As we exit the dormant months, and minds start to turn to applications season of Fall 2016, I’m starting to get the question: “which schools should I apply to?”
Choosing which business school MBA or EMBA to apply to requires knowledge of each institution, its culture, curriculum emphasis, extramural activities and recruitment opportunities, among many other things. The key parameters to consider are:
1. Fit. You’re paying the money and you’re going to be doing the work, so you want to put yourself somewhere you’ll be happy. Only you will know the answer to whether you want a small or big program, urban or rural, US or Europe or Asia, entrepreneurial or financial, etc. Sometimes it’s okay to knowingly put yourself in a slightly alien environment too, for the growth challenge. Either way, know thyself. Know the school. Choose fit consciously, don’t just apply to the “top” programs and take the highest offer.
2. Brand. Forget rankings. School brand is what matters. That’s what is going to give you your short- and long-term career boost. While rankings bounce around, real brand value of the top b-schools changes very slowly, if at all. If you genuinely don’t know a school’s brand strength, how do you get a sense of it? Every school publishes a list of companies that come to campus, how many graduates they hire, placement rates, and average starting salaries. Quality of recruiting firm and average post-MBA salary is a much better guide to a program’s real prestige than any magazine ranking.
3. Location and recruitment: Location strongly affects the industry orientation of the school and the companies recruiting on campus offering internships and jobs. You will get different exit opportunities in New York than you will in Texas, or Lausanne, Switzerland (IMD). Pick a school with an eye to your exit opportunities.
4. Profile of participants: Make the effort to understand the subtle differences in the type of person each school attracts. INSEAD and LBS both offer MBAs, and there is overlap in the student profile, but there are clear differences. This is true of HBS and MIT, Booth and Kellogg, and everywhere else. Go somewhere where you will more easily make real friends and you will be a lot happier and productive. Better still, in 15 years, your alumni network will be real.
5. Length, structure, and flexibility: The time it takes to get an MBA can vary from 10 months to almost two years. Longer programs offer more electives, exchange options, and other forms of enrichment including summer internships. If you are younger, chances are you need the time to figure out what you want to do and will benefit from an internship or two on your resume. If you are older, speed of completion may be your highest priority.
6. Electives and options: The core curriculum is effectively the same everywhere and it doesn’t drastically matter where you do it. Electives however, differ significantly from school to school, according to faculty interest and expertise. External projects, “treks,” and exchange opportunities will also vary.
In short, the more you know the better your decision-making will be. Some of the information about schools is easy to find out via the Web. The rest will be more difficult to judge without visiting the campus or talking to current and recent past students.