How to Find the Best Fit in a Business School

How to Find the Best Fit in a Business School main image

Fit is a word that often gets thrown around in business school admissions. Few, however, bother to take the time to define it. Frankly, it’s probably the most important consideration when deciding both where to first apply and eventually enroll.

What fit means

So, what is fit? Well, it’s the idea that the applicant’s unique needs – both personal and professional – can be met at a particular school. But it doesn’t stop there. Fit also implies the MBA candidate has something to offer the school that it needs. Admissions is a two-way street, even if it is rarely talked about in this way.

Knowing where to begin to determine fit can be challenging. The first step for MBA candidates is to consider why they’re seeking the degree, and in turn which career they hope to pursue after graduation. The beginning of the MBA admissions process is all about self-reflection.

Where to start

Stacy Blackman, president of Stacy Blackman Consulting – based in Los Angeles – says, “Don't default to what matters to other people and choose their number one school. My advice is know yourself. What are you looking for? Once you truly understand what is important to you, you can rapidly hone in on the programs that best meet your needs.”

In fact, many admissions consultants suggest MBA candidates ask themselves a series of questions, and with some deep thinking on their answers, applicants will be able to narrow their list of business schools. It’s important for applicants to research programs to see which ones match their preferences, and many begin with rankings, such as the QS Global MBA Rankings 2019.

While rankings can give people an idea of where to begin, most experts on admissions suggest keeping them in perspective.

Melody Jones, co-founder of Vantage Point MBA Admissions Consulting in

New York City says, “It goes without saying that a lot more goes into school fit than rankings and brand.

“When advising our clients on how to start thinking about school selection, we ask questions about geography (where do you want to work after b-school? Do you want an urban or suburban or rural MBA experience?), preferred class size, student dynamics (competitive versus collaborative), curriculum style (case method versus lecture), and other factors that play into the overall MBA experience.”

Aligning a program with your career expectations

MBA candidates need to know the strongest areas of study on the programs that interest them to see if they coincide with their own aspirations. Applicants should also consider the makeup of the most recent classes and acceptance requirements for their chosen program. MBA candidates, after all, should see how they measure up and what kind of work they need to do to increase their chances of acceptance.

Most importantly, applicants need to comprehend the culture of a place. This requires more hands-on research. Ideally, applicants will visit the schools they’re considering, to see if they can imagine themselves studying there. Those who can’t make it to campus can attend events online or in their local area instead.

Betsy Massar, founder and CEO of Master Admissions MBA Consulting says, “I recommend students attend as many school-sponsored events as they can, whether in person or virtually.

“I encourage students to pay attention to how the school is marketing to them: where is the school trying to connect on values? Where are you and the school and its representatives, as well as current students, alumni, and faculty aligned?”

Getting a feel for the institution

An ideal way to get to know a place is to talk about those who have lived, worked, and studied there. Most business schools will put interested applicants in touch with current students. If you’d like to get in touch with alumni, many are willing to meet for coffee or simply answer a few questions.

Jones says, “Speaking with current students or alumni is also a great way to round out your research. Don't be shy about asking about people's personal experiences. I've found that MBAs are always happy to share.”

Applicants should ask about career paths and how the school helped alumni establish their careers. They should also find out about the priorities of students on campus and how they align with their own. Of course, they should ask about practical matters, such as housing, safety, and what people do for fun on campus too.

Determining fit also requires a good feeling. An applicant’s gut will tell part of the story. How does he or she feel when spending time on campus or sitting in on a class? It shouldn’t be the only consideration, but it matters too.

Ultimately, by conducting thorough research online, visiting a school, or getting to know about it through events, applicants can determine fit. Speaking to students and alumni, professors, and administrators can go a long way to understanding the culture. While matching the school’s strengths, areas of study, and requirements to their own profile, applicants can narrow down their list of schools and find the best place for them.

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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