During my business school decision-making process, I performed my due diligence by listening to MBA town halls, attending information sessions, and pouring over each school’s published materials. Despite all of this, I found myself at a loss for what truly differentiated the top business schools from one another. Besides the obvious factors like location (big city versus small), weather, and being close to friends and family, many other aspects of business school can be tough to decipher and predict. Depending on the day, I found myself going through various ebbs and flows on which school was the best for me, oftentimes suffering a recency bias for whichever school that I visited last.
I found it fairly easy to sell myself on both sides of the same coin. For example, going to a school that was strong in a certain industry was a plus since all the top employers would surely be recruiting on campus. On the other hand, going to a school that wasn’t as strong in this specific industry could be viewed as a positive; there would be less competition from classmates in securing job opportunities and I could make a larger impact in expanding that industry’s campus club. While both were viable, positive options, they did not help me determine which school was a better fit for me.
I kept struggling with the fact that this was such an important decision, and I certainly didn’t want to leave the decision to chance. I even created a spreadsheet to weigh the pros and cons. Boiling the decision down to a single weighted average score seemed logical and less subjective, but what about the arbitrary weights? How do you properly incorporate your significant other’s views into the process? The spreadsheet helped, but it didn’t feel personal or tangible enough to make such a critical life decision.
If this is happening to you, take comfort in the fact that many MBA candidates face this problem. After going through the admissions process two years ago and having been an admissions buddy for the past two years, I want to provide some pieces of advice for making the B-School decision easier.
1. Connect with each school’s alumni network
During my admissions process, nearly every school boasted an alumni network that was extremely responsive and helpful, so I decided to put this sales line to the test. I recommend that each MBA candidate reaches out to alumni through his or her network (such as friends, colleagues and LinkedIn connections) in order to truly understand the responsiveness of alumni. These discussions have a secondary benefit of helping you craft your business school essays. Plus, if you choose to recruit for internships and full-time positions in a nontraditional industry like sports business, these alumni connections will be critical for securing positions, so establish relationships as early as possible.
I was able to experience the Kellogg sports alumni network firsthand through Kellogg’s experiential learning classes in which students have the opportunity to perform consulting projects for sports companies. These projects helped give me real-life experiences at sports organizations, which helped build my resume and sports network. These experiential learning classes, along with other interactions with Kellogg sports alumni helped me secure a summer internship at the National Football League (NFL).
2. Speak with current students
In addition to reaching out to alumni, be sure to speak with current students – especially students who hold leadership positions in the clubs that you are interested in joining. (Typically, club leaders’ contact information can be found on a school’s website). For me, I was able to connect with students who were leading the sports business clubs at several different schools. They were able to give me insights into where the clubs were heading, what types of internships members participated in and more. Several of these discussions led to follow-up calls, and I was able to lean on these current students throughout the application process as I crafted my story.
At Kellogg, I connected with Sandeep Satish and Dan Reaves, who were the Kellogg Sports Business presidents at the time. They explained how Kellogg was continuing to grow its presence in the Chicago market, and how alumni went on to work for the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs, just to name a few. Additionally, they mentioned that Kellogg had strong relationships with NASCAR, MLB and other sports leagues, as well as interns at Nike and other sports apparel companies. All of this information helped better inform my decision.
3. Attend admitted students weekends
My last recommendation is to attend each school’s admitted students weekend, like Day at Kellogg (DAK). The primary reason why these events were so important for me (and my significant other) was that we were able to spend more time with our future classmates, faculty and administration. These admit events served as an indicator for the type of people that I would get to know and become friends with during my time at business school. As many candidates discover, most of the top business schools share similar offerings and programs. However, when it comes to student culture, schools can vary significantly.
At DAK, I simply clicked better with my fellow admitted students, who were extremely intelligent, but also personable and down-to-earth. I was able to meet club leaders that I had previously connected with over the phone. We had small group dinners to help personalize the weekend a bit more and promote more in-depth discussions with my potential future classmates. Plus, I was able to attend the KWEST fair, which is Kellogg’s pre-matriculation trip, where students get to choose from among 40-plus weeklong trips across the globe.
In order to provide clarity in your business school decision, I would strongly recommend meeting with as many current students, alumni and faculty as possible. While it is easier to fake other characteristics about a school, it is very hard to fake the culture and environment. I personally found the admit events to be the most helpful of all the ways to immerse yourself in a school’s culture. In addition to all the scheduled programming at the admit events, you will be able to meet your future classmates in person. Kellogg tends to be a social and collaborative culture, in which students interact with each other inside and out of the classroom.
Teamwork is a must in today’s complex business environment in which the strengths of different professionals must be combined to solve the most difficult business challenges. Teamwork is demonstrated at Kellogg through team projects, leading industry conferences, and even intramural sports leagues, and I was able to gain enough insight into this at Kellogg’s admit event to help inform my decision. The investment of a few days off from work and a few hundred or thousand dollars for the cost of travel is definitely worthwhile when it comes to making your two-year, $200K business school decision.
Nathan Pohle is a 2016 MBA graduate from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Nathan has returned to Deloitte Consulting as a manager, working primarily in the life insurance sector. During his time at Deloitte before Kellogg, Nathan focused on audit and consulting engagements in the valuation and financial reporting areas. Nathan was a key contributor in Deloitte’s predictive analytics efforts, which help insurance companies combine different data sources to develop analytics solutions. Nathan is also interested in applying big data and analytics in the sports industry.