It may sound strange to think of a school having a personality, but the culture found within the walls of the most popular business schools can vary just as widely as the personalities of people.
Finding the right fit between a school’s culture and your own personality can be tricky and is not something you can ignore if you want to be happy and maximize your potential in an MBA program.
Of course “knowing thyself” is the first step in finding a good match with any institutional program.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you thrive in a competitive environment or do you prefer to operate with an “everyone wins” approach? Do you have a learning style that is energized in the classroom from lectures and discussions, or do you come alive through hands-on, experiential learning? These considerations can help you tune into the programs which will align with the way you are wired, but they don’t even begin to address all the things you should consider. Simple phase of life situations can also affect how well you will dovetail with an MBA program. For example, some programs have mostly single students, while others have a large population of married students, even many with children. Often, schools with more single students do more social events where you end up hanging out with your classmates after classes or on weekends. Does that sound appealing or like your worst nightmare? Even the average number of years of work experience at an MBA program can radically affect that school’s culture, since age is often correlated to maturity and level of seriousness.
Once you do a thorough self-assessment and have a strong feeling for your personal preferences, you can begin to assessment of the schools themselves.
Some schools have a similar culture, and are sometimes associated with each other, such as HBS and Darden, or Fuqua and Kellogg, but don’t think that such reputations mean these schools are exactly the same. Subtle differences can sometimes make a big difference. As an example, Chicago Booth is often compared to Wharton, but did you know that at Wharton, students are ranked? This creates a healthy competition amongst students, but could also add stress to your time there. Often, feedback from Wharton students indicates they are fairly miserable during the program, but tend to enjoy their post-MBA careers more than other program’s graduates.
As we have mentioned before, the best way to ascertain the personality of each school is to visit in person.
Surfing a school’s website or even chatting with current or former students will only get you so far, but visiting a school, sitting in on a class and personally interviewing faculty, staff and students can reveal insights which are otherwise elusive or superficial if only viewed from the outside. You would never marry someone without dating them first, and you should be thinking of b-school in a similar way. Making the wrong decision could derail your career and seriously impact your post MBA happiness. Let us guide your school selection process—you might be surprised how much it can help.