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Wednesday, February 04, 2015 at 6am

To Which Top Business Schools Should I Apply?

choosing a program

Once you know you want to get an MBA, the next step, of course, is to decide where.

There are applicants who will look only at rankings and select the three or five top business schools without any further consideration, or those who will only take Harvard Business School or Stanford GSB into consideration. However, I truly believe you have go beyond rankings and brand names when choosing your MBA.

Am I saying brand is not important? Absolutely not. It just means that it is simply another factor to take into account; an important one, but not the only one.

The majority of applicants will have to look beyond the top three to five programs in their MBA program selection. Therefore, it is imperative to know the MBA program you are applying to is the best choice you can make, and offers the best environment for you to thrive. In order to do that, an applicant must get to know different programs in depth, to really be able to identify fit, to discover which one better suits his or her career goals, and to explain why they want to go there when asked in their application. And they will ask for specifics.

As such, it is in an applicant’s best interests to spend time and effort going beyond an MBA program’s website in order to achieve that kind of knowledge. We are talking about one or two years and a lot of money after all.

Here are a few tips that worked for me when I was in the position of having to create a shortlist of top business schools:

Career goals, campus size and location, and network

Be clear on what you want to get from your MBA: think about your career goals, a small campus experience vs a big city, small class size vs big class size, collaboration vs a more independent environment. These factors will determine which schools better suit your interests and will make the decision easier for you. For example, if you have very specific career goals, there might be a particular school that, even if not super elite, provides the best opportunities due to its location or ties to the industry where your career goals are focused. That is something to consider.

MBA forums

Use MBA forums to get further information about schools/processes and to get in touch with fellow members of the MBA community. They can be an invaluable source of knowledge about the whole application process, and a great way to find out information about how it worked out the last time around for those who have been through it all.

Attend MBA events in order to network

Sign up for MBA events attended by your top business schools – this can be truly helpful. Meeting and chatting with admissions staff, students and alumni at MBA events really made me change the perceptions I had about some schools and confirmed others. Besides, as I started early, attending MBA events allowed me to build a network of current students and applicants that proved really useful throughout the application process and, beyond any doubt, helped me get admitted.

Take the time to visit a your top business schools

Visit schools. It can’t always be done, but it is the best single thing you can do in order to know if a certain school is for you. Not only will you be able to get a feel for what the campus experience is like, but it will allow you the chance to attend on-campus MBA events. This can be even more important in the case of smaller schools located in not-so-big cities – you’ll have to make sure you can be happy there. I have to say that visits were a crucial part of my decision to apply to certain schools.

I took these steps and repeated them for every school. I learned that I preferred a smaller school, a collaborative environment and good ties with the healthcare industry and also good numbers in consulting recruiting, among other things. And with these criteria I created a shortlist of schools on which to focus.

After some time, you should have narrowed your list to six or seven schools max, and then little details will take care of half of the names before you make a final decision. And then, it will be time to show how hard you have worked…

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