Do you remember buying your first car? You spent hours on the internet reading reviews, forums, and articles. You browsed image galleries with pictures numbering in the dozens if not hundreds. You shopped around for the best deals and conducted test drive after test drive. Why you did all this isn’t exactly surprising. For one, a car is expensive! Secondly, you were going to be driving this car for quite a few years and you wanted to make a purchase that met your needs but also checked off a few boxes on the “want side”.
So why, when it comes to selecting MBA programs, do most applicants give it only a fraction of the thought? An MBA is far more expensive and stays with you far longer. It determines your trajectory and can enable your goals. It also, to a certain extent, can determine the quality of your social life! But most applicants look at the current year’s rankings and go, “Ah, School X is #Y, I want to go there” without much additional consideration or research.
When it comes to deciding on which business schools to apply to, there’s a lot more to consider than just rank. Half of you reading this are probably in shock – what blasphemy is this?! Now, don’t get me wrong, ranking is a significant component and should be given serious consideration but there’s more to think about. For one, which programs are best suited to enable your educational and career goals? Which have the environment, culture, and people to make it an amazing experience?
So approach school selection the same way you’d buy a new car and follow these three tips:
Rankings aren’t everything: Would you buy a car based solely on third party reviews and rankings? Sure, they’re important and can give you a level understanding of what’s out there but it isn’t tailored to you. Year after year, too many applicants get caught up in rankings when deciding where to apply. Just remember, rankings change every year and while the top programs will probably stay the top programs for a long while to come, they may not always be #1, or 2, or 7. It really comes down to what you find most useful. After all, in the current top 3, each has an incredibly different learning style and culture. Instead, look at what makes each school special and be realistic in evaluating assessing your odds.
Have a Conversation: Just like speaking to other car owners to get their opinions on a particular model, talking to alumni and current students is a great way to really get the inside scoop on a school. In your conversations you will get a good understanding of what the school does well and discover the unique aspects of the school that distinguishes them. Find out what motivated each person to select the school and how the school specifically helped the person achieve his or her goals. Gauge the enthusiasm and passion of each person as they describe their experiences. Remember that these people will become part of your alumni family and represent the type of individuals that you will be spending the next two years of your life with.
Take a Visit: The absolute best way to determine if a school is the right fit for you is to go visit when class is in session. Would you buy a cay without taking it for a test drive first? While it can get expensive and time consuming to visit all schools you are interested in, it is well worth making a trip to your top five choices. The benefits are obvious. Sitting in a class and speaking with students will immediately give you feedback on the learning environment. Meanwhile, observing groups of students working and interacting together provides depth into the type of culture that each school has. Finally, take a tour of the city to determine if the location is right for you. A school visit is a powerful tool that can drastically change the opinion, both positively and negatively, of potential applicants.
Remember, business school is a life changing event and the process of selecting the right schools should not be taken lightly. Have fun with the process and enjoy the ride!
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