7 Top Tips for Starting Your Business School Research

Find out some top tips for kicking off your business school research

The overwhelming business school application process begins with research. Knowing how to begin your search for a school that will be a good fit is a challenge to say the least. Many people don’t know where to start.

But business schools themselves can help. They want to communicate with you, and they know the application process better than anyone. So, QS turned to them for advice on how to navigate the first stage of applying to business school – conducting research on your options.

 

A little navel gazing

Looking in the mirror is a good first step. After all, you have to recognize why you are pursuing the MBA – or another graduate business degree for that matter – at this point in your life.  

“Before evaluating what schools to consider, I would ask the following questions: why do I want to pursue business education? What kind of career do I want to have?” suggests Amanda Carlson, assistant dean of Admissions at Columbia Business School in New York. “Perhaps, even more broadly, what do I want from life and how is this degree going to help me achieve what I would like to do, and be who I want to be?”

In fact, this self-reflection will be vital to the entire application. You will use revelations about yourself, and this journey you’ve decided to undertake, in your essays and interviews.

“As applicants are researching programs they should also be reflecting on their own experiences, talents and interests to assess their fit with each school,” says Whitney Kestner, director of Admissions at University of Virginia Darden School of Business. “We enjoy getting to know our applicants as people – we love learning what you are passionate about, where you have been and where you want to go.”

 

Study the degree and its programs

After you have established what you’re bringing to the table and why you want this degree at this time, you have to learn about the programs. Kestner suggests beginning with overarching sites that offer news, trends, profiles, and other information about a wide range of business schools. Sites, such as TopMBA.com, offer lots of information about a number of programs and the type of education you will get at business school.

 

Connect with colleagues and loved ones

The next step is to network, says Kestner. “Whether it be a boss, family member or friend who went to business school, gathering information and advice from close mentors can provide valuable insight on the MBA experience at different schools,” she says. “Alumni and current students are also great resources for an insider’s perspective.” Of course, many schools will connect you with “ambassadors,” who are current students who can answer questions, or even give you a tour should you get to campus.

 

Attend events

Get on a school’s mailing list to know when admissions staff or alumni are hosting events in your neighborhood. Seek out events organized by companies, such as QS, that connect schools and prospective students. Often at these events, you can check out the booths of multiple programs in one place. You can strike up conversations with staff from the program and get a sense of the type of people you might find there. It’s also a chance to ask any questions you have about campus life or the application itself.

 

Dig deeper into particular schools

As you begin to gather more general information about the degree and the types of programs available, you should start to narrow down your list of schools. You should be looking for schools that offer the type of education and career placement you are seeking. And the culture, geography, and size of the place count, too. Remember, you might have to live and work at this school for the next two years.

Ideally, you will visit the schools that most interest you. But that’s not always possible. The good news is your business school dreams don’t end there, thanks to modern technology.

“Of course, if you are in Toronto we'd like for you to visit the school and sit in on a class or go for coffee with current students, but you can also read the student blogs and connect with students online,” says Jamie Young, director of full-time MBA Recruitment & Admissions at University of Toronto Rotman School of Management. “We help to facilitate those connections and then you can take the conversation offline and ask the questions you really want to know more about.”

 

Sign up to stay connected

Schools mail newsletters or share student blogs with those who are interested in the program. Sign up for those to which you are planning to apply. You want to demonstrate interest in the program. More importantly, you need to keep tabs on the school, so you can demonstrate your fit and explain the school’s culture and your excitement about it. This will all enhance your chances of getting into a particular program.

 

Compare your profile

Look at the class profile to learn about average GMAT scores, GPAs, and other student stats. See how you stack up against them. Learn about the recruiters who come to campus and the types of jobs and salaries graduates snag. You can find that information in career service profiles, which are often available on business school sites or in rankings packages.

But admissions experts warn not to become too focused on the data points. All sorts of candidates make their way into a program, even if they don’t match every aspect of the class profile.

“Many MBA candidates see class profiles as a signal of who the school is looking for from an admissions perspective. I would encourage you instead to consider the class profile as a report of who is in the program,” says Young. “Without this context, I think class profiles can create a self-perpetuating cycle. So, for example, any person from a group that is underrepresented in a class profile should know that the school may actually be very interested in their profile/background.”

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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