Alternatives to Fan Favorite Programs

Choosing the right business school can be a lot of work.  Between research, self-assessment and in-person visits, you have likely realized that much time is spent to decide where you might fit well even before you begin actually writing applications.  Why not leverage that effort by applying to clone programs to give yourself more options?

For almost every business school, there is an alternate program which aligns itself so closely with its culture and academics, it can essentially be considered a clone, if not a bona-fide substitution.   If you have already spent the time and effort to discover how a school’s culture fits well with your desired learning environment, you might consider digging just a bit more deeply to find other schools where you could fit equally as well.  In the five examples below, the look and feel of each pair of schools is close enough for you to at least have a reasonable alternative in case your target school says no.  Now, I’m not saying these schools are backup or safety schools.  In fact, in some cases, the admissions odds for some of them are just as onerous as the sister school.  What this list hopefully achieves, however, is encouragement for you to find more schools where you can ultimately have a great b-school experience.

1)      HBS and Darden

It’s tough to find a school to match HBS, which arguably invented the case method and draws thousands of applicants from all over the world each year for its incredibly successful MBA program.  What you may not know, however, is that The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business has worked very hard to create a program which delivers a very similar academic experience.  Often considered an “alt-ivy” in MBA world, Darden not only uses as a primary approach the HBS case methodology, they also use some of the exact same cases.  If working hard for your MBA like they do at HBS is appealing, and if you like a competitive, iron-sharpens-iron student culture, you should take a serious look at Darden as an alternative. 

2)      Kellogg and Duke        

Kellogg and Duke have long been considered sister programs.  A strong team mentality and student culture is pervasive at both schools, and both figured out a long time ago that a good way to improve their programs was to let the students have influence during their enrollment.  This is not your run-of-the-mill student participation approach, no, these two schools expect and even demand that students leave their mark on the program while they are there, which has resulted in extremely innovative approaches by both programs.  Each school is well known for their marketing and consulting expertise, and often the same recruiters visit both schools to hire for their companies.  While both are considered difficult to get into, clearly applying to  both with double your chances vs. choosing only one. 

3)      Sloan and Tepper

Here’s a good example of an alternative school which is also easier to get into.  In fact, three times as many applicants find acceptance at Carnegie-Melon for their MBAs than Sloan, yet the starting salaries for their graduates are similar.  That’s the real reason you get an MBA anyway, right?  Both schools have a strong technology and engineering tradition, and both have a great reputation for innovation and entrepreneurship.  If you are worried about your GMAT score or GPA for Sloan, you can rest a little easier knowing that Tepper may not require quite as high a profile. 

4)      Wharton and Booth

Is Finance your passion or goal?  Then surely Wharton is on your list.  But what you may not have considered is the fact Booth sends just as many of its graduates into the finance industry at graduation.  Wharton often steals the spotlight for their quantitatively intense curriculum and demanding academics, but Booth is on par if not exactly equal in this regard and receives far fewer applications.  Worried about getting attention in NY with a degree from Chicago?  As finance centers, both cities command equal respect, so what impresses in Chi-town will also impress in the big Apple.  Neither school is a cake walk from an admissions standpoint, but with what should be an equal shot at your dream finance job, you’d be crazy not to throw your name in the hat at both schools.

5)      Stanford and Haas

Stanford dwarfs Haas in the b-school rankings, but as a fantastic West-Coast alternative, Haas is definitely a viable option.  Thanks to both schools’ reputations in Silicon Valley, you should be able to gain access to similar job opportunities from either program, and like Chicago, Haas receives far fewer applications that GSB, so you may get more attention in the admissions process than Stanford is able to provide you.  Like Stanford, Berkeley has an incredibly large and dedicated alumni network, both of which draw from their undergraduate and graduate programs alike.

These are just a few examples of a wide universe of alternative programs.  Wherever you decide to apply, make sure to do a little research on other schools which might provide you a similar experience and you will vastly increase your chances to find an MBA home which fits your profile.

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