Often, MBA applicants simply look at rankings to determine where to apply to school, but figuring out where you will thrive requires a deeper dive into four key areas.
1. Academic Fit.
First and Foremost, you must make sure your target school’s academic offerings are a match with your goals and MBA vision. Every school has a different teaching philosophy and every applicant has a preferred learning style. It takes more than a cursory review of the course catalog to determine if there will be a match. Don’t be shy about reaching out to the admissions office or even to faculty in order to analyze how things are done. In the process, you will also get a feel for a key question in the school selection process:
2. Are you qualified to join their ranks?
A school’s academic program is a good indicator of whether your own educational and professional background cuts the mustard there. GMAT score is also an indicator, so if you find yourself 40 points or more below a school’s posted average score for admitted applicants, you may be barking up the wrong tree. While somebody has to be in the bottom 15% of the class, you might find it uncomfortable, so you must be well aware of where you might fall and ask yourself if that’s the right environment for you to thrive. Ultimately, you will need to make a case for why you should have a seat vs. someone else who may be slightly more qualified. If you can’t make this case, you might consider finding another target school.
3. Professional Fit.
Are the industries and companies you are targeting for your post-MBA career on the slate of recruiters at your target school? Does your target school have a history of sending candidates into your desired career field in significant numbers? These are important questions, the answers to which can usually be found with a call to your school’s career center. Remember, the career center’s sole purpose is to service MBA candidates, so they are used to tough questions from both current students and prospective candidates. The last thing you want to do is to accept an MBA program offer only to find they are not set up to get you the job you seek.
4. Cultural Fit.
A school’s personality is determined by a number of factors including tradition, size, and even geographic location. Tuck and Johnson, for example, suffer through substantial winter weather, yet also are known for significant outdoor activity amongst its students in warmer weather. Obviously UCLA, USC and Stanford offer a much milder climate, which could send students scattering to the four winds when the bell rings each day. Know what you’re looking for as it pertains to cohort camaraderie and make sure your school’s location is conducive to it. Beyond location, look to the current and former students for indicators of culture. Is the school cut-throat or cooperative? Do students live on campus or off campus? Cultural fit is perhaps the most under-rated attribute which clients analyze, yet it can make the most significant difference in whether or not you are ultimately pleased with your school choice.