How to choose my target business schools?

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Each applicant is different, and how much weighting you give to each of the following criteria should vary depending on why you are considering an MBA in the first place. However, we wanted to give our own views on the commonly listed reasons for targeting one school over another.

Only consider a school where you feel you’ll belong

If you don’t know what we’re taking about then you probably haven’t done enough research. Even if networking is not your primary driver for doing an MBA, you’ll want to enjoy the MBA experience as much as possible. You should also never underestimate the value of connections you’ll make there. And whether it’s from a personal or professional point of view, these connections are likely to be stronger and more long-lasting if you share similar values with those people.

If a school is for you, you’ll feel it during your research. If the majority of current / former students you speak to feel like they would turn into good friends (if you were to spend more time with them), that’s a good sign. If you feel like most of them are either too smart, arrogant, superficial, dumb, intense, boring, etc. then that school is probably not for you. There’s a reason why many schools use alumni to interview candidates. They want to check cultural fit. For the same reason you should “interview” many students / alumni before considering a school.

Diversity statistics should support your decision here. Some schools have much more diverse intakes than others. Whether it’s from a nationality, gender or career path perspective, think about who you want to mingle with and find a school that reflects that.

Class size should also have an impact on your decision. Are you good at building and maintaining “loose connections” or are you more comfortable building fewer but deeper links ? If it’s the latter, you may want to target a school with a smaller class size.

Bad reasons for school selection

  • Average GMAT score
  • Last year’s school rankings
  • Average graduate salaries
  • School curriculum

Good reasons for school selection

  • Fit with student/alumni population
  • Typical post-MBA job sectors/functions
  • Location
  • Selected school ranking criteria (3-4 year averages)

Target schools that serve your target sector/function, otherwise aim for flexibility

If you have a good idea of what you want to do afterwards then check school employment statistics. The more graduates working in a particular company or sector, the higher the chances of that company having a strong connection with the school (e.g. coming to campus to present to and interview students). On top of that you will have more opportunities to reach out to alumni for networking.

If you are not so sure about what you want to do, and experimentation is a key driver for you to do an MBA, choose a flexible program and, if your savings allow you, a longer one. The value of having an extra 6 months to do another couple of internships could be priceless compared to anything on this list if it enables you to find your dream career.

Your desired post-MBA job location should drive school location

Think about it, it’s much easier to find a job locally than the other side of the world. American recruiters typically won’t come to European schools just to see your pretty smile and vice versa. Yes, most good schools offer exchange programmes, but the chances of you doing an exchange bang in the middle of the recruitment cycle of local companies is low.

Studying in the target country is also usually helpful from a visa perspective. Typically if you’re sure you want to work in the US, you should go to a US school.

School rankings provide a general indication of school quality but don’t follow them blindly

It should be said. The MBA industry really makes too much fuss about rankings.

First of all, rankings fluctuate every year, but huge differences / jumps are pretty rare. This means you should only really differentiate between Top 5, Top 20, and the Rest. Whether a school is 1st or 4th is irrelevant, since next year the rankings will change but it’s unlikely that school will suddenly be outside the Top 20.

Also, it worth thinking about what you’re trying to get out of a ranking in the first place. They are typically based on a number of criteria, a number of which may be completely irrelevant to your own decision.

Many candidates think rankings are a proxy for “brand value” of the diploma (e.g. how much it will impress future employers). They couldn’t be further from the truth. Employers who work with a lot of MBAs typically have their own internal rankings or shortlists that don’t vary so much over time (whereas rankings do!), and employers who typically don’t work with MBAs will usually be influenced by the undergraduate brand value of the school! Yes we know that’s irrelevant, but it’s just the way the world works…

“Despite what schools try to make out, curriculums really don’t vary much from school to school”

Curriculums are rarely a valid major criteria

Despite what schools try to make out, curriculums really don’t vary much from school to school, so that shouldn’t be a huge factor in your decision.  Yes there are some exceptions to that rule, but we certainly wouldn’t advise someone to target a school just because of a particular class or professor. Keep in mind that within a same school the same class can be either great or terrible depending on the professor who gives it (and unfortunately you cant always control that).

If you are really concerned about the academic tuition, check how the school recruits and monitors the performance of their lecturers. Some schools focus mainly on their ability to contribute to research and don’t even get new professors to provide a mock-lecture as part of the interview process!

Ignore the hype around the GMAT

Do schools care about GMAT scores? Yes, but they typically base their decision on a range of factors. As long as the school can believe you will be capable of dealing with the academic work and graduate, then you shouldn’t worry too much if you are below the school’s average.

Let’s do some math. In a class of 500, a candidate that has a GMAT score of 50 points below the class average would bring down that average by 0.1 points. That’s peanuts. It’s true that some schools may think twice about taking on a student who will lower their minimum GMAT score (e.g. be the lowest one in the class), but not all classes publish that anyway.

Does this mean you should only take the GMAT once and not bother with studying it? Nope. What we’re saying is that despite what you can read on some dodgy websites out there, you should not exclude school X because your GMAT score is 50 points below their average. If you really are the perfect match and show it in your application you will get in.

Don’t even bother looking at average graduate salaries

Now we’re getting to the really silly reasons. Graduate salary averages are simply a reflection of the range of countries / companies school alumni work in afterwards. You are not going to follow all those career paths, you will only follow one! If you’re going to get a job at BCG Boston, you are going to get a similar salary whether you come from a top school or an average one (you may have higher chances of getting that job in the first place, but that’s another topic). Sure, having a great MBA brand on your CV may help you in the salary negotiations but after 6-12 months salaries will be much more driven by on the-job performance.

Just to be crystal clear. We are not saying post-MBA salary should not be a driving factor for you. We are saying average post-MBA salary rankings are irrelevant for your school targeting decision. Those are two separate things. If you don’t understand the difference then make sure you do a pre-MBA statistics class. 😉

And the obvious tips… (that not everybody follows!)

Meet loads of students and alumni before targeting specific schools. Ideally target ones who have similar career paths to your ambitions. Know that they will be biased (see our dedicated article on this), especially if you are introduced by a school, but learn to read between the lines.

Go to open school days. Visit the campus and get a feeling for the place. Go to a club event if you can. But make sure you do some research about what’s going on before planning your visit as a campus will feel very different depending on whether mid-terms are approaching or just finished!

Don’t apply to schools you wouldn’t be willing to accept. The MBA is such a full-on experience. The last thing you want is to commit to a school half-heartedly. Applying to a school “for practice or for backup” is not a good use of your time. You would benefit from focusing your time on making a great application to your top targets and doing more mock-interviews etc. Be prepared to walk away from the MBA decision (or post-pone to next year) if you don’t get one of your target schools. Some people only apply to 1-2 if they think they would not be happy getting a school outside those two.

Focus on quality rather than quantity. There may be a dozen schools that fit your criteria and there may be reasons why you really want to get in this year and not post-pone your application (if you are getting old for example!). But in any case, applying to more than 8 without degrading their quality would be very hard. Staggering them in rounds can also help (i.e. 2-3 per round). Don’t be afraid of having less chances of success in round 3. If you are a great candidate for a school, they will pay attention to you no matter what round you apply in.

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