How to Build Your Short List
Call it love at first sight. You felt such a connection. Sparks flew. They made you feel like the most important person in the world. And you could picture a future there.
Now, fast forward six months. Your circle has been chiming in – and they’re not impressed by what they’ve seen or heard. The calls and visits are fewer-and-further between. You understood that relationships require work. But you have your doubts now. And you wonder if you’re missing out, waiting on something that may never happen.
Sound like Romance? Sure, but the same process applies to your target school. Sometimes, you can get so hung up on a particular school that you ignore red flags, and end up deeply disappointed. In the process, you can lose a valuable year or ignore better fits.
“You can’t force these things,” is what your parents would tell you. When it comes to target schools, Stacy Blackman has a different take: Keep your mind open and formulate a plan.
In her latest U.S. News column, Blackman, a Kellogg MBA and consultant who has helped hundreds of applicants get into their target schools, shared four questions for compiling the best target list.
First, you need to look at your “window” for applying. For example, younger candidates (mid-twenties) can afford to be more choosey. They have a few years where they are considered to be the “right age.” Even if they are rejected, as Blackman notes, they can take the lessons and “reapply [them] a few years down the line with more work and life experiences under their belt.” Once you hit 30, however, candidates must face the “Why are you applying now” question. Fair or not, adcoms will question your career planning and commitment compared to your peers. As a result, you must provide a compelling reason to enter a full-time program at this juncture, as well as applying to more programs to increase your odds as your “window” tightens.
Second, you should choose a particular industry before applying. Certain programs are better fits for particular industries. For instance, if you aspire to be an investment banker, look at New York area schools, particularly Columbia and NYU. What’s more, think about the companies where you’d want to start. Read your schools’ employment reports to see if those companies hire from there. Even more, as Blackman suggests, call company recruiters directly for their opinions on particular programs. If anything, they can point you to particular courses – or put you in touch with alumni from those schools.
Third, geography is destiny. It will strongly influence your program’s strengths, employment opportunities, costs, network, and even culture. For example, as Blackman writes, “Big cities provide unparalleled access to business and recreation, but rural programs offer more of an immersive environment and are typically more close knit and family friendly.” Similarly, Blackman notes that some industries are highly centralized in particular regions, “such as New York for finance, the Bay Area for entrepreneurship, Los Angeles for entertainment and Texas for energy.” Even if you intend to move far from your business school after graduation, Blackman adds that you’re more likely to land a job nearby. “You’ll have the highest exposure to jobs in your immediate geographic area,” she writes.
Finally, when it comes to identifying your short list, Blackman encourages students to consider a school’s teaching philosophy. “Students may prefer the case method approach to learning, a highly experiential environment; a traditional, lecture-based style; or some mixture of these,” she writes. “Teaching method affects not only students’ enjoyment of the program, it also affects the quality of the knowledge they walk away with, so students should only consider MBA programs where they can thrive, not merely survive.” At the same time, factor in extracurriculars like clubs, where you have opportunities to learn and lead that can be equivalent to your classroom experience.
Regardless, Blackman suggests that students maintain a list of “four to six applications in order to maximize chances of success.” She adds that such lists should be treated as a works in progress. Think of this way: As you’re exposed to more functions and industries, your interests will change. As a result, the school that fits today may become an afterthought tomorrow.
Source: U.S. News & World Report