Congratulations! You’ve made the exciting decision to apply to business school in the hope of enhancing your career and growing professionally and personally. Perhaps you’ve already taken the GMAT, GRE, or supplementary college courses to boost your transcript.
Now you’re faced with a daunting task: compiling a list of programs to which you will apply. Here are five essential items to consider when deciding which schools to target:
1. Chances of admission
Low GMAT or GRE scores, low GPAs, or a lack of relevant work experience can hurt your application status - depending on a particular school’s standards. When selecting target schools, study the percentile ranges and medians for test scores, GPAs and years of work experience, and then determine how you compare. Ensure that you are well within the ranges for the majority of the schools on your target list.
2. Program format
Decide if you are interested in full-time, part-time, or executive MBA programs. Generally, part-time and executive programs cater to students who are willing and able to balance the demands of the workplace with a rigorous academic curriculum.
Full-time students are typically younger and seek a more immersive experience with additional opportunities to bond with fellow classmates and professors.
Also consider what sort of learning environment suits you best. Business schools vary in how much class time is dedicated to case studies, lectures, group projects and fieldwork.
Do you thrive in urban environments or do you prefer suburban or rural campuses? Are you seeking an international experience? How far away from your current city or hometown are you willing to travel? What types of companies are in the cities you are interested in?
Location can make a significant difference in the MBA experience. Many alumni ultimately find positions in areas near their programs due to their school’s industry connections. So decide where you might wish to settle in the long-run.
4. Career opportunities
Many MBA programs publish employment reports that specify which industries and functions graduating students secure positions in, as well as what their compensation ranges are. They often publish the names of their top employers and a comprehensive list of all companies with whom they have recruiting partnerships.
Although business school is a time to explore various ideas for careers, the most successful students have an idea of what they want to pursue before they matriculate.
While elite schools will provide you with an excellent education in all areas of business (marketing, finance, general management, accounting, supply chain management, etc.), individual programs are typically known for specific strengths.
5. Application requirements
Although the majority of schools generally require applicants to possess high standardized test scores, a four-year Bachelor’s degree, work experience, essays, recommendations and to complete an interview, select programs may waive one or more of these requirements.
While one school may ask for just one 400-word essay, another may require four short essays, two long essays and a post-interview reflection. Some schools may require you to submit a recommendation from your current direct supervisor.
Before deciding where to apply, it’s important to thoroughly examine each application and to ensure you can put in the time, effort and self-reflection necessary to make a compelling case for your candidacy.
Narrowing down your list of target schools can be challenging, but the epiphanies you have about yourself and your goals in the process are extremely valuable, as well as worth the effort you will expend.
Sunil Parekh is a professional GMAT tutor for Varsity Tutors. He scored a 770 on the GMAT and will graduate Columbia Business School’s Executive MBA program in 2015. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Biomechanical Engineering from Stanford University.