Congratulations! You’ve (hopefully) made it! It’s March, and most business schools have released three rounds of admissions decisions. Now it’s time for you to be selective. We’ve talked about class size, ROI, and career outcomes but geography also matters in your MBA experience.
Like other matters in life, when choosing a business school, remember: location, location, location!
Over the next month, business schools will be busy with Welcome Weekend season, a time for you to visit campus, get to know future classmates, and get early insight into the next two years of your life. However, as I write this, universities are shutting down on a minute-by-minute basis due to COVID-19. Will you be able to visit your program? If you can’t travel, how can you know that a place is right for you?
Easy! Learn from my mistakes and my classmates’ wisdom.
FIND YOUR ‘BISCUIT’
In addition to my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee – and my business school city of Atlanta, Georgia – I’ve lived in three different college towns: Knoxville, Tenn., Chapel Hill, N.C., and Columbus, Ohio. Regrettably, evaluating my future home took a backseat to what was moving me there. I often had a difficult time adjusting because I hadn’t contemplated the realities of a new town. What does a city’s culture mean to an 18-year-old? What’s it like to live in a tiny town with mostly undergraduates and retirees? What do I do about SNOW?!
Alternatively, when considering business schools, I made location a priority. When it came down to it, the deciding factor was biscuits.
Well, biscuits and proximity to family. As excerpted from one of my admissions withdrawal emails in 2018, “Barring convincing my family to relocate — and making biscuits a more readily available menu item in these parts — I feel firm in my decision.” I was ready to be back in the South, y’all.
So what’s your “biscuits?” Figure out what matters to you now, so you can be happy with your MBA home for two years.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
In the enduring words of the Spice Girls, “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” I can’t tell you what’s important to you, but I can outline some questions and considerations that may help frame your decisions. As the world slows down for the next few weeks, make use of isolation for necessary introspection about your MBA experience.
- Do you want to replicate the environment of your undergraduate or early career years, or would you like to try something new?
- Do you want to do a trial run of any cities in consideration of post-MBA life?
- Do you want to gain international exposure and experience by studying abroad for the duration of the MBA?
- Do you want easy access to professional sports, concerts, and other entertaining activities within a large city?
- Do you want to be immersed in the collegial atmosphere and campus traditions of a small town driven primarily by its university?
- Do you want a break from heat and humidity – or gray skies and snow?
- Do you want proximity to any dream companies or industry clusters?
- Do you want to stay in your MBA city after graduation?
For me, a global city with a diverse population and vibrant culture was key to my desired experience. For others, like my Georgia Tech classmate Yash Lakhotia, MBA location was important for career success. Here’s what he told me: “Access to employers was most critical to me—which is something I learned in undergrad. Even though I was a student at a top college in India, the college was unable to attract prestige employers because it was so remotely located.”
When listing your location criteria, consider the factors most crucial to your desired lifestyle and try to shut out the expectations of others, noise of message boards, and the dreaded FOMO.
CONSIDER YOUR HOUSEHOLD NEEDS
In addition to pondering what you want from a location, you must identify what you and your household need. Even though you may be the individual getting an MBA, your partner, child, cat, dog, and fish are along for the ride too. For me, this meant finding a city with ample employment opportunities for both me and my husband. After all, someone has to pay the bills!
For your journey, you may need to explore the following:
- Where will my partner work? How will they fit into a new city or MBA social life?
- Do you need childcare or school for any children? How close are your preferred options to campus or desired neighborhood?
- Do you need to run home between classes to let the dogs out? How costly is housing nearby?
- Do you need to travel back to a partner or family out of town frequently? How are the flight options and prices?
- Do you need to buy a house? In addition to housing, what’s the cost of living for utilities, transit, and other necessary resources?
For my fellow second-year MBA Shannell Smith, considering her household was her biggest priority. “As an ambitious woman and single mother, I rely on my own mother and grandparents to help with childcare and other household needs,” she explains. “I looked at business schools in my home state of California, but none of them made financial sense for all of us. The lower cost of living in the Southeast made pursuing an elite MBA more feasible, and I’d always wanted to give my son exposure to Atlanta, a city that celebrates prominent black excellence.”
USE YOUR RESOURCES
Now that you’ve established your wants and needs, it’s time to do some homework. Like everything else these days, start with the Internet. In my search, I looked at location-based MBA commentary on Poets & Quants and GMAT Club; I also found one-off articles and city guides on major news sites and travel publications. The most helpful resources, however, were people (just like when I need help on my real homework!).
Most admissions offices will eagerly connect you with current students and alumni, which is a great place to start for your questions. If possible, ask your recruiter to introduce you to someone with a similar background, so you can gauge how they’ve handled the transition to that school’s location.
You may find that the most compelling intel comes from trusted friends or others within your network. My first-year classmate Gabi Solis’ school decision was sealed with a conversation with a friend. She recalled, “I asked her all my burning questions: What is the school like? What are the people like? Is the traffic in Atlanta really as terrible as it sounds?” Conversations like these are critical to understanding the culture of both the MBA program and the city it’s in, especially when you can’t visit.
If you can visit, then make the most of your time in town. In addition to official Welcome Weekend activities, explore the area around campus and beyond. Find a grocery store or a pharmacy, Google Map the distance to the gym or yoga studio, and take it all in. When I visited Atlanta for pre-MBA activities, I scheduled visits at apartment buildings and ate at local restaurants. Similarly, Gabi packed her campus visit itinerary. “I wanted to get an immersive experience of the city, so I stayed at an Airbnb in a local neighborhood and ventured around the city during my free time. It was the best decision I made!” she explained.
Moving to a new place is always an exciting, anxious time. Coupled with transitioning back to school, moving for an MBA— in the time of coronavirus! —is especially nerve-wracking. Put your social distancing days to good use with critical conversation and evaluation, so that your future home will help you make the most of your business school years.
Jasmine Howard, a Tennessee native and marketing strategist, is a second-year MBA candidate at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. Each month, she offers advice, pro tips, and life hacks for the emerging challenges of today’s evolving MBA world.
DON’T MISS: MEET GEORGIA TECH’S MBA CLASS OF 2020