This time of year, the biggest question from clients seems to be about which schools they should be targeting for application.
We understand that with so many choices out there, both domestically in the US and internationally, it can be a bit overwhelming. Time and time again, we find ourselves having to remind everyone of the one key word to focus on when choosing schools: FIT.
While we often recommend people go to the “best” business school where they can get accepted, it’s so much more than rankings which figures into this decision. Because rankings change all the time, and because your b-school decision is for life (it’s considered a terminal degree after all, meaning you will likely never go back to school again after the MBA), it makes much more sense to go to the school where you fit the best.
So what does fit mean exactly?
Every school has its own unique culture and personality, which can often mirror or complement your own working/learning style and preferences. Do you like a school with a competitive atmosphere, for example? Perhaps this feeling brings out the best in your performance, with classmates pushing you to achieve your goals. Or maybe you like a more collaborative environment, where everyone bends over backwards to “never leave a man behind.” Do you like a boot camp mentality or a work hard, play hard philosophy? Do you have a family or are you single? Demographics can heavily influence the atmosphere at business school. Any way you size up the various schools, rest assured there is a match out there for you.
In addition to culture, there are the curriculum differences to consider. This can be characterized as “professional fit,” because it ensures you will be adequately prepared for your post MBA career.
Always research the coursework and expertise of a particular school to ensure they provide the professional preparation you need, particularly if you plan to have a specific focus such as operations, IT, marketing or finance, for example. Even more specifically, some schools have carved out a niche, say in the energy field or health care. You would be wise to conduct a thorough due diligence effort to make sure the professional fit is right before applying.
Finally, you must take a hard assessment of your core profile to make sure you fit from the perspective of competency.
The last thing you want to do is to face the outright rejection from a school where you simply are not qualified based on their admissions requirements. So if you have a 500 GMAT, a degree from a top 300 state college and a spotty work record of 12 months, it’s unlikely the top 10 is in the cards for you. This is known as “academic fit.” Confidence is a great quality, but blind overconfidence is only going to end up wasting your time.
One of the best ways to ascertain fit is to visit the school.
There is truly no substitute for an in-person class visit, or a chat with current students or faculty. Some schools will even give you kudos for taking the time to visit, and still others will allow you to schedule an actual interview while you are there. Take full advantage of every opportunity to assess which school is the right fit for you. If you do, you will be much happier during your program and much more satisfied down the road. Remember the people you go to school with will be your friends and business contacts for life! And there’s also the decision of which sweatshirt you want to be wearing out there in the real world.