While it is tempting to strictly go by the MBA rankings of top business schools in deciding where you would like to apply, it is important to recognize that they each use different criteria.
– For the FT MBA ranking, MBA salaries three years after graduation account for 40% of the overall score;
– BusinessWeek places emphasis on the satisfaction levels of students and recruiters;
– Forbes business school ranking relies on a very simple calculation of ROI;
– US News & World’s methodology includes a survey of business school deans and MBA directors;
– The Economist favors the international make-up of the school and post-MBA career opportunities.
But unless a student understands the methodologies and weighted algorithms of each ranking, the different results can be pretty confusing, and fail to reflect the impact on your student experience and post-MBA opportunities.
Not all schools in the top 20 will be a good fit for you; but there are certainly parameters that you may want to keep in mind when putting together your initial list. Beyond the obvious of program type, course length, areas of study, and cost, candidates needs to think about other factors that will influence both their experience, their post-MBA opportunities, and the return on their investment of time and money. This may require introspection and self-awareness as you begin the process; and there is certainly a lot more needed during the long application season. It’s a good idea to look at a number of factors that can mean different things for each applicant.
– School location. This can influence the regional strengths of the school and the ties to recruiters for subsequent employment opportunities. It is no surprise that Chicago Booth, Columbia, NYU-Stern, and the London Business School all have excellent reputations in the field of finance. Their locations can more easily attract guest speakers from the financial institutions, or offer a strong network for summer internships and post-MBA careers. Schools in California can similarly benefit from ties to Silicon Valley, Europe can offer a gateway to areas of expertise such as aerospace, luxury brand management, and bio-tech etc, while schools in Asia and Latin America offer cultural perspective and a gateway to some of the world’s most dynamic economies.
– Specialization. Beyond the generalist nature of the MBA qualification, schools have carved reputations in certain areas such as entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, non-profit, real estate, IT management or healthcare. The schools work closely with the related industry, but also have strength and depth in their faculty to develop an area of expertise. They might have an incubator to attract venture capital for entrepreneurial business plans, or offer internship programs that give students a hands-on experience of working with non-profits and NGOs. Something to certainly consider though, is that you may find the opportunities for post–MBA careers are greater if you are one of a handful of students specializing in marketing at a school that is particularly known for finance. The trick is to figure out how well supported your field of interest will be at a given school.
– The personality and ‘feel’ of the school. What is the general ‘vibe’ of the school? What kinds of students does it attract, and what kind of environment does it foster? When you speak with current students and recent alumni, do you get an idea of a collaborative and supportive environment, or more of a competitive classroom? Do students help one another prepare for exams and interviews, for example, or is everyone in it for him or herself? And, how involved and accessible are the faculty members? Will you see them in class but rarely interact outside of the classroom? If possible, visit the school on a day when they are not expecting you (not during a traditional prospective student program). Of course you should go on the school tour and the official information session. But by catching students in the hallway or sitting in on a lecture, you can see what the culture of the community is like. Are people welcoming to you? Can you imagine yourself having a cup of coffee and a chat with some of the students, or faculty? Or, is the feeling more of “don’t bother us now?” Do faculty seem to be speaking with students, or are they dashing off to another outside engagement?
Your school becomes a second home to you during the duration of your studies; and above all else, while you will be challenging yourself to grow and develop as an individual, you also want to feel supported in the new environment. With advance planning, you can arrange to meet with specific individuals who can help you understand the fit of the school; use club websites to reach out to students with similar interests, or faculty members who teach in one of your intended majors. It’s another great way to come away with more depth of information than just what you may see from the “official view.”
A word to the wise – be nice to everyone you meet… from people who hold the elevators for you, to the receptionist in the admissions office, and anyone you have an interaction with. These are tightly knit communities remember; and word travels quickly if you’ve been difficult.
– Post-MBA career opportunities. You will want to carefully study the school’s career statistics and recruiter data to make sure that not only are future employers actively recruiting there but they are recruiting for your areas of competence. It may be that there are companies that are recruiting on campus that have a host of opportunities- in consulting, when you want to work in finance, for example. Another important trend to consider is how the schools fare in “down economies”. Do their students get offers in times of turmoil? While the number of offers may decrease, is the career management office proactive in reaching out to other forms of recruitment through alumni networks and personal contacts? And, at the end of the day, do you feel that you will have the kinds of opportunities to grow professionally that you seek? It’s not just the number of offers or the salaries that you may be thinking about; it’s really thinking about the kind of professional person you imagine yourself becoming.