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Good and Bad Ways of Choosing an MBA Program

Applying to business school is a time that will put your decision making skills to the test. During this process, two decisions loom large: the decision to get an MBA at this point in your life, and the decision to apply to a particular set of schools.

There are good and bad ways to make both these decisions. Let’s start with the more general decision, the one that sets off the whole process: the decision that you’re going to get an MBA, and you’re going to get it now.

Sometimes people decide to get an MBA to figure out what they want to do with their life. But let me tell you: there are ways of finding yourself that are more effective, and definitely more cost efficient!

“I don’t know what to do with my life, so I’m going to go hide out in business school” is, clearly, not a compelling case for investing $200,000 in an MBA. Hiring a career coach instead would be one way to address the problem head-on and save a lot of money while you’re at it.

Of course, there are plenty of good reasons to get an MBA. One is if you’re looking to change or accelerate your career. This is a common reason people choose to get an MBA.

Another case where an MBA would pay off would be if you want to explore entrepreneurship but you’d like to test out some of your ideas and broaden your network first.

If you have strong entrepreneurial leanings, business school can make a great testing ground. B-schools have resources, competitions, opportunities for mentorship and ways to grow your network that can launch you on an entrepreneurial path.

Once you have the conviction that you’re getting an MBA for the right reasons, the next step is to select the specific schools you’re going to apply to. At this stage of the process, both good and bad decisions can again take place.

For example, one way to choose a school is simply to rely on rankings. This might be the easiest way to choose a school, but it isn’t necessarily the best: schools with similar rankings can still offer very different experiences.

Rankings can, of course, be a helpful tool in learning about schools. But they shouldn’t be the sum total of how you evaluate a school, and when you do use rankings, it’s important to dig a little deeper: how does a school rank on specific measures like alum salaries or quality of teaching?

Another factor that applicants sometimes place too much emphasis on is location.

If you start off the application process by saying “I’m only going to apply to schools on the West Coast” or “I have to attend a school in this particular region that I want to live in,” you might be closing yourself off to opportunities.

There are, naturally, times when location has to be a part of your decision, like if you have family commitments. But keep in mind that business school is a chance to explore and to do something you wouldn’t otherwise have done for a year or two, so there is real value in being open to new possibilities!

This idea of growth is a useful barometer in your decision about what schools to apply to. When evaluating a school, a good question to ask yourself is: will this school help me grow in the ways I want to grow in business school?

For example, does the school have strong programs and opportunities in the areas you want to pursue in your career? If you’re interested in entrepreneurship, how will attending the school further that interest? Will being at this school challenge you in new ways?

Even when you’re firm in your conviction that you want to get an MBA and you’re clear about what your goals are, drawing up a list of schools to apply to can seem daunting. After all, there are so many options, and you don’t necessarily know how you’ll stack up against other applicants at a given school!

This is an area where we can help. We use our extensive experience in the MBA admissions process to identify a list of schools that fit your profile well, then come up with a comprehensive game plan for emphasizing your strengths to adcoms and these schools. Sign up for a free assessment!