Choosing the Right Business Schools

Choosing which MBA program(s) you should apply to is one of the most important—and certainly one of the earliest—decisions you need to make in the application process. Yet we often see candidates targeting business schools without having fully thought through their options. These applicants typically end up in one of the following predicaments:

  1. They selected schools based solely on rankings and thus aimed too high, ending up without any options at all.
  2. They applied to a range of schools, but after they got in, they realized they did not actually want to attend any of them.

So, how do you avoid these mistakes?

First, rather than asking yourself, “Where do I want to go to business school?,” ask yourself, “Where would I want to go to business school more than I would want to stay in my job?” In other words, which MBA program is the “worst” one that would still be better than remaining at your current job, and which school is the “best” one that would be worse than staying where you are? (Note that “worst” and “best” here do not refer to a school’s objective quality; we are referring to how well—or not—a program matches your specific personality and needs.) Once you have identified these two schools, you will have positioned yourself not only to be accepted to business school (by applying to “safer,” more appropriate options) but also to be accepted at programs you would actually want to attend.

The next step is to factor in other criteria. Our Insider’s Guides address and explore nine key factors you should consider when selecting schools, such as location. Would you prefer to live in a city where you will have easier access to recruiters but less of a community feel on campus and potentially higher tuition? Or would you want to be in more of a college town, where the community and network are strong, but not a lot of resources are available off campus?

Something else to consider is a program’s primary teaching method, or pedagogy. For example, Harvard Business School and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business are both 100% case method. The case method requires a tremendous amount of reading and problem-solving, both alone and as part of a group, before you even get to class. This appeals to some learners but not to others. By contrast, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is very hands-on, with students required to complete a Multidisciplinary Action Project in which they solve a real-world problem for a company. As you narrow down your school list, think about whether you prefer to learn via traditional lectures, the case method, or a more hands-on, project-based approach—or a combination of these.

Of course, another key consideration is whether a school offers career opportunities and academic specializations that align with your goals and will therefore help you more easily advance professionally. Our Personal Statement Guide will help you better understand how to assess your professional aspirations and needs so you can identify which business school might provide the best preparation for your career. Again, a truly thorough exploration of an MBA program involves at least nine main criteria, and we have mentioned only a few here. Download our Insider’s Guides to the programs you are considering for more information, insight, and advice.

You also need to decide how many schools to apply to. We recommend taking a portfolio approach to manage your risk: apply to one or two “stretch” schools, one or two safer options, and two or three that are in the middle of your range. If you would like help identifying which schools these would be for you, sign up for a free 30-minute consultation with an mbaMission admissions expert.

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