How to Start Researching Business Schools
You decided to get an MBA. Great! But from where? There's a lot of amazing business schools out there. How do you know which one is a good fit for you? Besides the well-recognized names, which ones should you apply to? Where do you start your search? EssaySnark is here with some advice to get you started.
Obviously you found GMAT Club
and so half your battle is done! There are some remarkable resources here that will help you learn about these schools. The school-specific forums are incredibly helpful for discussions about a particular program.
A note of caution when reading things on the Internet: Much of the admissions process is incredibly subjective
. One person may dislike a school for the same reasons that you would find it appealing, and misinformation and strong opinions abound. Keep an open mind, and do a lot of follow-up on anything you hear. You must rely on your own instincts – trust but verify.
How many schools should you be targeting?
EssaySnark recommends applying to six or so MBA programs throughout the entirety of the admissions season. If you do a good job on that many, you're going to end up with a couple offers to choose from. If you're starting early enough to get some Round 1 apps in, then three or four applications per round is ideal. If Round 2 will be your first submissions, then you need to apply to more schools. Be reasonable though. If you try to do more than four or five schools at once, you'll get totally burned out. The quality will suffer and your chances of admission go down drastically.
However, at this early stage, don't limit yourself
. Your job right now is to explore all your options and identify the best schools for you. Your list can be fairly long here at the beginning. Keep adding to it as you hear about schools that you like. Stay open-minded. The schools that end up on your short list may be ones you hadn't even heard of at the beginning!
In addition, you shouldn't be afraid to cross schools off your list, for any reason. Over time you should be whittling the list of targets down. Aim to identify eight to ten MBA programs that you're interested in over the next few weeks. The EssaySnark blahg has a resources page for researching schools
. In addition, we're offering these tips to get you started.
Here's how to start your school research project:
Figure out why you want an MBA.
This may sound a little silly, but a lot of people don't put enough thought into the whole reason behind their interest in the MBA. A useful tool to begin with is this GMAT Club article from Accepted.com: Where should you apply? (with case studies)
. Answering some of those questions for yourself and knowing why you want an MBA can take you far in understanding which schools are good targets for you. Do some preliminary work to identify your interests and goals at the outset and you'll be in a stronger position for all the important decisions to come in the application process.
Tap your network.
Do you know anyone with an MBA? If people at work already know that you're interested in bschool, then ask around at the office (obviously you won't want to do so if it will put your job in jeopardy). If you work at a big company, you could even look on the corporate website to see which executives have MBAs, and set up informational interviews with them. Or if you need to be more lowkey about the MBA at work, then leverage your social circle. Maybe a friend of a friend went to a school that you're interested in, or your college roommate was just accepted. Look on LinkedIn. Find people to talk to. Break out of your shell, make some phone calls, send a few emails. TIP: Here's a great article on How to Make Phone Calls in Business from Mark Suster, a well-respected VC in California.
Study the schools' websites.
You may feel that a lot of the schools' websites sound the same. They are all trying to market to you using similar language, and sometimes it gets overwhelming. At this stage of your research, pay more attention to the parts of the site focused on students. Don't worry about the application instructions just yet. Look at the class profile, and see if they have biographies of current students and recent alum. Check out their academic offerings and student clubs. There's a core set of common features that all schools share – all of them have a Corporate Finance class and a Consulting Club – but there's also a lot of differences. You'll start to understand what each school is about as you have more and more interactions with them.
[b]TIP: Get any school guides available for the programs you're interested in
, and see what different advice and insights others have to offer.
Sign up for all the schools' emails.
Most schools let you register your interest with them before you even start an application. While you're on their website, one of the first things you should do is to sign up for their email announcements. Many schools track candidates by geography and you'll get advance news about information sessions in your area.
At this stage you're a sponge, absorbing information – but it can be overwhelming. Keep tabs on the insights you learn. When you add a school to your list, make notes on WHY you're interested in them. You need to have reasons for choosing a school (not just the fact that they're highly ranked). You might also want to note the reason for eliminating a school for consideration, so you can remember your thought process later on. Also, keep track of who you've spoken to and what you talked about. These notes can not only help you organize all this information you're collecting, they'll also be a huge asset to you later on, when you're writing essays and you're telling the adcom why you are interested in their program.TIP: You might want to create a spreadsheet
to record the important attributes that you care about and which schools offer them.
Finally: Timebox the process.
While the research phase never really ends – you'll still be discovering new things about your programs of interest all the way through, including the interview experience and Admit Weekend – it's also a phase that can get away from you if you let it. It's important to set an initial strategy and move on within a reasonable amount of time. Give yourself a few weeks – or a month – but set yourself a deadline by which you'll at least have a shortlist of eight-ish schools identified.
Talking to people about their experiences in business school is invaluable in helping you learn about schools and discovering what to focus on in your selection process. The best people to speak with are current students and recent graduates. Not only can they share their experiences with you, they can often give you input about the other schools they considered when they were applying. Just keep in mind that schools change; the policies and programs that may have been in effect when someone else went through the admissions process a year or two ago may not apply any longer. Take in all the information you can and be sure to verify it before proceeding.
Remember too that interacting with the school itself is the best way to get reliable information and insights about their program. You really can only figure out if a school is right for you by interacting with the school community directly. This means, if possible, taking a trip to visit. Or, attend a local info session. That “talk to people” step is critically important. Bschool is a tremendous investment of time, energy, and money. You want to be an informed consumer when you choose which schools to apply to.
To wrap things up, we have to mention the obvious: We didn't mention anything about your profile and choosing schools. Yes, GPA and GMAT scores matter – but you shouldn't be deciding which schools to apply to based solely on those statistics. If your GMAT score is very low, then it may limit your options, and of course you need to be realistic, based on what you'll be presenting to the adcom. To be more confident of your chances, you'll want to find schools whose accepted students' GMAT scores are in line with yours. If you fall outside the 80% range (usually published on the schools' websites) then you're going to have a tougher time getting in. Not impossible, but definitely not the easy route.
At this early stage, you're deciding which schools are interesting to you. It's kind of like going on an online dating site and looking at profiles of people who are available. Any of them might be The One... but who knows which it will be? Lots of them seem very attractive. You need to get to know them a little bit more before you will be able to decide.
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