Since a lot of next year’s applicants are starting to show up and probably are in the point in the process most of us were last year I think that we should try to give them some advice on choosing the right schools to apply to will be helpful for them. This is some of my suggestions...hopefully some other people will add to this or provide their take.
First of all the most important thing is to figure out who you are personality wise, what type of community you want, where you want to be, what you want to do for a career, and something a lot of people overlook what your perceived strengths and weaknesses are going to be. Until you know these you are going to be going just off of rankings and other things that arent going to add much to your decision. Sure if you go to a top 5 or 10 school you will have tons of opportunities and in the end you will most likely enjoy where you end up. But different schools have different strengths and different people will definitely have a much better time at some schools than others because of the community fit.
As for strengths/weaknesses this is my opinion...if you were an english major and have never done any math beyond balancing your check book a school with a great quant rep like GSB may do wonders for your profile. If you have a MS in engineering, do advanced math at work, and want a management career then a school with a reputation of developing soft skills like Kellogg might be more important than being adding more quant on your profile. Basically try to round your profile out to make yourself more diverse and attractive...this is why some people say you shouldnt go to the same school you did your UG.
Try to dig deep, go beyond the bw profile, schools websites, and stereotypes. If you are aiming for top schools they all will give you opportunities in pretty much ever field, so dont let that be your one deciding factor...if you want marketing Kellogg isnt the only school that can get you there, IB isnt limited to GSB, Wharton, and Columbia. This site and the people who are at or going to be at different schools are an amazing resource. Remember most of us have done tons of leg work on all these things so pick people brains.
Who to talk to: For students the best people to talk to are those in clubs you are interested in, for alums find people working in your desired field and industry. If you have a very specific goal and there is a professor who teaches a course that fits it perfectly by all means try to talk to them. The people you share interests with are probably going to give you the best idea about the school for you individually. I think they tend to be very enthusiastic with helping and you can get beyond the how “do you like school XXX” generic stuff if they have similar interests and goals. You will find most folks are very helpful but its still stressful trying to find the right connections…I look at it as good practice for recruiting and networking you will be doing in your first year. Above all remember everyone you try to talk to was in your shoes so they will sympathize.
If you already have a short list of schools and some are within driving distance you still have time to visit this spring. Unfortunately classes end in the very beginning of June at most schools so you may have a week or two at most before people will be busy with finals and stuff. Visits in the fall are very helpful but some schools dont allow visits until Oct. because 1st years are still going through their orientations and what not...so by the time you can visit apps are a few weeks away. However, if you know students at schools it is possible to go to class visits and walk around the school before official visits start. Hint there are people on here representing just about every single school in the top 20 and then some...start making nice with the people at schools you like.
Also this summer start checking schools websites they will have different events at various cities around the world. Go to TONS of these, even if you arent sure on a school go to the events if you have the time. Pick the alums brains, dont be afraid to follow up with emails to them. They show up to these because they love their schools so they definitely will respond to your questions.
I know I rushed my decision for some schools. I actually ended up dropping a school within days of the deadline AFTER I completed the applications because I decided the fit wasn’t right. This is just as important a decision as anything in the whole application process...don’t underestimate the effort it will take to figure out the truth about schools and where you really “fit” best. Adcoms talk about the holistic approach they use to find the right applicants to admit...you should be using this approach when deciding which school to spend $250 to apply to.
The Ambassadors Forum...this is still pretty new but this should become a pretty helpful place in the future. Hopefully more people step up and start adding other schools on there.http://www.gmatclub.com/forum/128
Kellogg Class of 2010...still active and willing to help. However, I do not do profile reviews, don't offer predictions on chances and am far to busy to review essays, so save the energy of writing me a PM seeking help for these. If I don't respond to a PM that is not one of the previously mentioned trash can destined messages, please don't take it personally I get so many messages I have a hard to responding to most. The more interesting, compelling, or humorous you message the more likely I am to respond.