Summer is a great time to kick back, relax, and… research MBA programs. Alright, that might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think down time in July and August, but it is true, nonetheless. If you haven’t already created your b-school short list, grab that laptop, get a cool glass of lemonade, and get to work.
Things you’ll want to consider as you move through this process:
• What are my priorities? Make a list of what’s important to you in an MBA program. Do size, location, or program specialization matter? Do you want a residential program or a commuter program? As you ask yourself these questions, many others will come up that will be more specific to you. Don’t skip this piece, since fit is critical as you consider which schools to apply to.
• What are my strengths and weaknesses? Know yourself, because you’ll want to benchmark your profile to the class profile of the schools you’re considering. I’ve talked with several students who recognize intense self-reflection prior to applying is crucial to finding the right program and creating a strong application. (And, as an added bonus, it’s great prep for recruiting too!)
• What is the class profile? Research each program’s class profile. If you are considering any of the top 10-15 business schools, all of them make their profiles public. Remember, however, these profiles represent the aggregate of an individual class. Keep in mind that there are many considerations for each individual applicant. Spend some time thinking about where you can improve your profile if you think there are areas that need attention prior to applying.
• Do I see myself at the schools I’m considering? This goes along with the priorities you identified earlier. What has your research shown you about the school? Have your reevaluated your priorities because of what you’ve learned? Can you see yourself spending two years there? Are the people you’ve met and talked to people you want as part of your lifelong network? Was the overall vibe of the school in keeping with your core principles and values?
• Where do graduates of this school go in their immediate career as well as in the long term? The top schools also publish career statistics. Learn where program graduates go and what they do. Remember there are a variety of options and, while many of your career moves are determined by your initiative rather than the school, knowing what prior grads did and how they got there can reveal a lot about what the school offers in its program and its support.
At this point in your careers, you all know how to do research, but I’ll remind you of a few things in case you’re out of practice.
• Read the websites! Most schools have a robust web presence. You can learn a lot about a school just by combing their pages. You don’t want to call an alum or an admissions office and ask a question you could have easily found the answer to if you’d looked online. In addition, you might find potential contacts for more first-person research. This leads me to…
• Talk with alumni and current students. It’s important to connect with alumni and current students at the schools you are considering. While online research will provide a broad understanding of the programs, learning about the experiences of alumni and students will provide an intimate look into unique aspects of each school. It’s also important to reach out to mentors, who may provide guidance on what your motivations and aspirations are pre-and-post MBA. Conversations with students, alumni, and mentors often provide the grounding you will need for the long and sometimes challenging process of applying to business school.
• Visit your top choice schools. Once you’ve gotten a good understanding of the schools you are considering and have narrowed your list, it’s time to schedule a visit to the schools that have made it to your short list. The reality is that you can get a great education at any of the top business schools. But just as each of you differ, so does each school. The experiences you’ll have at each school will vary. So set foot on the campuses of your top-choice schools and check out the fit for yourself. It’s worth the time, money, and effort to make sure you’re happy with your MBA investment.
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