How to Identify the Right MBA Program for You

Finding the best MBA programs in the world is not a difficult task.  To be sure, resources abound which slice, dice and rank top programs from just about every angle imaginable. 

The digital age has made this process even easier.  In fact, there is so much data out there, one can quickly get mired down in “analysis paralysis,” in the absence of a perspective.  Your main focus, however, should not be to find the best programs, but rather to find the best programs for you.  How can you do this?

There is much which can be said about assessing your personal fit for a program, yet we find that candidates every year, year after year, still fail to spend enough time on this most important question.  After all, you will be wearing the sweatshirt of your chosen institution for the rest of your life, and will in many ways be defined by the program you attend, so instead of worrying about two years of business school, you really should really be thinking about the next 50 years!

You could make an argument and perhaps even conclude decisively that some MBA programs aren’t worth the time, money and torture at all. 

Some would say that an MBA from a low-ranked school is essentially a bucket of gussied-up undergraduate business courses with a high price tag and a desolate recruiting schedule on the back-end.  There is a good reason the highly ranked programs are graded thusly:  they generate impressive results for their graduates.  Access to jobs is a very important area to analyze when choosing an MBA program and our last post provided tremendously helpful data for this purpose.  Some call this “professional fit,” with a school---will they set you up for an opportunity to interview in an industry or area where you want to work or not? While rankings and career-center data are good places to start your search, you really must take a deeper dive into a school in order to determine if you should apply there. 

One criteria that is often overlooked (usually due to ego or pride), is a simple analysis of whether or not you are even qualified to go there. 

While you can’t always use a school’s GMAT average to determine acceptance odds, generally speaking if your score is 35 or more points below the school’s average, the reality is that you will probably find yourself in the bottom 10% of the applicant pool there, forcing you to generate some very compelling reasons why you otherwise should take a seat from someone who bettered your score.  Work experience weighs in as well, with many schools favoring candidates with 4-5 years or more in the professional workplace before admitting folks.  Both GMAT and work experience are fluid qualifications, but a good, old-fashioned reality check can sometimes save you headaches and wasted time by failing to present to the admissions committee the best evidence to overcome your shortcomings in core, statistical qualifications.

Perhaps the most ethereal aspect of narrowing down your school choices is trying to assess a school’s culture and character. 

This is tough to grasp, and is best done with an in-person visit, but can also be ascertained in other ways. Do you personally know anyone who graduated from your target schools? If not, can you link up with someone who has graduated from your schools through your social or professional network? Getting a feel for what it is like to attend classes and get involved at a particular school is elusive, but important.  And it’s not just about how much you will enjoy the two years you are there.  Even after graduation, out in the work-world, you can pick up on subtle characteristics of a school’s culture through colleagues who attended particular schools.  While nobody likes to stereotype others, you can ask around about what folks think of University X MBA grads or how University Y grads are perceived in a professional setting. 

There is much thinking which should take place when choosing which handful of schools you should apply to, and we would love to help you work through that process.

To find out more about your options and how we can help you with your business school application, email us at or contact us via