As an admissions consultant, one of the things I do almost every day is help candidates narrow down where they want to apply to business school.
That doesn't mean I choose target schools out of a hat or tell my applicants where they have to apply; what it often means is that students will come to us with a list of 10-to-12 potential schools, and I’ll help them honestly evaluate the schools on two criteria:
1. Is the school a good fit?
2. Is the school a stretch school, a safety school, or a moderate school?
But where those lists of “potential schools” come from? And how can applicants do a better job of choosing target MBA programs?
Generally, when an applicant comes in with a list of potential b-schools, what I see is a top 10 list of the best business schools, as put out by US News, or Financial Times, or Bloomberg, or someone else. People know that those are great schools – so they assume that they must be great schools for them.
Ask the right questions
I'm not going to tell you that rankings don't matter, or that you shouldn't care at all about acceptance rates, or anything like that. Obviously, rankings do matter – there is a difference between an MBA program ranked top and one ranked at twentieth. But above a certain ranking level, what you really need to be looking at is how well you will do at a certain school.
That's much easier to do that when you start out by thinking about your needs, rather than by looking at school rankings.
What kind of environment do you do well in – do you prefer a big city like New York with a lot going on at all times? Or would you prefer a quieter environment where you can make school, studying, and extracurricular activities your focus?
What is your learning style? Would you do well in a school that uses case studies extensively, or do you prefer a more diverse teaching style? Are you looking for a specific concentration, learning path, or dual-degree option?
What are your post-MBA career goals? Where do the people in your desired industry or role graduate from? What do they do after business school? Where do they work?
Thinking about the experiences you want to have during and after business school will help you build a list of criteria. Once you know what you're looking for in an MBA program, you can go back to that list of the top 10 or 20 business schools, and start getting rid of schools that won't meet your criteria.
Business school is a huge investment of time and money. You should absolutely want to go to the best-ranked school that you can – but if the school won't help you reach your goals for after you've earned your MBA, then regardless of how highly it's ranked, it's not the right school for you.
She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.
Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.