Choosing the best MBA program is different than choosing the best MBA program for you. Let the rankings battle over the “best.” Your only concern is finding the best fit for yourself.
MBA applicants are obsessed with the rankings. Year after year, we hear client after client worrying about getting into a “top ten” school, or fretting over settling for a “second tier” institution. While landing a slot in a top program is certainly a great thing to pull off, you’d be making a mistake in attending a well-ranked school for which you are a bad fit.
What exactly does it mean to say a school is a good fit for you and vice versa?
Put succinctly, fit is how well each school in your target list synchronizes with your individual traits and plans. Fit, however, is much more complicated than that and entails several areas. Firstly, your fit within a program needs to line up academically. A simple example is, if you can’t score well on the quant section of the GMAT, you won’t be happy with Wharton or Chicago (or several other quant-heavy schools for that matter). It’s unlikely these schools will think you are a good fit either and for good reason; if you would struggle to keep up in class, not only will you be miserable, you will also make your classmates miserable. And that’s a bad combo. There are other programs who hold your hand a little more as you get back up to speed with the quantitative analysis. Make sure you are looking at academic fit when you build your list of target schools.
Another key element of fit is professional. Does the school you are targeting have expertise in preparing students specifically for the area or industry you seek after business school?
Sure, all accredited MBA programs provide core education in the elemental disciplines, such as finance, accounting, marketing and operations theory, but you need to look deeper into the curriculum to ascertain professional fit. A good habit is to talk with each school’s career center where you can discover how well that school connects with recruiters in your chosen post MBA career area. Not seeing any of your target employers on the list? This might be an indicator that the school is a poor professional fit for you.
The last key area is the most ethereal: cultural fit. Just like every undergraduate program has a unique feel and personality, the same goes for business schools.
While this may sound a bit touchy-feely, you’d be surprised how important it is to align with a school’s core mission and approach to MBA education. Are the students more independent or team-oriented? Are the professors amicable and approachable, or distant and unavailable? In addition to the feel of the classroom, it’s always best to visit a school during session and inquire about what goes on with students after class. Do they scatter to the four winds or do they stick together for activities, both social and academic in nature? Once you get a feel for a school’s culture and philosophy, you can ask yourself how well you align with it. In the end, you’ll be linked to your MBA program for the rest of your life, so make sure you can see yourself still wearing the sweatshirt when you’re old and gray! That’ ultimately the best MBA program of all---the one that makes you the most satisfied in the long term.