“I want to apply to the top 10 schools? What are my odds for acceptance into top 10 schools?” This is the most common query I receive from many prospective applicants to business schools. Everyone wants to go to Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton. True, they are the top-ranked business schools, but it’s not advisable to apply to only these schools or any other top 10 schools if they do not match your goals, interests, and personality. If you want to be sure of getting into a good business school, you need to use more than rankings. Focusing on ‘fit’ is one of the most important elements of finding the right business school.
What is ‘fit’?
Fit means the linkage between what an MBA program has to offer and what strengths/ abilities/ experiences you need in order to achieve your goals. Your job is to find out the unique offerings of each program and determine how these will benefit your career goals and interests.
Why is ‘fit’ important?
There are several reasons why finding your fit is critical for you. First, it will help you find the right program. All programs are different from each other, so you want to be sure that you are in the right program where you will develop skills and networks that will last for many years. Also, you will be taking one or two years off from work and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on tuition, so you will need to carefully weigh whether your MBA will prove to be a good ROI. Most importantly, finding your fit will help you build a strong application because you will be able to demonstrate in your essays, and later in your interview why their school is the best choice for you.
How to Determine your Fit?
In order to determine your fit with the school, you should do your research about the following characteristics of MBA programs.
1. The Courses/ Other academic opportunities
You may begin with researching courses and other academic opportunities offered by the school. What do you want to learn, and in particular, in which areas do you plan to dig deeper? Exploring lists of electives is a good way of seeing which programs offer the education you are looking for. Your research will help you select your ideal courses with the timing that suits your needs. You may also research schools for other academic opportunities, for example, overseas trips or experiential programs that will add value to your experience.
2. Teaching Methods/ Learning Styles
It is important to find out the teaching methods followed by various schools. For example, schools like Harvard Business School and Darden heavily utilize the case method which involves significant outside the class preparation and in-class discussion; Kellogg and Wharton emphasize group projects, whereas Ross and Booth focus on experiential learning. So ask yourself, if you work well by yourself or you need to learn to work in teams? If you need both, they might want to consider schools that balance both. I also suggest researching professors who will be teaching the programs you wish to attend. Some professors offer benefits over others, such as industry experience or research interest in a particular area.
3. Clubs and Extra-Curricular Opportunities
MBA is not only for the academic experience; it’s going to be a unique lifetime experience for you. What are your personal goals? What interests and hobbies you have that you would like to pursue during your MBA? Finding clubs and organizations that match your interests (sports, dance, cooking, community service, etc.) will also help you determine your fit with the school. If you want to go to the school where not only you but your entire family can benefit from the international experience, then you should try to find the programs that are ideal for you as all programs have some variety of Partners Clubs or events for family members.
4. The School's Reputation
In addition to researching the school’s strength in a particular industry (marketing, financé, etc.), you should try to find out if the school’s graduates have been successful in gaining employment in certain industries or functions, or in certain parts of the world. Have people who share your background and career passions been successful in getting into what you want to get into? What companies come to recruit on campus? If the companies you are interested in is doing the hiring at the program, what are your chances of landing that internship or job?
5. The School's Culture:
It is critical to know that the school where you are going to spend the two extremely important years of your life matches your personality and values. The truth is that a top 10 or top 15 schools may not necessarily fit your personality. This is why it is important to visit the campus and talk with alumni of the program. Go check out the campus, meet faculty and staff, get to know students, explore student organizations, and explore the setting. Visiting the campus will offer you an understanding of how students interact with each other in class, on campus, and in social events. As you do more research, you will discover each school is suitable for different personality types. For example, Tuck features a small class size in a small-town setting, so it may be the right choice for people who prefer a more close-knit and highly involved community, whereas Stern provides a fast-paced environment within a major city setting, so it may work for the people who prefer a big city culture.
Thus, by putting time and thought into determining fit at your target programs from the beginning, you will make things easier for yourself. You will be able to address the ‘why our school’ question effectively and confidently in your essays and in your interview. Also, when the school offers you a seat, you will happily accept it as you will be getting what you wanted.
The following 2 articles in The New York Times and Poets & Quants suggested useful criteria for determining your 'fit' with the school.
How To Know If Your Target B-Schools Really ‘Fit’ You by John Byme in Poets & Quants
Good luck with your application.