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Advice From an Expert: Find Your Perfect MBA Program

Linda El Awar
As an admissions consultant, I notice that many people struggle to find the right MBA programs for them. Getting an MBA is an amazing opportunity to enhance your education, professional skills, and even explore a new geographical region. The possibilities are endless! But rather than choosing from a generic list of “top MBA programs,” use these tips to find your perfect MBA program.

1. Think about your career after graduation.

Obviously you should be open to new career opportunities, but you should also have a firm understanding of what you enjoy and are passionate about now. Consider your interests as clues into what you might want to explore after you graduate.
Which skills do you want to perform as an area of expertise after you graduate? Are you excited about a particular industry?
If you have a clear set of skill sets that you are hoping to pursue through an MBA program, this will help you find MBA programs, e.g., Wharton is known for an exceptionally strong finance program and Northwestern boasts their marketing program.
To discover the best programs for you, write down a list of potential areas of expertise you want to further explore. Do research on schools that have strong programs in these areas, and start filtering your options that way. Taking a look at each school’s alumni career track record could also be helpful.

Are you looking to stay close to home or move to a certain part of the country? Are you open to international experiences?
When I was applying, there was an MBA program in California I was interested in. After doing some research I found that its students were heavily reliant upon alumni during their job search, and therefore mostly remained in California after graduation. I disregarded that program option—it wasn't right for me.

Think about how you want your career experience to be after graduation and apply that to your school selection strategy.

2. Talk to alumni.

Suppose you are considering applying to Stanford’s MBA program, but you live in Boston. Conduct an online search for something along the lines of “Stanford MBA Boston Alumni” and look for a local alumni club. Most alumni love to talk about their school experiences. Reach out to them and they will often be willing to share their experiences.

3. Visit the campus.

My work schedule was extremely demanding when I was applying to MBA programs so I did not have an opportunity to visit each school on my list before applying. I did, however, visit all of my accepted schools before making my final decision. I sat in on classes and spent a lot of time engaging with current students.
You can get a real feel for the campus culture even in a short time period. I instantly felt comfortable on one campus, whereas another program made me anxious to get on a plane and fly far, far away!

4. Get down to details.

If you are considering applying for business schools but don’t know your exact motivations behind why you want an MBA, it’s time to figure that out. Not only is understanding your reasons for applying critical in the application process (the admissions committee will want to know the definitive reasons for why they should accept you), it will help determine the best program for you.
Consider the following motivations when choosing your target MBA program:

→ Building a network. 
It’s true that business school is an excellent way to make new contacts and diversify your network. If this is one of your primary motivations, it should help you determine if an international program is right for you or not. Consider the types of relationships that will benefit you in the future and choose a program that will help you build those particular connections.

→ Making more money.
If your goal is see your salary skyrocket immediately upon graduation, you may want to adjust your expectations. Rather than getting sign-on bonuses and outlandish starting salaries, business school graduates are more likely to see their earnings increase over time. This is why it’s wise to invest in an MBA program that will provide you with the skills and experience you need to grow. Think of how each program will serve you long-term, not in the immediate future.

→ Changing career directions.
This is a tricky one since it’s best to consider an MBA as a valuable step on your way to success rather than as the entire staircase. It’s important to remember that even after you’ve received your degree, employers will still consider your real-life experience before they recruit you. If you are using business school as a way to do a career 180, you may be disappointed. However, in this case, going to a top-ranked school may be in your best interest as companies will also consider your future potential when making hiring decisions. 

→ Become an entrepreneur.
Starting your own business requires natural ability that can’t necessarily be taught. If you think you have what it takes, consider schools with faculty members who have entrepreneurial experience. Another thing to look out for in an MBA program is diversity. Schools that offer global networking opportunities will help you create connections that can make your future business truly successful.

→ Get an MBA without drowning in debt.
Going to business school is expensive. We get it. If one of your main motivations is to find a program that won’t break the bank, a top MBA program may not be right for you. Instead, look into lesser known programs with strong reputations that cost less and offer more financial aid, scholarships, and low-interest loans. 

5. Enjoy the process!

This is your chance to explore something new and grow as an individual. The process is just as important as the end result. Don’t let the stress of the application process consume you.
Approach the process with a positive attitude—the prospects of meeting new people, exploring different programs that match your interests, and learning about yourself and your career goals along the way. Your attitude and expectations can really change your experience of choosing the right MBA program, so make sure they're positive!

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