There are so many MBA programs to choose from. How will you decide where to apply?
Now that you have determined your goals and decided that you need an MBA, you are ready for the school research phase of the application process. There are almost as many places to do your research as there are programs — rankings, websites, MBA fairs, Poets&Quants, print articles, blogs by students and admissions committees, and open campus days — just to name a few.
5 steps to finding your MBA program fit
How will you get through all of this information and make good choices? Here are five focused steps that will give you meaningful information and help you make the best decision.
Step 1: Check out rankings
If you have read our past posts, you know that we do not recommend relying only on rankings. However, our clients find that they are a good place to start. Don’t rely on just one rankings publication. Check out several, as each focuses on different things and provides different data points — and it’s the data that’s valuable, not the rankings, in almost all cases.
Use that data to evaluate competitiveness, including reasonable reaches, on-pars, and possible safety schools. There may be one or two programs that are out of your range but still worthwhile applying to if you really believe they’re perfect for you, and if there are elements in your profile that the school will value enough to overlook a statistical deficit. At the same time, be realistic. You should be competitive at most of the programs you apply to.
While you’re on the rankings sites, check out specialty rankings. Focus on the programs that have strength in your area of interest, especially if you may not be competitive at those ranked highly overall but are competitive at programs ranking well for your specific goals.
Step 2: Talk to others
Find people who have MBA experience — colleagues, friends, and mentors — and learn about their post-MBA career and evaluation of their MBA experience. Then combine their qualitative feedback with your research to start analyzing fit.
Step 3: Weigh your preferences and fit
Visit the websites of programs that are of interest to you and follow their social media. Read student blogs. Focus on the things that are most important to you, like the curriculum structure/flexibility, make-up of the student body, placement record, extracurricular activities related to your professional goals as well as your hobbies and interests, etc. Take both subjective and objective information into account, and determine if it FEELS like a good fit.
Step 4: Go to the source
Log off your computer and take part in MBA fairs and visit the actual campuses. Our clients have found that there’s nothing like speaking with the students, admissions staff, and professors and seeing how the community interacts to know if they will fit there. Once you have an idea of what each program offers and a good idea of your competitiveness, take a road trip or flight and visit the schools. That’s the best way to sense a school’s vibe.
Step 5: Put it all together
Now that you’ve read student and admissions staff blogs as well as articles on the various programs, gone to MBA fairs, and visited campuses, you should have nearly finalized your list of programs to apply to. Remember that you can always update the list if you decide to add other schools.
This process has helped you identify what is important to you in an MBA program. You also have to figure out what types and levels of business schools you’re competitive and qualified for.
How to determine your competitiveness
There are 4 levels of competitiveness:
- Reasonable reach: A program that you’re not likely to be accepted to. However, having a great application can improve your chances of admission. And you really want to attend that program. It’s perfect!
- On-par: You have a great chance of admission with a strong application.
- Safety: You are likely to be admitted if you have a good application.
- Out-of-reach: Although some people believe you should “never say never,” these are schools that you have a very slim chance of being admitted to. Unless you’ll never forgive yourself for not trying, you’re probably better off using your limited resources on things other than applying to these programs.
Here are the application elements that will determine your ability to be admitted to these various levels of programs. Remember that they all work together.
- Your stats: Do your GPA and GMAT/GRE fall within the mid 75-80% of the students in the program you’re looking at? Being at least in the higher two-thirds is essential for getting into any program. Being in the upper one-third of this range could give you an edge in this area. If you find yourself in the middle third, you are competitive; you will be reaching if you are in the lower third or below.
- Quality work experience: The more competitive MBA programs want to see strong and demonstrable progress, impact, and leadership no matter what your position, industry, or organization. Top-tier programs will reject an applicant with nearly perfect stats who cannot show the required professional achievement.
- Diversity: Your competitiveness can be affected negatively or positively based on the industry, demographic group, or where in the world you come from. Indian male students with tech experience are in a group that often has high stats, and is one of the largest, overrepresented groups. Many schools are out of reach for these students, even if they are reasonable reaches for others. However, even if you are from a vastly underrepresented group, you won’t be admitted if the admissions committee does not believe that you can handle the work and complete the program.
There are other factors to keep in mind that will affect your qualification and competitiveness.
- Fewer than 3 or more than 8 years of work experience, or having an MBA from another program, generally make you less competitive.
- Coming from a nontraditional background can make convincing the adcoms that you belong in their program more difficult if you can’t show quant ability or don’t have a good reason for wanting an MBA. Conversely, if you’re able to highlight your qualifications and show that you need an MBA to achieve your goals, your nontraditional background can become a plus.
Qualified is not the same as competitive. To be qualified means that you meet the basic criteria for a program. To be competitive demands more. It requires subjective information as well as stats and is heavily influenced not only by what you’ve accomplished, but by what the rest of the applicant pool brings to the table. While you research – both online and off – remember to evaluate not only how qualified you are, but how competitive you are.
Do you want the help of an expert admissions consultant to guide you through the crucial steps of evaluating your profile, researching schools, and determining fit with your target programs? Check out Accepted’s MBA Admissions Services to see how you can get ACCEPTED to the b-school of your dreams.
Linda Abraham is the founder of Accepted, the premier admissions consultancy. She has coached MBA applicants to acceptance for over 20 years. Poets&Quants, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News are among the media outlets that seek her admissions expertise.