Title: The "Right Fit" MBA Hunt: More Than Just Names and Numbers
Golden leaves on the ground and the air is getting a little crispy and cold… ahhhhh, Round 2 application season is upon us! So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and pursue an MBA. This is an exciting, but also quite daunting, moment. Often, as applicants begin this process they have one thing in mid: “how do I make myself attractive to the top schools?”
That’s a good question to ask… but not the only question. You also need to keep in mind -throughout the application process- that it’s not just about getting into the highest ranked MBA program possible, it's about finding YOUR MBA program. The one that fits you like a glove, aligns with your values, and helps you climb the ladder of success in your own unique style. Keep an open mind throughout every step and during every phase -research, essay writing, interviews- so that you can constantly be aware of things you like and don’t like about the various programs.
In the 17 years that I’ve spent helping applicants get into top programs, I often say that I’m like the sommelier at a nice restaurant: my job is to provide you with the best possible advice (don’t pair a red wine with a delicate whitefish) but ultimately, the choice is up to you. In doing follow-up work with clients, what I’ve discovered is that clients that we helped get into top-5 programs that maybe weren’t the best match (usually because they ignore my advice), ended up having less stellar MBA experiences. By contrast, clients who maybe took a half-step down the rankings ladder to attend a school whose culture, strengths, and positioning better aligned with what they wanted and needed, tended to be happier and be in a better spot post-graduation.
If attending Harvard Business School or Stanford GSB is your dream, I won’t, shouldn’t, and probably can’t dissuade you. BUT, it is important to remember that the application process isn't just about selling yourself to the school. Nope. It's a two-way street. Just as they're deciding if you're a good fit for them, you need to figure out if they're a good fit for you. It's an imperfect analogy, but applying to an MBA program is a bit like dating where you’re trying to show your best self, but also making sure the other side’s best self is what’s best for you. Don’t “swipe right” just because of a shiny brand or high ranking; keep an open mind and actively use the application process to find out if the school is perfect for you.
The application questions can tell you a lot about the school's culture. They're a window into the soul of the institution. If a school asks about your community work or social impact initiatives, it's a pretty clear signal that they value social responsibility. So if you're passionate about making a difference, that could be your perfect match! On the flip side, if you're all about entrepreneurship or finance, this might not be the best fit for you. This is true even if a school’s brand, ranking, or prestige is sooooo hard to resist.
One of the best ways to get the lowdown on a school is by chatting with the people who've lived it – the current students, the alumni, and even the faculty. These are the folks who can give you the real scoop, beyond all the glitzy brochures and the polished website marketing blurbs. They can tell you about the school vibe, the inside jokes, the stress of exams, and how helpful (or not) the faculty and career services are. If anything they say makes you go “hmmmm…” follow up on it. In your conversations, be on the lookout for criticisms that multiple people make, ask current and former students what they would change, and use your intuition to feel out how excited they are about their educational process and career prospects.
Speaking of faculty, they're a crucial part of your MBA journey. After all, they'll be the ones imparting wisdom and guiding you along the way. Check out their areas of expertise. Do they align with your interests? And think about their teaching styles. Are you the kind of person who prefers traditional lectures, or do you thrive in an experiential learning environment with case studies and group projects?
Now, let's talk about the elephant in the room: school rankings. They're impossible to ignore, but they can also lead you astray. Sure, it's great to aim for a highly-ranked institution, but remember, these rankings aren't everything. They're made up of many factors, and some might not be as important to you as others. Don't get so caught up in the numbers game that you miss out on finding the school that truly fits you. Getting obsessed with the brand or ranking can sometimes make you miss red flags. Just because a school has a big name doesn't mean it's the right one for you. It's a bit like wearing a designer outfit that doesn't fit you well – it might impress others, but if you're not comfortable in it, you won't shine.
The application process is your first step towards finding the perfect MBA program for you. Look beyond the prestige and the rankings, connect with the school's community, and tune into the school's vibes through the application. Because the best MBA program for you isn't necessarily the one at the top of the list, it's the one that matches your goals, interests, and values. After all, the ultimate goal isn't just to get an MBA, it's to kick-start a journey of growth and transformation that's tailored just for you. Happy hunting!
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