Amid the unfolding crisis of Covid-19, my Fortuna Admissions colleagues and I have been celebrating an amazing spread of offers from Boston to Berkeley, and talking with applicants who face an array of life-changing decisions. This is the most nerve-wracking time of the admissions cycle for many of my Fortuna Admission clients, as round 2 may be their last chance of securing a place at a top business school this year.
Even good news brings its challenges, as many of our clients have received offers from several schools and are faced with the fortunate if tricky challenge of deciding which offer to accept. Part 1 in this series focused on navigating the waitlist, considering round 3 after a ding, and the concern of deferral. In part two, I’ve honed in on how to navigate competing offers, scholarship offer vs. dream school with no money, and whether to accept an offer from your ‘safety’.
HOW TO CHOOSE BETWEEN MBA OFFERS
Scenario 4: Competing offers two of your dream schools. How to choose?
“This, of course, is the best kind of problem to have,” says Fortuna’s Malvina Miller Complainville, former Harvard Business School Assistant Director of Career Services. “While it’s a rare and enviable position, the decision can feel agonizing.”
If you’re facing offers from two (or more) dream schools, Malvina’s advice is to set aside the rankings and let it get personal. Create your decision-making filter with five key factors:
- Compare your cultural fit with each school: While a campus visit is currently out of the question, seek virtual opportunities that can give you a sense of the community vibe and faculty teaching style. Most importantly, speak to current students, professors and alumni ( recent and not as recent) about their experience. You’ll want to get a firm understanding of the personality and cultural nuances of the place you intend to spend the next two years of your life.
- Consider the financial implications: Is one school offering greater scholarship opportunities or other aid that will lessen the financial burden? While it’s vital to take a long view, this may be more relevant given the global economic uncertainty that continues to unfold. Do you ultimately feel that the scholarship offer from one school will offset your decision if you really have your heart set somewhere else?
- Understand each school’s career offerings: Speak to career clubs about opportunities and learn which companies are recruiting on campus. Study career statistics and explore the opportunities that may be on offer for you post-MBA. Spend time looking at positions that you think that you might want long term; what academic background do these individuals have?
- Think about brand recognition: How might a school’s reputation and strengths, as well as the experiences and networks it provides, position you to achieve your career goals? For international careers, look into the strength of the school’s brand abroad.
- Evaluate the alumni network: How developed is the alumni community? Are there clubs set up in areas where you may want to work and live, that can help you navigate or enter into specific locations or industries? In addition, what is the experience of recent graduates (you should ask them) about reaching out to alumni? How responsive are they to supporting other graduates? This is especially important if pursuing a network job search abroad.
Scenario 5: You’ve won a scholarship, but not from your dream school. Should you take it?
“Business school is a huge investment, so when you receive a scholarship – even when it’s not from your first-choice school – it’s obviously something to take seriously,” says Fortuna’s Catherine Tuttle, former Associate Program Director at Duke Fuqua.
According to Catherine, you can tell your top choice school you have money on the table somewhere else when this happens. While this doesn’t guarantee a counteroffer, here’s her advice on optimizing your chances:
- Have a clear strategy and practice your approach; be clear about why you want to be at your top choice school and indicate you’re open to a conversation.
- Make sure you provide all the necessary information to the right people and follow the school’s protocol.
- Be humble; this is a human process and people advocate for individuals they feel are taking their needs into consideration; if you come across as demanding or entitled, it’s likely your request gets denied.
“And if your top choice school can’t provide additional funds, at this point, school culture should play a huge part in your decision,” says Catherine. “Whether you go with the scholarship opportunity or not, you want to be confident your chosen school is the right fit from an academic, career and cultural standpoint.”
Scenario 6: Accepted to your safety school. Take the offer, or reapply again next year?
“I think that it matters what you considered a safety school,” says Fortuna’s Judith Silverman Hodara, former head of Admissions at Wharton. “I had client this year who got into Booth, and his bosses are telling him he should hold out for HBS and GSB. Given his profile, I advised that he should take Booth. Why? In all honesty, he would never really know what had kept him out of these hyper-competitive programs, and as they say, a bird in hand in this case was well worth it.”
“It’s different if you suspect your application wasn’t good enough or that you didn’t give it your best effort,” says Judith. “Maybe you realize an additional year of work experience or leadership could make a difference. Or you might feel you got into your safety school too easily, and that it’s not as worthy because you didn’t have to struggle.”
While each situation is distinct, Judith proposes the following questions for reflection:
- Do you think what you wrote or communicated was found lacking, as opposed to the more quant-driven factors in admission?
- Is the ROI of taking the offer you have already better or worse than the ROI of a possibly unknown better offer, with no guarantee?
- Will that second-choice school give you what you want and need in terms of community, network and career progression?
- Will you always be thinking you should be somewhere else? This is also thought of as “buyer’s remorse.”
- What are the pros and cons of taking on another year of the application process – another year delaying your career track progression or switch, and another year with more experience (which isn’t always strategic for schools who favor candidates earlier in their careers)?
- While re-applicants are certainly welcomed and encouraged, how will you enhance your story in the coming year? What will have changed since you last applied?
- Needless to say, in this environment with most likely larger application pools in the fall of 2020, you may find yourself making decisions based on what you know NOW as opposed to waiting for what “may” happen should you decide to wait.
In a related article, 7 Tips on How to Choose Between MBA Offers, Judith goes into detail about two spectacular quandaries she received, along with the seven-step framework she offers on how to decide. The clincher, Judith says, is having no regrets.
“At the end of the day, I advise students to flip a coin on the answer – not to do what the coin says, but gut-check how you feel about the outcome,” says Judith. “This can tell you a lot about how to proceed.”
In case you missed it, view part one of this series, How to Choose Between MBA Offers – Part 1.
Heidi Hillis is an expert coach at MBA consulting firm Fortuna Admissions, as well as a Stanford GSB alum & former MBA admissions interviewer. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.