Applicants spend considerable time figuring out which school is the best fit. The career services center is perhaps the most overlooked, yet one of the most important factors.
When it comes to choosing your targeted business schools for application, it’s important to analyze your fit in several key areas, which broadly speaking are: academic fit, cultural fit, and professional fit. Academic fit is pretty obvious and mostly deals with how well you have cut the proverbial mustard in your own background and test prep. Another component of academic fit is the curricular offerings of each school and their areas of research expertise or general achievement—think finance at Wharton for example, or startups at Haas or Stanford. But ultimately, if you don’t have the grades or the test scores to qualify (compared to the average applicant to that school), you probably will face challenges getting accepted.
Cultural fit is a bit more nuanced and is to do with the general vibe of the school. Cultural fit is what the school feels like to go there—the environment both inside and outside the classroom. The best way (some would argue the only way) to truly assess fit is to visit the school and attend a class as a guest. Many schools allow this, but not all. You can imagine if 15,000 Stanford applicants tried to attend a class, they would quickly have more visitors than students. Still, it’s possible to ascertain the broad community culture at popular schools by reading about them or talking to someone who went there or is familiar with the school (such as an admissions consultant).
The last general category of fit with a school is professional fit.
Professional fit is loosely defined as: will this school position you well to land the job you seek after you graduate.
I find many clients spend so much time worrying about their academic fit (preparing for and retaking the GMAT), and cultural fit (whether or not they will like attending the school), that they totally skimp on the professional fit piece. Similar to academic fit, where various specialties define the schools’ reputations, different schools are known for placing graduates in specific industry areas. This, of course is widely known, but how much time have you spent figuring out if the specific companies where you’d like to work actually recruit at your target school. Are you assuming the average salary and general industry area are enough data to take the leap?
If I were applying today, I’d sit down with a member of the career center team and talk about these things.
Explain what your goal is employment-wise, and see how quickly they can give anecdotal evidence of others having achieved the same thing with their MBAs. Ask also about their process. What kind of interview preparation do they offer? Resume critique? Job fairs and corporate presentations? Some schools actually have a member of the career center interview applicants on the front-end to determine employability. This is a good sign that the career center is deeply involved, but you need to do your own research as well. In the end, you can’t make a final judgement based solely on reputation or employment stats. Make sure you give the career center at your target schools adequate attention before you apply---you might just save yourself a tremendous headache when you graduate.