10 Steps to Picking the Right MBA Program
1. Consider location. Business programs are becoming more global, but where a school’s campus is located will have a huge impact on your experience there. In addition to any personal geographic preference you may have, location can influence things such as which companies recruit on campus.
2. Understand selectivity. There’s no question that the top schools must make some hard choices among well-qualified applicants. When applying to schools with acceptance rates that are in the single digits or low teens, an application strategy that includes hedging your bets by applying to multiple schools is critical.
3. Know the key admissions statistics. It’s important to identify which schools fall in your stretch and safety categories and apply to mix of each. Check out our custom algorithm to help determine where you fall, in addition to looking at each school’s GMAT, GPA, and other key admissions statistics.
4. Research class profiles. There are certainly other factors besides GMAT and GPA that play into admissions decisions. Take time to look through what industries, geographies, nationalities, universities, and other qualities are represented in each school’s student body to get a better idea of what factors might be important to their admissions decisions.
5. Career resources. Schools offer different resources to students looking to pursue different career paths. If you know you want to enter a specific industry, consider the various resources that will be available to you to help make that happen. Where is the school’s alumni network strongest? What companies recruit on campus? Where is the school’s reputation strongest?
6. Program offerings. Each school’s curriculum is different. Some allow students to specialize in certain areas; others emphasize general management. Some stress internships and field-based experience, others more technical skills. Spend time looking at a program’s course offerings early, and think about whether the school is strong in the areas important to you and your professional path.
7. Student experiences. Picking a school should be as much about its people as its programs or resources. Talk to current and former students and understand what life will be like outside the classroom. Understand what type of students tend to gravitate toward the program, and then take time to reflect whether it’s an environment where you’d truly be happy. After all, the network you build in school will be one of the most important assets you take with you after graduation.
8. Program rankings. It’s important to know what you want to get out of the business school experience before you start applying. Undoubtedly one of the things you have to consider is the ranking of the programs you are applying to. Take care to note not only the overall rankings, but also where your school may rank in a particular geography or area of study.
9. Financial aid. Consider not only scholarship, fellowship, and loan-assistance programs, but also financial support for students pursuing less lucrative summer internships or post-graduation careers. Some schools also offer money for business competitions or field-based work during the school year.
10. Learning model. Lectures, the case method, field programs, guest speakers, group projects, internships – understand the different theories behind a school’s learning model, and know which methods work best for you.
Our Experience – From the Founders
Kyle’s Experience: My sights were set on Harvard Business School pretty early. At the time I was starting my applications, I was working for an alumna of the program and reading Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School (check out our recommended resources section to pick up a copy). I visited the school in September, one month before the first round deadline, and sat in on a class with a friend that had just started his first year at HBS. That’s what sold me. The case method was very new to me, but I could tell it was a learning model in which I’d thrive. While I prepared applications for several other schools, I held them all for round two. After receiving an offer from HBS in round one, I accepted immediately and never looked back!
Vincent’s Experience: Because of my non-traditional applicant profile (candidate from Europe, more than 30 years old, experience in manufacturing and retail) I was not sure which MBA programs would seriously consider my candidacy. Although a top-tier, full-time MBA program in the U.S. appealed to me the most, I seriously considered one-year MBA programs in Europe as well as some of the most competitive executive MBA programs there (including the Booth Exec MBA, based in London). Each program had its strengths and weaknesses, and I ended up building a list of seven target schools: three that I considered great fits, two stretches, and two “safe bets” (based on stats published by the schools). The “Montauk” (How to Get into the Top MBA Programs, 6th Edition) helped me a lot in the initial phase of my search.
Even though I ended up being accepted at Harvard Business School (my first choice), I would have been happy with any of the other schools on my list. I had spent a significant amount of time visiting campuses, attending classes, and interacting with current students and admission committees (mostly during recruiting events). In retrospect, I probably could have narrowed my list of target business schools down to four or five, but I am also convinced that being flexible both in terms of program format and school location was essential to ensuring my success.