When I began the application process, I had a ton of questions about school selection. Many of those same questions lingered until I finally made my decision about where to matriculate. So, here’s a high-level overview of my thoughts. Please keep in mind that the below comments are solely my personal opinion. Also, there are many details that I haven’t included; these are just some quick thoughts. Step 1: Rankings
I was only interested in applying to a top 20 school. While there are many great schools outside of this list, these were the schools that would offer me the greatest ROI. Among these programs, I wanted to have a balance of options related to my odds of being accepted – some schools in the top 5, some in the top 10, and some in the top 20. There are no “safety” schools among top MBA programs, and I was honestly just hoping for one admit.
1. Harvard Business School
2. Stanford GSB
3. Chicago (Booth)
4. UPenn (Wharton)
5. Northwestern (Kellogg)
6. MIT (Sloan)
7. Columbia Business School
8. Dartmouth (Tuck)
9. Duke (Fuqua)
10. UC-Berkeley (Haas)
11. Cornell (Johnson)
12. Michigan (Ross)
13. Virginia (Darden)
14. UCLA (Anderson)
15. New York (Stern)
16. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)
17. Yale School of Management
18. UNC (Kenan-Flagler)
19. Texas-Austin (McCombs)
20. Indiana (Kelley) Step 2: Location
Long-term, I plan to settle on the east coast. Therefore, I quickly crossed off several schools, and decided that Kellogg and Stanford would be the only two schools that would be worth it for me to leave the east coast. Additionally, I wasn’t interested in going to school in New York, as it’s freakishly expensive and overly chaotic. At this point, the list shrank by almost 50%.
1. Harvard Business School
2. Stanford GSB
3. UPenn (Wharton)
4. Northwestern (Kellogg)
5. MIT (Sloan)
6. Dartmouth (Tuck)
7. Duke (Fuqua)
8. Cornell (Johnson)
9. Virginia (Darden)
10. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)
11. Yale School of Management
12. UNC (Kenan-Flagler) Step 3: Community and Program Offerings
Next, I thought about the community of the schools. Certain programs tend to attract more quant/finance-oriented people. I wanted a program with a strong sense of community, and ideally one with strengths in social enterprise, my area of interest.
This is where I crossed off schools like Wharton, Booth, and Tepper. Although these programs are amazing, they just don’t align well with my career goals.
I spent countless hours researching each program and chatting with both current students and alumni. I also visited the schools before applying. I needed to understand the nuances of each school. Step 4: The Final List
In the end, it came down to deciding between the following 6 programs. I only applied to schools that I would be truly happy to attend and that I believed would help me to achieve my career goals. There's no such thing as a "safety school" with MBA admissions.1. Harvard Business School:
I had to apply to HBS. It’s one of the highest-ranked schools with an incredible brand name; the broader university offers a ton of resources, not just limited to the b-school; and the Social Enterprise Club is one of the largest groups on campus. Additionally, the case method is a very unique experience that truly allows you to dive into the mindset of a business leader, dealing with ambiguity, diverse opinions, and often limited information. 2. Stanford GSB:
The GSB is one of the only schools (aside from Darden) that offers a two-year joint degree for business and education. The Bay Area is an incredibly innovative and exciting place to be. And of course, the community here is legendary. This was one of the most challenging applications, but I felt that the essays best highlighted who I truly am. 3. Northwestern (Kellogg):
Kellogg excels in social enterprise. Plus, it’s a fun place to spend 2 years. Kellogg students truly care about each other and about their school. Kellogg offers the type of network and life-long friendships that I want to cultivate. 4. Dartmouth (Tuck):
I absolutely love Tuck. Every single Tuckie I spoke with went out of his/her way to help me, to answer my questions, or just to talk about how awesome Tuck is. The 70% alumni giving rate speaks for itself. No other school comes close to having the devotion that Tuck does. The isolated community allows Tuck students to immerse themselves into the experience and culture of the school. 5. Duke (Fuqua):
I really liked the “Team Fuqua” mentality, and I especially appreciated that it was a way of life, not just a marketing tagline. This was one of my favorite applications; the “25 random things” was actually fun, and it speaks to the type of people that Fuqua seeks to attract. 6. Yale School of Management:
SOM hosts the largest Business and Education conference each year. During my visit, I found my “tribe,” other people who care about the same things that I do. Especially coming from a less-traditional background, I appreciated the uniqueness of the SOM community and the program’s strong ties to the University.
In the end, I chose to matriculate at HBS. I believe that the expansiveness of the HBS network and the extent of resources offered by the university will best allow me to achieve my niched career interests. Also, I think this program will most push me out of my comfort zone, helping me to grow personally and professionally.
There are many other thoughts that went through my head during the decision-making process, but these are some of the key aspects. School selection is a deeply personal process. While many people had opinions about where I should apply and/or matriculate, I ultimately had to make the decision that I felt was best for me.
Advice, Musings, and Experiences from a member of the HBS Class of 2016