Honing your target list of MBA programs demands self-awareness and introspection from the outset — a practice that continues throughout the application process. It also takes smart strategy. To make the most of your time and energy (not to mention money), your shortlist should be reflective of your priorities, personality, and ambitions.
First, a caution: It’s tempting to rely too much upon the various business school rankings when deciding where to apply. Sure, rankings can be useful, but without understanding their respective algorithms and methodologies, it’s easy to be misled by other people’s definition of “best school.” More importantly, any ranking is vastly more helpful after determining your own key criteria. So how do you get there?
Join us for an exclusive Fortuna Admissions webinar on Wed., May 25 at 12 noon ET, How to Create Your MBA Target List & Research Schools. Registration is free but spaces are limited.
In the meantime, view eight key considerations from my colleagues at Fortuna Admissions for distinguishing the information that’s most relevant, useful, and practical to you.
Key Considerations For Creating Your MBA Target List
- Personality and Community Culture
What can you pick up from the overall “vibe” of the school? Who does it attract and what kind of environment does it nurture? Are your personal interactions consistent with the school’s stated values? When you speak with alumni and current students, do you get the sense of a supportive and collaborative climate or a more competitive classroom? Nothing will give you a better sense of a school’s culture and identity than a visit to its campus. But if that’s not possible, much can be gleaned by participating in MBA fairs and networking events with alumni and students in your areas of interest. Remember: It’s not just about whether you’re a fit for the program, but also whether the program is a good fit for you.
- School location
Geography influences ties to recruiters and school strengths, not to mention the community environment. It’s not surprising that London Business School, Columbia, and Chicago Booth have excellent reputations in finance. Similarly, schools in California benefit from ties to startup and technology hubs in Silicon Valley. Europe provides a gateway to fields such as biotech, aerospace, and luxury brand management, while schools in Asia are on the doorstep of the world’s most dynamic, growing economies.
At the same time, there are compelling benefits to escaping the urban core. B-schools in small towns — like Dartmouth Tuck in Hanover, New Hampshire — are legendary for their tight knit, supportive communities. Cornell Johnson boasts the best of both worlds with a scenic location in upstate New York that’s also a short train ride from a tech campus in New York City.
- Specializations and strengths
Many programs have reputations in specific areas such as technology, real estate, entrepreneurship, non-profit, finance, or luxury goods. They might have an incubator luring venture capital for entrepreneurs or offer immersion-learning internships for NGO experience. Some programs have a flexible curriculum that allows you to explore elective or experiential opportunities. London Business School, for example, offers flexible exit points and more than 70 electives and applied learning options. Think about whether a school’s core competencies, as well as its curriculum and teaching methodology, match your areas of interest.
- Prestige and brand recognition
A school’s brand recognition can be a major differentiator in terms of opening doors, although prestige is inherently subjective. But it’s not just about rankings. How might a school’s reputation and strengths, as well as the network and experiences it offers, support your career ambitions and future job placement? Sure, Harvard Business School, Wharton, and Stanford GSB, have peerless name recognition, but a world-class program like MIT Sloan endows its grads with exceptional access to the university’s top-notch engineering school. Meanwhile, the globally-focused curriculum at schools like LBS and INSEAD, along with their uniquely international student communities, provide a springboard for working abroad.
The strength of a program’s alumni network is a powerful indicator of its career opportunities. Some alumni networks are more geographically concentrated than others. Stanford GSB will give you a fantastic Silicon Valley network, while INSEAD offers unmatched international breadth. How well students rank their alumni network is another barometer of alumni strength, as well as the number of overseas alumni chapters and a program’s ratio of alumni to current MBA students.
View all eight key considerations on Fortuna’s website.
At the end of the day, it’s not just about the brand name, post-grad salaries, or even the number of job offers. It’s about imagining the professional you want to become and defining the qualities that matter most to you for your business school experience. Your discerning approach and thoughtful research ensure you’re crafting a list of target schools that will be the best fit for you. Do this, and you’ll optimize the return on investment of your energy and time between now and September.
Don’t miss our free May 25 strategy session at noon ET for a deeper dive on this topic with Fortuna’s industry experts and a chance to get your questions answered in a live Q&A.
Caroline Diarte Edwards is Director of Fortuna Admissions and former Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at INSEAD. If you’d like more guidance on applying to a top business school and a candid assessment of your chances of admission, reach out to Fortuna for a free consultation.