Getting an MBA from one of the world’s top business schools will provide you with a coveted distinction.
Honing your target list of MBA programs demands self-awareness and introspection from the outset — a practice that continues throughout the application process. It also takes smart strategy. To make the most of your time and energy (not to mention money), your shortlist should be reflective of your priorities, personality, and ambitions.
Join us for an exclusive Fortuna Admissions webinar on Wed., May 25 at 12 noon ET, How to Create Your MBA Target List & Research Schools. This 50-minute strategy session is part of our MBA Admissions Masterclass series, and is also a chance to get your questions answered in a live Q&A. Registration is free but spaces are limited.
First, a caution: It’s tempting to rely too much upon the various business school rankings when deciding where to apply. Sure, rankings can be useful, but without an understanding of their respective algorithms and methodologies, it’s easy to be misled by other people’s definition of “best school.” More importantly, any ranking is vastly more useful after you’ve determined your own key criteria. So how do you get there?
Read on for eight key considerations from my colleagues at Fortuna Admissions for distinguishing the information that’s most relevant, useful, and practical to you. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission to a top MBA program, reach out to schedule a free consultation with a Fortuna expert.
8 Essential Factors For a Successful MBA Research Process
1. Personality & culture
What can you pick up from the overall “vibe” of the school? Who does it attract and what kind of environment does it nurture? Are your personal interactions consistent with the school’s stated values? When you speak with alumni and current students, do you get the sense of a supportive and collaborative climate or a more competitive classroom? Nothing will give you a better sense of a school’s culture and identity than a visit to its campus. But if that’s not possible, much can be gleaned by participating in MBA fairs or networking events. Remember: It’s not just about whether you’re a fit for the program, but also whether the program is a good fit for you.
2. School location
Geography influences ties to recruiters and school strengths, not to mention the community environment. It’s not surprising that London Business School, Columbia, and Chicago Booth have excellent reputations in finance. Similarly, schools in California benefit from ties to startup and technology hubs in Silicon Valley. Europe provides a gateway to fields such as biotech, aerospace, and luxury brand management, while schools in Asia are on the doorstep of the world’s most dynamic, growing economies.
At the same time, there are compelling benefits to escaping the urban core. B-schools in small towns — like Dartmouth Tuck in Hanover, New Hampshire — are legendary for their tight knit, supportive communities. Cornell Johnson boasts the best of both worlds with a scenic location in upstate New York that’s also a short train ride from a tech campus in New York City.
3. Strengths and specializations
Many programs have reputations in specific areas such as technology, real estate, entrepreneurship, non-profit, finance or luxury goods. They might have an incubator luring venture capital for entrepreneurs or offer immersion-learning internships for NGO experience. Some programs have a flexible curriculum that allows you to explore elective or experiential opportunities. London Business School, for example, offers flexible exit points and more than 70 electives and applied learning options. Think about whether a school’s core competencies, as well as its curriculum and teaching methodology, match your areas of interest.
4. Prestige and brand recognition
A school’s brand recognition can be a major differentiator in terms of opening doors, although prestige is inherently subjective. But it’s not just about rankings. How might a school’s reputation and strengths, as well as the network and experiences it offers, support your career ambitions and future job placement? Sure, Harvard Business School, Wharton, and Stanford GSB, have peerless name recognition, but a world-class program like MIT Sloan endows its grads with exceptional access to the university’s top-notch engineering school. Meanwhile, the globally focused curriculum at schools like LBS and INSEAD, along with their uniquely international student communities, provides a springboard for working abroad.
The strength of a program’s alumni network is a powerful indicator of its career opportunities. Some alumni networks are more geographically concentrated than others. Stanford GSB will give you a fantastic Silicon Valley network, while INSEAD offers unmatched international breadth. How well students rank their alumni network is another barometer of alumni strength, as well as the number of overseas alumni chapters and a program’s ratio of alumni to current MBA students.
6. Career opportunities
You’ll want to be confident that your favored schools are well-positioned to help advance your career vision. Talk to alumni and learn about their experiences with the career services team, campus visits from potential employers and recruitment events. Is the career services team proactive in reaching out to personal contacts and alumni networks? What opportunities exist to participate in career treks? Be sure to review at each program’s career and employment reports, looking beyond starting salaries to examine career statistics and recruiter data.
7. Program length
The time commitment of your chosen program sets the pace of your studies, as well as the speed of job market re-entry. A fast-track program is attractive if you have focused career goals and want to beef up your skills before quickly returning to the workforce. In terms of intensity, you can expect to spend about six hours a day in class during accelerated programs, and roughly half that in standard ones. Accelerated programs at top schools like INSEAD, Columbia J-Term, Cambridge Judge, and Oxford Saïd run between 12 and 18 months. The traditional two-year format affords the opportunity to delve deeper over an extended period and complete a seasonal internship, as found in programs like the US M7.
8. Cost and ROI
Return on investment (ROI) goes beyond those coveted starting salaries and is inherently individual. Forbes rankings, for example, are drawn from pre- and post-MBA compensation, location and career choice and based exclusively on ROI. Forbes examines the five-year gain for MBAs across a host of key factors, while other media, like The Economist rankings, calculate ROI in terms of one-year gain to determine early value from first-year salaries against tuition. If you’re curious to consider a lower-ranked program because of tuition cost, know that its ROI may also be lower. At Fortuna Admissions, we generally encourage candidates to go to the best school that they are admitted to regardless of short-term cost considerations; over the long term, better programs usually pay greater dividends.
Remember that it’s not just about post-MBA salaries, number of job offers or reputation. It’s about defining the qualities that are most important to you in an MBA program and envisioning the professional you want to become. Your diligent research and discerning approach can help ensure you’re focusing your time and effort on programs that will be the best fit for you. Ultimately, your chances of admissions success will be much higher the better you get to know the business schools of your choice.
Want more advice?
Register now for our free, live webinar on Wed., May 25 at 12 noon ET, How to Create Your MBA Target List & Research Schools for a deeper dive on this topic with Fortuna’s industry experts and former MBA admission gatekeepers. This 50-minute strategy session is part of our MBA Admissions Masterclass series, and is also a chance to get your questions answered in a live Q&A. Registration is free but spaces are limited. You can also view my related article on How to Research MBA programs: 4 Key Tips.
Updated May 2022