Human nature dictates that amid a competitive application process—exaggerated by the pervasiveness of rankings and the chatter surrounding them—some MBA students will perceive that they are ahead of others because they were accepted at a top school, while others will perceive that they are behind their peers because they gained acceptance from a lower-ranked school. What is often lost amid all of this worrying is that you, not your business school, are the independent variable. You, not your school, will determine your success.
Many regard such prestigious institutions as Harvard Business School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business as a holy grail of sorts. Their reasoning is along the lines of, “All you have to do is get in and you are set for life!” This is undoubtedly wrong. Although tremendous opportunities exist for those who graduate from Harvard or Stanford, no graduate is simply given a free pass. When MBAs find summer or full-time positions at prestigious firms, they are still competing with others from many schools once they enter their workplaces, where (surprise!) their individual performance—not their pedigree—then determines their success.
An mbaMission consultant recalls her MBA summer internship at J.P. Morgan, wherein the firm recruited students from 17 top MBA programs. At the end of the summer, students from Wharton, Michigan Ross, UVA Darden, Texas McCombs, and NYU Stern were offered full-time positions, while students from many other schools were left out. This simple anecdote features a very small sampling from one firm and one summer, but it can be an eye-opener for an MBA applicant who assumes that a top ten school is the “ticket.”
Further, a myriad of studies suggest that lower-ranked schools offer a greater return on investment than top-ranked schools. In one study sponsored by GMAC (the collective of MBA programs that administers the GMAT), data suggests that lower-ranked schools offer lower costs and higher returns over a ten-year period (185% vs. 118%). We are not suggesting that you start applying exclusively to lower-ranked schools or that you shun Stanford or Harvard—both have excellent programs. Our point is simply that some applicants can too closely identify with their target schools and neglect to recognize that their internal motors have gotten them to a place where they can compete for acceptances. These internal motors will not be shut off during or after business school, but will continue to drive the applicants in the future.