No-Regrets Decision-Making: Choosing Between MBA Programs

Wharton Vs. Kellogg and Other Tricky Choices

This week I received some spectacular quandaries from fortunate – if anxious – business school candidates. To paraphrase:

“I loved my every interaction with Wharton and know it’s more prestigious. But is it worth choosing Wharton over Kellogg if I’m facing $60k more debt on graduation?”

“Is it foolish to pick MIT Sloan over Harvard and Wharton? Everyone says HBS is the obvious choice, but I’m really drawn to MIT for its orientation to technology and social impact.”

The privilege of choosing between more than one MBA admission offer is enviable indeed. And when the choices are three M7 schools, or even two in the top 10, the stakes feel even higher. Throw in the reality that your dream school may saddle you with debt against a lesser-ranked school with a scholarship offer, and you can spiral into a swirl second-guessing and what ifs.

First, a little more context on our candidates:

Our first is among the super-achieving wunderkinds hailing from a Central American country, to which he plans to return with his talent, connections and newly honed skills. Yet his financial prospects seem considerably less given the local economy in his native city, than, say, landing a job in New York. Top that with this chorus of conflicting advice from b-school peers: More than one Kellogg alum quipped he would have taken Wharton (if given the chance), while a Wharton alum complains that its big brand isn’t delivering on clearing his debt. But each of the Kellogg grads, he says, are making more money than his friends who graduated from Wharton and HBS. This feels like those critical crossroads in his life, he says, and doesn’t want to make the wrong choice.

Our second rock star candidate is entering b-school from the ranks of a high-profile tech startup and industry disrupter. While the HBS brand peerless in its prestige, drawing a record-breaking 10k+ applicants last year that would kill for a spot in its ranks, she feels a greater affinity to both MIT Sloan and Wharton. To Sloan for its entrepreneurial opportunities, tech prowess, and social impact initiatives, and to Wharton for its cultural vibe. The icing is that she received a generous scholarship to MIT that’s hard to pass up.

Whether you can identify with these true scenarios or not, my advice is consistent to anyone wrestling with more than one offer or a concern about future debt. I also polled my Fortuna Admissions colleagues for their insights on factors to keep in mind in your decision-making process.

Our top six tips for MBA decision-making:

  1. Consider ROI beyond the dollars.

    Does your top choice offer access to connections, opportunities, networks and faculty you’re unlikely to find elsewhere? It’s hard to put into perspective when you’re experiencing the sticker-shock of a big tuition bill, think more broadly about your return on investment.  It’s relationships, and other less tangible benefits, that can make the biggest difference to your career.

  2. Trust that the money will come.

    This is about taking the long view. Given the turbo boost an MBA will give to your earning power in the long run, can you imagine $60k will be the make-or-break number it feels like today in 20 years from now? Remember that your access to opportunity will never diminish because of the degree.

  3. Fit is far more important.

    In the words of Fortuna expert coach and Stanford GSB grad Heidi Hillis, “Which program resonates more based on your career goals? Which alumni do you get on with best? These considerations are FAR more important than the money, as they will be much more of a predictor of your future success.” The culture and community vibe at Stanford GSB, for example, is vastly different than its east coast rival, HBS. You’re committing two years of your life to the MBA, and fit factors such as class size, location, cultural vibe and personality will make a big difference in the day-to-day.

  4. Consider a school’s strengths against your career vision.

    In terms of Wharton versus Kellogg, or HBS versus MIT, each are fabulous programs with exceptional opportunities on offer. Yet all have distinctly different strengths, styles and management curricula. Says Fortuna’s Michel Belden, “If you’re is interested in finance I would pick Wharton. If it’s marketing, pick Kellogg. It’s a lot of money, so it depends a lot on your focus and career goals.” And to our tech savvy candidate with startup ambitions, I’d likewise gravitate toward MIT Sloan versus it’s heavyweight Cambridge rival – especially if it’s resonating more deeply at a gut level in terms of cultural and community fit.

  5. Advice is nice, but not the authority.

    Says Fortuna’s Catherine Tuttle, “Getting input from students and alumni who have been through the program is helpful, but it’s just one data point. There are so many variables that come into play when it comes to making the most of the opportunity.” Attend the next visit weekend, talk to students and faculty, process the options with your friends. But at the end of the day, the person most qualified to assess program and culture fit is you.

  6. Have no regrets.

    For me, this is the clincher. Imagine yourself walking onto campus for the first class of your MBA career – how will you feel? When you have the privilege of a world-renown degree and access to the networks it offers, not to mention a track record of excellence, your worst enemy isn’t likely to be debt. The worst thing would be walking into school on your first day and thinking, I should’ve, I could’ve… I didn’t.

Any way you look at it, your decision to go to business school is a life-altering experience. Make sure that whatever program you choose, you have no regrets.


Choosing Between MBA Programs: Wharton Vs. Kellogg and Other Tricky ChoicesJudith Silverman Hodara is former acting admissions director of Wharton and a director at Fortuna Admissions, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm.

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