You’ve decided to pursue an MBA.
Now that it’s nearly June, you’re starting to think about how to tackle the laborious application process. The amount of time, money and effort you’re gearing up to invest means that where you go to business school will be one of the biggest life decisions you’ll make.
Re-imagining your highest aspirations −then pursuing them − positions you for a life-changing experience that business school offers. It’s the rich soil to fertilize your next phase of growth – both personally and professionally. But like a geranium transplanted to the desert or a cactus to a rainforest, not every ecosystem is conducive to your success. And the ecosystem of any business school is at the crossroads of academic style, institutional identity and community culture.
That’s why you should be focusing on fit, as Admission Committees do. It’s essential to conduct your research – which is where things can get complicated. The glut of information that’s instantly accessible from various sources on limitless topics means it’s all too easy to go down a rabbit hole. You’ll want to separate the wheat from the chaff, as there’s a hierarchy of information out there.
With fit in mind, here are four top tips from the Fortuna team on researching schools:
- Identify your personal lens and filter.
Take a minute to truly reflect on your strengths, passions, ambitions and personal values. Throughout the research process, taking the time to reflect will influence your ability to be efficient and selective. In evaluating the thousands of candidates competing for limited classroom spots, Admissions Committees will wonder: “Why do you want an MBA? And why an MBA at our school?” Your unique motivations and vision for your post-MBA goals are effectively the lens and filter for discerning what’s most meaningful, useful and relevant to you.
- Follow the hierarchy of good information.
The best sources of information are from the programs themselves. After digesting each school’s website, it’s valuable to look at each program’s Student Profile and employment report. Both will give you a sense of where candidates are coming from and where they went after graduation. Too often, applicants skip rich source material like the employment report, yet it’s rife with useful stats and data that can tell you a lot about whether your post-MBA goals are realistic and which school may be best positioned to make those goals happen. Ask yourself when you’re comparing schools: Can this program help me achieve my career goals? Can I see myself thriving there?
Another great source of timely and relevant information are school-hosted blogs. In addition to keeping applicants up-to-date on admissions info, news, and events, the tone and style of these MBA blogs tell the story of a school’s personality and priorities. Similarly for a school’s social media platforms – its sources like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that you’ll often receive the speediest response to your queries.
When skimming non-school resources, be cautious and curious of who’s giving the advice and what their agenda might be. Are they a student, alumnus or experienced consultant? How can you fact-check the information for accuracy?
- Assess each program’s strengths and culture.
You might find that schools may seem similar at a glance, but each one possesses a unique culture and approach to management development. I advise to not rely too heavily on the MBA rankings to tell you what matters, although it’s tempting. The curriculum strength, community atmosphere, opportunities for career advancement, connectedness of its alumni network and institutional values are all more significant. Program length, location and cost are also major considerations.
When it comes to rankings, keep in mind that each one uses a different methodology. Familiarize yourself with what’s being measured and evaluate how relevant it is to you. For example, the Forbes ranking is a fairly simple calculation of ROI, The Economist focuses on post-MBA career opportunities and the international nature of the school, where Business Week favors levels of satisfaction of students and recruiters.
- Get a firsthand sense for the vibe and personality.
These days, it’s tempting to think that you can learn everything you need to know about a school online. But there is truthfully zero substitute for getting a real sense of the environment yourself by doing a campus visit. Considering the financial investment and time you’ll dedicate to the MBA itself; it’s indeed time consuming and expensive, but it is an investment strongly worth making. Attend information sessions and get a campus tour, but also go further by sitting in on a class or engaging with students around the school. Is it a welcoming environment? Are students collaborating or does it feel highly competitive? Are faculty engaging with students or rushing off to other obligations after class? These observations will give you the best sense of school community and its institutional personality.
If a campus visit isn’t in the cards, be sure to connect virtually with students and alumni who share interests similar to yours and initiate frank conversations that help you understand a school’s identity beyond its brand. For more depth, having conversations with faculty are helpful too. Of course, you can always take advantage of local or online information sessions or an MBA fair.
Too often, candidates expect that if they get into a top school, they are destined for an outstanding MBA experience and an exceptional career post b-school. But unfortunately, it happens where students even at the very top schools recognize too late that they didn’t make the best choice. It’s usually an issue with community and cultural fit.
MBA programs are screening for excellence as well as fit and the competition for a place at any top tier business school is fierce. Your thorough research helps you identify what matters to your top schools, and what matters most to you.
Fortuna Admissions is composed of senior admissions professionals from 12 of the top 15 business schools.