculty and staff, get to know students, explore student organizations, and explore the setting. As you do more research you will discover each school’s unique brand and identity which draws heavier concentrations of different personality types. For example, Tuck (full school profile) features a small class size in a small town setting that fits people who prefer a more close-knit and highly involved community. On the flip side you have a school like Stern (full school profile) that provides a fast paced environment within a major city setting that attracts a number of people that are really focused on making their own mark on the Big Apple.
When it comes to fit, there are no right answers. Just be honest with yourself and pick what’s best for you. This is two years of your life – introspection will pay dividends!
Teaching Styles and Learning Styles
So we know you’re heading off to school to accelerate your career (*cough cough party*) but you’re going to learn a few things too. Whether you want to or not! But you probably do so look at programs who teach in a way that works with how you learn. Beware of things that sound sexy that might not work for you.
For example, schools like Harvard Business School (full school profile) and Darden (full school profile) heavily utilize the case method which involves significant outside the class prep and in-class discussion. Case study curriculum garners a lot of attention but it isn’t right for everyone. For example, for folks with non-business backgrounds and experiences, case only curriculums can present a steep learning curve. Additionally, students rate advanced courses in case only schools higher than the basics. That’s because sometimes you just need someone to tell you how to structure a regressions analysis and that can be difficult to convey in a case.
Meanwhile, students at Kellogg (full school profile) and Wharton (full school profile) can expect a heavy dose of group projects which provides its own set of learning experiences and challenges. Finally, you have schools like Ross (full school profile) and Booth (full school profile) that really emphasize experiential learning and provide students the opportunity to take on consulting projects that serve as a mini-internship to bolster resumes. A student that thrives in a group setting versus a student that does their best work through independent thought will respond very differently according to each teaching style. Also, consider your comfort zone and development needs – if you work well by yourself but need to learn to work in teams, you might want to consider schools that balance both!
Now that you know some of things it takes to find that perfect fit in a school, it is time to create that short list and move on to talking to students and making school visits to confirm your findings! Ok, that sounds a little like the scientific method but that’s ok! For more tips about what to consider when looking for the perfect MBA programs, visit [How to Choose Programs].
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