As decisions roll in from round 2, many MBA candidates are navigating tricky decisions about their future plans.
Here are two spectacular quandaries I received from anxious – if fortunate – business school candidates. To paraphrase:
“Is it foolish to pick MIT Sloan over Harvard and Wharton? Everyone says HBS is the obvious choice, but I’m really drawn to MIT for its orientation to technology and social impact.”
“I loved my every interaction with Wharton and know it’s more prestigious. But is it worth choosing Wharton over Kellogg if I’m facing $60k more debt on graduation?”
It’s an enviable privilege to choose between more than one MBA admission offer. And when the choices are three M7 schools, or even two in the top 10, the stakes feel incredibly high. Throw in the reality that your dream school may saddle you with debt against a lesser-ranked school with a scholarship offer, and you can spiral into a swirl second-guessing and what ifs.
First, a little more context on our candidates:
Our first rock star candidate is coming from a high-profile tech startup and industry disrupter to pursue the MBA. While the Harvard MBA brand is peerless in prestige, drawing some 9,773 applicants last year who would kill for a spot in its ranks, she feels a greater affinity to both Wharton and MIT Sloan. To Wharton for its cultural vibe and to Sloan for its entrepreneurial opportunities, tech prowess, and social impact initiatives. The icing is that she received a substantive scholarship to MIT that’s hard to pass up.
Our second is among the super-achieving wunderkinds hailing from a Central American country, to which he plans to return with his talent, connections, and newly honed skills. Yet his financial prospects seem considerably less given the local economy in his native city, than, say, landing a job in Manhattan. Top that with this chorus of conflicting advice from business school peers: More than one Kellogg alum quipped that if given the chance, he would have taken Wharton, while a Wharton alum grumbled that its big brand isn’t delivering on clearing his financial debt. But each of the Kellogg grads, he says, are making more money than his friends who graduated from Wharton and HBS. This decision feels like a critical crossroads in life, he says, and he doesn’t want to make the wrong choice.
Whether you can identify with these true scenarios (or not), my advice is consistent to anyone wrestling with multiple MBA offers or a concern about future debt. Here are seven factors to keep in mind in your decision-making process, gleaned from my colleagues at Fortuna Admissions:
Fortuna’s Top 7 Tips for MBA Decision-Making
1. Consider ROI beyond the money.
Does your top choice offer access to opportunities, connections, faculty and networks you’re unlikely to find elsewhere? It’s hard to put into perspective when you’re experiencing the sticker-shock of a big tuition bill, think more broadly about your return on investment. A school’s alumni network strength, for example, offers major validation for a program’s career opportunities. It’s relationships, and other less tangible benefits, that can make the biggest difference to your career.
2. Trust that the money will come.
This is about taking the long view. Given the turbo boost an MBA will give to your earning power in the long run, in 20 years from now can you imagine $60k will be the make-or-break number it feels like today? Remember that your access to opportunity will never diminish because of the degree.
3. Don’t underestimate the fit factor.
You’re committing two years of your life to the MBA, and fit factors such as location, cultural vibe and personality will make a major difference in your day-to-day experience. The community vibe and culture at Stanford GSB, for example, is vastly different than its east coast rival, HBS. In the words of Fortuna’s Heidi Hillis, a Stanford GSB alum, “Which program resonates more based on your career goals? Which alumni do you get on with best? These considerations are FAR more important than the money, as they will be much more of a predictor of your future success.”
4. Consider each school’s strengths.
In terms of HBS versus MIT, or Wharton versus Kellogg, each are exceptional programs with fabulous opportunities on offer. Yet all have distinctly different styles, strengths and management curricula. Sure, Wharton, HBS and Stanford GSB have exceptional brand recognition, but a world-class program like MIT Sloan permits grads unique access to its university’s superior engineering school. Also keep in mind that prestige is naturally subjective. So to our tech savvy candidate with entrepreneurial ambitions, if MIT Sloan is resonating more deeply at a gut level in terms of cultural and community fit, I’d be inclined to favor it over it’s prestigious Cambridge rival.
5. Weigh up your career prospects.
To advance your career goals and aspirations, you want confidence in the school you choose. Interact with those that have walked the walk to learn about their experiences with recruitment events, how helpful the career services team was, and which companies visited campus. Make sure to review each program’s career and employment reports, then look past starting salaries and the list of employers to scrutinize career statistics and recruiter info.
6. Advice is nice, but not the authority.
While campus visits are currently out of the question, seek out virtual chats with students and faculty, and process the options with your friends. But at the end of the day, the person most qualified to assess program and culture fit is you. Says Fortuna’s Catherine Tuttle, “Getting input from students and alumni who have been through the program is helpful, but it’s just one data point. There are so many variables that come into play when it comes to making the most of the opportunity.”
7. Have no regrets.
For me, this is the clincher. Imagine yourself stepping onto campus for the first class of your business school career – how will you feel? When you have a track record of excellence, combined with the privilege of a world-renown degree and access to the networks it offers, your worst enemy isn’t likely to be debt. The worst thing might be walking into school on your first day and thinking, I should’ve, I could’ve… I didn’t.
Your decision to go to business school is a life-altering experience, any way you look at it. So whatever program you choose, make sure you have no regrets.
Updated April 12, 2022
Fortuna Admissions Director Judith Silverman Hodara is former head of Admissions at Wharton. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.