One of the most critical decisions that MBA applicants face at this time of the year is school selection. The most common questions that confront them are: which schools I should apply to? Which country and which city? And most importantly, which program?
Indeed, one of the most time-consuming parts of the grueling MBA admission process is researching schools and selecting the ones that are the right ‘fit.’ There are hundreds of amazing programs, and there is plenty of information about each one of them. Therefore, selecting the ones that will best match your credentials is indeed a daunting task that can take several weeks/ months. However, with proper planning, research, and initiative, you can definitely pick out the schools that will best align with your credentials and career aspirations.
The first question you should ask yourself before starting your school research is “What are my career goals and how can a Business school help me fulfill my goals”. Once you have a clear understanding of your career objectives, qualifications, and experience, you can begin your school research.
Here are some useful tips that will assist you in your school selection journey.
- Look at MBA Rankings:
You may start by looking at the rankings of schools. Keeping in mind your profile (work experience, industry, GMAT score, goals, etc.), you should look at the MBA rankings (US News, Financial Times, Business Week, etc.). This will give you some understanding of the group of programs that are strong in your field and where you are also competitive. Also, you will be able to categorize them into dream schools, reach schools, and safety schools. However, please do not rely on ranking blindly. (Representatives from top business schools confirmed this at the AIGAC conference at MIT last year) Use your own judgment and your needs/ interest and try to understand that a lower-ranking school may align better with your goals and interests and give you your desired ROI.
- Begin Researching Schools based on Your Specific Criteria:
For school selection, you will have to consider many factors e.g. geographical location, loans, scholarships, key projects/courses, employment reports, and companies that are regular recruiters over the years. Also, don’t forget to research faculty, student groups, clubs, and organizations that match your personal and professional aspirations.
Ask yourself the following questions:
>Am I suited for a more traditional 2-year full-time MBA program or a part-time or executive MBA program?
Will this school help me meet my objectives in the areas of education, networking, and career?
- Would I like to live in a big city or a small town?
What kind of teaching style or method suits my interest? Case study method or lecture method or experiential learning, or a combination of two methods?
- Do I prefer small classes or big classes?
>Will the core courses offered by the X school provide me a solid foundation in key business areas?
- Will the electives allow me to develop specialty areas of my interest?
Does this school have clubs/organizations where I can pursue my interests, my chosen sport (or any other hobby/ interest)? If not, is it possible for me to start my own club?
Do the recruiting companies of my choice/ industry visit the campus?
- Do my GPA and GMAT score measure up with the average of this school?
- Do I have impressive work experience, qualitatively and quantitatively?
Are there professors who have done or are currently doing research in your area of interest or in a field where you want to acquire expertise?
- What will I contribute to the school community?
- Will I be a good ‘fit’ for the school?
You may add your own questions to the above list. Based on this research, you should be able to shortlist some schools. The schools that support your goals and at which you are competitive are the ones you should apply to.
- Study the School’s Website / Take Notes:
The first and the simplest way to learn about the shortlisted schools is to visit the school website and go through all the information it offers. Pay more attention to the parts of the site focused on students. Look at the class profile, and see if they have biographies of current students and recent alums. If your GMAT is low, it may limit your chances. Find schools whose accepted students' GMAT score is in line with yours. Also, sign up for all the schools' emails. While you are on their website, make sure to sign up for their email announcements. This will enable you to get advance news about information sessions in your area.
When you add a school to your list, take notes about your reasons for your interest in that school. It is a good idea to create a spreadsheet to document your shortlisted schools’ features and offerings that were important to you. This spreadsheet will not only help you finalize your school list but also provide you key material in writing your goals essay.
- Reach out to Students/ Alumni and Other Experienced People:
You should also start reaching out to people with MBA experience: colleagues, friends, current students, and alumni, etc. This will help you determine if their perspectives and experiences align with your findings or not. The best people to speak with are current students and recent graduates. They have recently gone through the process, so they can not only share their experiences but also offer insights into the other schools they considered when they were applying. Contact them via phone or e-mail and ask questions about career-enhancing opportunities, courses, competitions, projects, and fairs at the school. But make sure to talk to multiple alumni and or current students because individual feedback may be biased. Later, you can use the relevant information in your essay to answer the question ‘why our school?’
- Visit Schools/ Attend Info Session in Your City:
Interacting directly with the school community is the best resource for reliable information and insights about their program. Visiting schools is one of the best ways to get a feel for the school. School visits will provide you relevant information on your shortlisted schools. Attend school information sessions, attend a class or two, meet with a faculty, talk to students, and take a tour of the campus. In other words, get a feel of life on campus and see if you want to be a part of this community or not.
However, if visiting the campus is not feasible in view of the distance and the cost involved, do what you can to obtain as much information about the school as possible. Business schools conduct admission events throughout the world to engage with prospective students. Find out when they are visiting your area and make sure to attend the events. Again, while answering the “Why our school?” part of the goals essay, you can cite interesting aspects of your school visits (e.g. class visit, meeting with faculty/students, information session, etc.) and information sessions in your city in order to demonstrate your preference/interest for that particular school.
- Visit Forums:
Online discussion forums are wonderful platforms where you can post your specific queries about school search or any other question regarding the MBA admission process and get expert advice from admission consultants. Also, you can share your views/experiences with other students who are active on these forums and are also finding their way around like you. As suggested earlier, create a spreadsheet for each shortlisted school, and write down the aspects of each school that you like (e.g. specific classes and professors, student groups, clubs, recruiting companies, and above all, culture), and how that program will help you reach your career goals.
- Finalize your List:
In the end, use your own judgment and make a final decision. I am sure all this homework will prepare you well and give you enough confidence to prepare your final list of target schools. Usually, people apply to 6 schools- 2 dream schools, 2 or 3 reach schools, and 2 safe schools. However, you may tweak it based on your own interests and requirements. I have also worked with people who were so confident of their brilliant candidacy (GMAT, work experience, community involvement and goals) and choice of schools that they didn’t apply to any safe schools. If you are from an over-represented applicant such as an Indian IT male, you may want to apply to more schools to increase your odds.
Good luck with your school selection. J
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