The first and the most difficult question that stares you in the face after you make a decision to go for a management degree as the next huge step in your career is– ‘Which schools should I apply to?’ This is indeed a difficult choice; however, with proper planning, research, and initiative, you can definitely pick out schools that can align with your credentials and aspirations.
Here are some useful tips that will assist you in the process of selecting your target schools.
1. Research Schools: 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. Begin your research based on your preferences and needs. Also, don’t forget to research faculty, student groups, clubs, and organizations that match your interests/ goals. Try to find answers to the questions: “Will this school help me meet my objectives (in the areas of education, networking, and career)?” “What will I contribute to the school community?” “Will I be a good ‘fit’ for this school?” and so on. Based on this research, you should be able to shortlist some schools.
2. Look at MBA rankings: Keeping in mind your profile (work experience, industry, GMAT, goals, etc.), you should look at MBA rankings (US News, Financial Times, Business Week, etc.). This will give you some understanding of a 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.
3. Talk to Alumni and other experienced people: Along with your research, 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. You can contact students and alumni and get their feedback via phone call or email. Talk to them about career-enhancing opportunities courses/competitions/projects/fairs at the school. But make sure to talk to multiple Alumni because individual feed-back may be biased. Later, you can use the relevant information in your essay to answer the question ‘why our school?’
4. Visit Schools: Attending MBA fairs, school information sessions, and school visits will provide you relevant information on your shortlisted schools. 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 the school and see if you want to be a part of this community or if you will be a good ‘fit’ with the school. Again, while answering “Why our school?" As part of the Goals essay, you can cite interesting aspects of your visit (e.g. class visit, meeting with faculty, information session, etc.) to demonstrate your preference/ interest in this school.
5. 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.
I would suggest that you create a separate word document for each shortlisted school and write down the aspects of each school that you like (e.g. specific classes and professors, student groups, companies that recruit there, etc.) and how that program will help you reach your career goals.
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.
If you are planning to apply in the fall, NOW is the time to begin this journey. You will thank yourself later for starting early. Good luck.