MBA Application Planning: The Program Research Phase

MBA application planning - tips to help you research business schools

When it comes to applying to business school, there is a sea of information out there –  rankings, books, MBA program websites, MBA fairs, Poets & Quants, newspaper and magazine articles on MBA programs, student and adcom blogs, school open houses, etc. Do you feel like you’re swimming in circles?

What follows are six key steps for doing MBA program research in a way that a.  yields meaningful info for decision-making and list-making, and simultaneously b. is efficient and focused – conserving and respecting your precious time.

  • Look at Rankings

With your competitive profile in mind, look at several broad MBA rankings. Determine programs where you’re competitive generally (taking into account reasonable reaches, on-pars, and maybe safeties). Note the plural – rankings – as each has its idiosyncrasies (US News, Bloomberg Businessweek, Poets & Quants, etc.).  Sometimes a program may fall above or below your target competitive range, but it still might make sense to apply (in the next steps you’ll gain the additional info needed to make this decision).

  • Talk to People

Start talking to people with MBA experience – colleagues, friends, mentors, etc. – to add a qualitative dimension to the first step. Ask about their impressions and experiences, and assess how their views align (or don’t) with what you gleaned from the rankings vis-à-vis competitive fit. Also, if they attended schools you are considering, see if you connect on a more personal level – do they feel like “your” people?

  • Search Industry/Function-Specific Rankings

Be sure to take industry- and/or function-specific rankings in your area(s) of interest into account. Identify programs from these rankings that overlap with those from Step 1 (and factoring in any learning from Step 2).

There may be programs in your competitive range that do meet your academic needs but don’t show up on specialization rankings (e.g., Kellogg isn’t known as a finance school but offers much in this area and might be great for someone in PE who will be doing a lot of managing; Columbia Business School doesn’t often appear on entrepreneurship rankings but is quite strong in it), so indulge in some unstructured exploring, to “see what you can see.”

  • Start Digging Deeper

Go to the source – the websites of programs that interest you. Look for specifics that you care about (structure of curriculum, flexibility, concentrations, students from a given industry or geographic region, global reach, etc.). Listen to your gut as well as objective response; does it seem like a good fit?

  • Go to MBA Fairs and Visit Schools

What better way to assess your fit with a school than to see the students, professors, and administrators in action? You will get the most out of MBA fairs, school information sessions, and school visits at this point in your research, after you already have a good idea of what each program offers, and how you’d fit in competitively.

  • Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together

At this point you should be ready to start narrowing and refining a list. You can spend time with informed focus on adcom and student blog posts, searching the web for articles and information, attending school information sessions, and continuing to talk to people with MBA program experience and insight. Eventually you should have a finalized or near-finalized list of 4-6 programs to apply to. You can continue refining the list and deciding on other programs to add later.

NOTE: Throughout the process, always stay open to discovery – maybe you’ll come across a school in a blog post, or a respected colleague suggests a program you hadn’t considered. Maybe you thought you wanted to stay in the U.S. but got seduced by INSEAD… Who doesn’t love a pleasant surprise?

Let the expert consultants at Accepted guide you through the MBA admissions process. We’d be delighted to work with you to develop your own unique story, and help you gain admission to your chosen schools!

Cindy Tokumitsu, who has advised hundreds of successful applicants, helping them gain acceptance to top MBA and EMBA programs in her 15+ years with Accepted. She would love to help you too.

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