When you first decided to apply to business school and began doing your research on the various programs, you may have been excited about all your options. This school has a world-class faculty; that one is known for its dynamic and tight-knit community; this other one has unique courses in areas you want to target. Choosing which programs to ultimately apply to might have been somewhat challenging, but nothing was set in stone yet—everything was still a possibility. Once actual admissions offers are on the table, though, the pressure is on to make a final, definitive decision, and this can understandably be daunting.
If you were fortunate enough to have been accepted to multiple MBA programs, you may be grappling with this challenging—yet essentially positive—dilemma. Given the substantial investment business school requires in terms of tuition and living expenses (often exceeding $100,000 per year) as well as missed wages and retirement savings, you want to be sure you are making the “right” choice. So here are some ways of increasing your chances of doing so:
Intensify your efforts to learn about the programs by (re)connecting with students and alumni. You likely spoke with students and graduates of your target program when you were working on your applications to learn more about what the schools had to offer and to collect stories and information for your essays and interviews. But you are not a nervous applicant anymore, concerned about ruffling any feathers, so you are free to ask the kind of probing questions you may have originally shied away from: Are they truly happy with their decision? Do they dislike anything about the program? In what ways, if any, might the career services office be lacking? What challenges have they encountered in acclimating to the town, the weather, the schedule, the workload?
BEST ADVICE: VISIT THE SCHOOLS
Use these conversations to get to the heart of what matters most to you and to address any concerns you have. And during these conversations, take note of how well you identify with the individuals overall and how comfortable you feel. By committing to a program, you will be associated with it and its community for the rest of your career, so you want to feel proud of and confident in that association.
Visit the schools! If you were not able to visit campus during the application process, make the effort to do so now. In particular, attend the programs’ admitted student weekends, during which you will have the opportunity to interact not only with students and faculty (see tip #1), but also with your potential fellow incoming classmates. Truly picture yourself learning alongside and from these individuals in that environment. Sit in on a class—preferably, if possible, one you have interest in taking or know will be required—to experience the program’s teaching style firsthand, and take the necessary steps to observe (or even interact with) a learning team if the school in question has these groups. Do you feel you will have all the necessary resources at hand to be a successful student and to develop in the areas and ways you hope to?
Be sure to venture beyond campus to scope out the program’s town or city, too. This is where you will be living for a while, so you want to be confident that the place fits your lifestyle! Consider housing/neighborhoods, weather, transit options, restaurants/bars, access to your favorite hobbies and activities, and the location’s overall vibe. If you have a significant other who will be joining you during the program, bring him/her along so you can evaluate these factors together. Prospective part-time students, determine whether you can realistically handle the required commute on a regular basis.
DOING YOUR RESEARCH ON A SCHOOL
Closely examine the program’s career resources and statistics. You may have done some research into your target programs’ employment-related offerings during the application process, and if so, now is the time to dig even deeper. If you did not, do not skip this important step! One of the main reasons people attend business school is to advance their career in some capacity, so this needs to be a crucial part of your decision-making process. Start by reviewing the program’s employment reports and hiring statistics in your target industry for the past several years, and check to see whether the companies in which you are most interested recruit from the school.
Also, research where the program’s alumni are located geographically to determine whether strong networks exist in the regions where you want to live after graduating. Consider scheduling a call or meeting with someone in the career services office to discuss your plans in detail and learn how the department’s resources and staff can assist you in attaining your employment goals. Other useful contacts are the officers of any professional clubs relevant to your desired career, who can give you their perspective on how the school has facilitated their job searches and helped them prepare for interviews for internships and full-time opportunities.
Leverage—or request—scholarship offers. Given business school’s high price tag, your final decision may come down to a matter of dollars. If you have received a scholarship offer from Program A but are leaning in favor of Program B, you have nothing to lose by politely and respectfully asking Program B to match Program A’s offer. Similarly, if you are having trouble deciding between two schools, approach the programs to see whether one (or both!) would be willing to seal the deal with a financial incentive.
After taking these steps, you should have a handle on which program resonates more strongly with you in terms of the learning experience you will have, the community you will be joining, the effect your choice will have on your career, and the potential financial impact of the pursuit—and very likely, one option will emerge as a clear frontrunner. At this point, go with what your gut is telling you, and start looking forward to a productive and enjoyable business school experience. Congratulations!Nisha Trivedi, who earned her MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, is an MBA admissions consultant with mbaMission. she held positions at Time Inc., Rosetta, and KPMG LLP in New York City before getting her MBA. After graduating from Ross, she worked for several years in brand management in San Francisco at Big Heart Pet Brands (now part of The J.M. Smucker Company) before joining mbaMission.