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The 4 Factors for Your Perfect (School) Match!

Anna Johnson

Factors Beyond Prestige

There’s no doubt that pursing an MBA is a serious investment so you want to ensure you maximize your return on investment (ROI) – both for your time and money spent. When thinking about which variables factor into perceived ROI, an institution’s prestige is usually at the top of everyone’s list of considerations. However, prestige is only one of several variables that you as a prospective student should consider when finalizing your target list.  

Get honest with yourself on the four questions below by doing a bit of self-refection and in-depth research on potential institutions. Trust me, if you honestly answer the questions below you will be well on your way to finding the right institution for YOU!

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Do you leave conversations with current students / alumni energized or feeling drained?

Everyone knows that one of the advantages of earning an MBA is that you become a part of a community that is invaluable on both a professional and personal level. Lifelong friendships and business connections are born through experiences in the classroom, working late nights on projects as well as on excursions around the globe. However, friendships and business alliances cannot be fostered with people that you simple don’t like. Therefore, I always implore prospective students to interact with as many current students and alumni from schools they are interested in – taking the pulse on their feelings after each conversation. You know how to uncover your “gut” feelings better than anyone else but a few things to noodle on include:

  • Did you end the conversation feeling inspired?
  • How would you feel being delayed for hours in an airport with this person?    
  • Are you able to picture yourself working with this person professionally?
  • Could you see yourself willingly having lunch with this person later?  

This is not to say every conversation you have with a current student or alumni representative will be extremely satisfying. However, if a school is truly the right fit for you, you will leave most of your interactions feeling good and with a bit of a fire in your belly. If admitted, a school community is yours for life, so be sure you will get along with its members.

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Are you thrilled about the dynamics of the 1st year experience?  

The 1st year of your MBA program will have a strong influence on your overall graduate school experience. Therefore, you must be excited for what’s in store with respect to the curriculum, teaching style, and environment forged due to class size.  

Depending on the program, you will have varying levels of control over the classes you are required to take. At some institutions, your 1st year curriculum is set for the full year and, for example, you are required to take basic Accounting even if you have been a CPA for six years. On the flip side, there are institutions where 1st students only have a few core curriculum classes in common and you have the option to opt out/take accelerated versions based on your professional background. Therefore, you should spend some time understanding the makeup of the core curriculum as well as getting comfortable with the teaching method (i.e. case vs. lecture vs. experimental learning) and assess whether it meets your needs.   

Moreover just like undergrad, the size of your incoming class matters! If you are the type of person who wants to go to school where everybody knows your name, an institution with a larger class size may not be the best place for you – especially if the school is known as a commuter school. And by the way, if you just sang “where everybody knows your name” in your best Cheers theme song voice, kudos!!

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How flexible are you on relocation?

The reality of this is each of you has different tastes and preferences that have been formed based on the characteristics of the city/region where you currently reside. If you are single and truly up for a new adventure, the sky is the limit and this becomes a very easy question to answer. However, if for example you are a ride or die West Coast native, moving to Chicago may not sit well with you, even if it is only for a short 2 years. While a great city, the Midwest has its own pace and culture that is not everyone’s cup of tea. And if you live for sunny California days, winters in Chicago just may make you feel downright weary. Moreover, your flexibility to relocate becomes more complicated when significant others and/or children must be factored into your decision. They have needs too and the last thing you want during this critical stage of your career is create stress on the home front.

Additionally, you should give some thought to where you want to live post business school when thinking about school fit. As you know, MBA students devote a significant amount of time to the recruiting process, with network searches becoming more of the norm when looking for summer internships and full-time employment. This process is made a whole lot easier if you are already in the city or region you are looking to live after school. It becomes less troublesome to schedule in-person informationals and last-minute interviews. You are also well positioned to take advantage of potential local projects and internship opportunities during the school year that may lay the foundation for a full-time role in your city of choice.

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What unique opportunities does the institution present to make progress on your career goals?

Yes, it is true that all the “prestigious” schools have connections to major industries and job functions. However, when researching schools you should really take a hard look at what specific and unique opportunities are at your disposal that clearly will help you to advance your short and long-term career goals. For example, a lower ranking school may provide you the hands-on opportunity to consult with community non-profits or actively manage a long/short equity portfolio. For a budding non-profit executive or investor, these could be potential turnkey opportunities!

Additionally, these types of experiences can help confirm that you in fact want to work in your pre-defined industry/function of interest. While most MBA candidates land on campus with a well thought out plan, gaining hands-on experience early can help confirm that your career goals are really worth pursuing. It’s so much better to come to these conclusions about your career in the safe confinements of campus!

MBA School Choice Decision

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