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How to select which schools to apply to

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How to select which schools to apply to  [#permalink]

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New post 12 Jul 2018, 13:27

How to select the B-Schools to apply to

I have been dreading writing about this topic for a very long time, mainly for two reasons. First, I applied to many many programs and got into a few of them. My selection of schools was purely based on hedging my odds and increasing my chances, and I have had amazingly peculiar outcomes. For example, I interviewed at Booth, got in and Sloan, Ross, Tuck and Stern but did not get an interview invite at Haas (I am still miffed about Haas), UCLA and Fuqua. I have analyzed the predictability of business school admissions in the past and came to a rather unsatisfying-well, they are not that predictable- conclusion.

Yet, I find myself trying to figure out a reasonably scientific process to make the madness of applying to several schools somewhat easier. I mean making the process a bit less gruesome.

So, in classic millennial consumption fashion, these are the most important factors (or criteria - that word sound a bit too cautionary) to think about -in that order- while applying to business schools.

#1 Nobody cares that you went to HBS

Well, maybe except your parents. You did them proud by donning the crimson. Apart from them, especially the people who matter (I hear what I just wrote, and it sounds awful) re: recruiters, classmates, teachers would be pretty much all kick-ass people regardless of which top school you choose to go to. Sure, there are some special jobs that recruiters are very snooty about (Netflix strategy, I am looking at you!), but for the vast majority, you will share your interviews with Boothies, Haasies, Rossers, and Yalies (not sure if SOM folks call them that but it sounds a lot better than SOMmies). This suspicion has been repeatedly reconfirmed by veterans of the community such as rhyme and his still-so-underrated retrospective article on the MBA. Check it out. No. Do. It. NOW. I guess what I am trying to say is that rankings and prestige matter. Sure. But not to the people you think they do.

#2 Fit does not matter much either.

Okay. I am going to get a lot of hate on this. But I agree with the always-entertaining Jon Frank from Admissionado (also, check out the Admissioando video on school selection at the bottom of this article - it is funny AF) when he says, "you should go to the best possible school you can get into". Sure, the fit is a very reliable indicator of whether you will truly enjoy the experience of the school or not. But you know what, fit is ridiculously subjective. I know from my conversations with students from the same school who had contradictory (entirely, at that) opinions about what defines their school culture. I think it is pretty normal. There are SO many people and clusters and groups and learning teams and compadres and rangers and what not for schools to have a uniform culture. Does that not mean you don't get an approximate idea of what schools are like? I'd venture out and say NO! Sure, some stereotypes may have enough merit to stand on, but for most of them - your research on schools was done as a not-so-thorough part-time outsider. You do not know how the school really is. So, it would be foolish to discard Columbia as a commuter school. I know on very good authority that is not.

Edit: Okay and hate I did get, but from a person I know and completely trust — so let me quickly clarify what I mean when I say "Fit does not matter" - Fit does not matter from a school selection standpoint, meaning when you are choosing schools, choose based on what you want to get out of b school such as recruiting, courses, opportunities in your target industry and what not. Once you have landed a handful of admits, the fit can be a very important indicator in choosing which school you want to end up in. I was reminded by the same person — who also happens to school me on anything admissions — that I indeed picked a school that sometimes fall behind on rankings compared to a few other schools I got into. So, there you go. I DID use fit as a selection process once I had been admitted to them.

#3The geography of the school actually matters quite a bit!

Imagine you have been an investment banker on the east coast. You wake up at 5 AM, go to the gym, come back to take a hot shower, apply 3 different products on your hair, get your grooming game on point, wear your Armani or Hugo Boss or whatever you are into and reach your desk before the clock hits 8. Will you be able to accustom yourself to all those carefree and hippie west coasters who show up to class wearing workout track pants? More importantly, the same ones who think In & Out is better than Shake Shack?

Okay, I may have gone a bit overboard with the pop culture stereotypes, but geographies play a huge role in where you want to eventually recruit, the culture of the city/state/region you want to see yourself being in and most importantly, the kind of jobs you will recruit for. For example, consulting hopefuls at Ross flock near the Chicago or NYC office while those from Tuck steer towards DC and New York. If you want to get into banking, the east coast is probably still your best bet, and if you are looking into working at AMSFPPLE, you might have your heart set in the bay area and hence schools from there. I think geography is much more important than evaluating culture fit and even if you are an international student who does not know his Washington from DC, you might as well start your geography lessons if you want to come to stateside.

#4 - Your stats are worse than you think they are

You 740 hotshot you! Step aside because 740 is the new 720! Okay, first off, 740 is an incredibly competitive score so you should be pretty happy. My point here is that things are way harder than they used to be, and unless you are from an underrepresented or just-an-average pool, I would be a bit nervous with a 740. In fact, if you are an Indian male engineer with anything below 740, I would ask you to at least give the idea of retaking a legitimate thought. A 750+ score just stops the resume from being tossed aside (okay, business schools won't ever admit to this, but I think aside from a few schools, many actually don't even print resumes of Indian male engineers with sub 730 scores for reviewers to read. (stop frowning Yale SOM! It wasn't me who started giving out invites to high GMAT scorers even before their video essays were turned in!) My point is that your stats could always be better. It is like losing weight. You can (and maybe should) lose 5 pounds. Sure there are some stats that you can't do much about but the GMAT/GRE, accomplishments, resume brand names are totally maneuverable and you should utilize the opportunity to make yourself the strongest version possible.

Quick sidenote — Maria from Applicant Lab reminded me that if you are an Indian with last names the likes of Ambani, Tata, Birla, and a few others - a 680 GMAT would easily cut it. Also if you have a few truly extraordinary (no winning a cricket tournament in college is NOT one of them) accomplishments or some legitimately cool responsibilities at a very impressive organization, it might cut it. I am going to school with a 730 googler who will probably take a pay cut after the MBA.

Why is this important? Well to shoot in good sight, of course. Don't be a douchebag who thinks HSWorBUST - McCombs will start to look a lot more exciting in R2 for most of you with that attitude. I would recommend the following action plan in R1.

    A. Apply to 2-3 schools where your stats are around the median.
    B. Apply to 2 schools where your stats are at least 20% better than the median.
    C. Apply to 1-2 schools where you are 10-20% under the median (for all you punching-above-your-weight types), but ONLY if you have a resume-twin who went to that school.
Then, based on your success (or the lack thereof) figure out a similar R2 strategy

#5 - Apply to schools with easy essays

Okay - story time. I had finished my Columbia app with some excellent advice from the amazing Maria from Applicant Lab. I had also finished the Booth essay a few weeks in advance. What happened as a result? I cranked out the Stern essays in 3 hours (ridiculously similar to a combination of Columbia and Booth essays from last year) in a café nearby. What was the outcome you ask? I got in with some money : Take it what you want from this #5 but make a nice grid for yourself to see how similar some of these essays are and how much you can recycle content.

Our friends at Admissionado did an amazing video to help us out on this topic. Tune in on the GMAT Club CHAT this Monday 16th July at 9 AM PST to ask experts from Admissionado how YOU can select YOUR set of schools. I will be around to ask questions too.


Also, another footnote. Yours truly is 2 days behind schedule on this topic. Normally, these articles go live Monday evening Pacific time, but I was a bit caught up with packing for 2 years in Ann Arbor. I am putting the finishing touches on this on my flight to New Jersey and I will post this in my layover in Dubai (local time 3 AM). Here's a nice photo of me from today. I am feeling particularly sad about leaving the country but at the same time excited and hopeful.

Also, everybody should start their day with some nice cup of tea. Just like I did today! (real picture)




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Re: How to select which schools to apply to  [#permalink]

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New post 12 Jul 2018, 20:22
This is a great read! Thanks for the insights Souvik. In my opinion, I think a lot of Indians do not take in the Geography factor as you've mentioned and end up having a miserable college time! Plus, it is nearly impossible to finalize a college just based on fit, cause let's face it, there's a high chance you'll be dinged there!

Hit +1 Kudos If you like my post! :)

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Re: How to select which schools to apply to &nbs [#permalink] 12 Jul 2018, 20:22
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