Did you get into multiple schools? It's a tough decision, I know.
This article is for people who have that most high quality problem of having to choose between rival offers for MBA admission. If you’re an applicant, and you’re trying to choose schools to APPLY to, come back in a month or so. I’ll have an article about that. For now, I’m talking to those of you lucky few who got into more than one MBA program, a problem that likely none of your friends will be able to sympathize with.
I mean, COME ON!! Really? You’re complaining because BOTH Kellogg and Booth want you? Boohoo.
This problem isn’t one most people can understand. But I do. I didn’t get into multiple business schools, but I did get multiple fulltime job offers with top 3 consulting firms. And let me tell you, choosing only ONE of those two incredible options was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my life. I’ve also helped dozens of clients through this decision, and I’ve seen how much they struggle. So if you’re experiencing this problem of the 0.1%, I get you.
It’s so hard because we’re used to yes or no decisions. Go or don’t go. Apply or don’t apply. But how do you decide between two extremely awesome positive options ultimately with very little information, understanding that whatever you decide will affect every step of your career from here on out. What if you get it wrong?
High anxiety, I know. So let’s break this down into 5 pretty steps.
Step 1: Breathe.
First things first, take a deep breath and recognize that you can’t really get this wrong. This will always be step one. For pretty much anything you do in life from here on out. You already did everything right and that’s why you’re in this consarned spot. It’s enough the make me curse like a 1900s prospector. Dagnabbit, you were just too awesome. So. RELAX. Whatever you do, your life is going to continue to be… awesome. If you trust that, then you really have all you will ever need to achieve your wildest dreams.
Step 2: Narrow the options to two.
This step should be pretty easy. It’s either the two highest ranked/best schools. Or the two you like best. Or the best one you got into and the one that gave you money.
I’m recommending this because steps 3-5 will be hard to do for more than 2 schools unless you’re unemployed. And even if you are unemployed, you probably still want to narrow it down to two before this final decision stage. Make decisions in succession. Get rid of low hanging fruit first then save the big guns for the top two. That’s not a mixed metaphor; you can shoot down fruit! :D
(NB: Negotiating money with one or more schools is a whole separate thing, and I have a very detailed and effective protocol for that I share with my clients.)
Step 3: Gather the infos
Do your research for realz this time. When you were school shopping, you needed to keep your options open, so you likely did just enough research to decide if you wanted the OPTION to make that school your future home for the next years. The level of research required to now confidently exercise ONLY ONE of those options and trash all the others is way higher. You’re burning all bridges but one, so you will want to feel really confident that you’re choosing based on as much good information as possible.
For context, you’re building to Step 4: Analysis. And for analysis, we need lots of data.
How to get the very best information in rank order:
1. Meet your classmates. Go to the admitted students weekend for your top two choice schools. Figure out your living arrangements, meet your future best friends (AKA classmates), talk to professors, go through the whole marketing rigmarole. Make it real for yourself – look and see what it will actually be like to be a student at this school and live in this environment. Pay attention to your feelings, but also take notes.
2. Assess your career prospects at each school. Talk to career services and suss out the support you will get for your specific goals. Ask targeted questions. Stuff like:
- I’m a radical career switcher, how much and what kind of support is there for me to make this transition by internship recruiting time?
- I want to work in a specific geography, how accessible will that be for me?
- Do my target companies recruit here?
- If not, what does an off campus job search look like and how much support do I get?
3. Understand the real deal with the culture. Talk to community members – as many as possible – students, alums, professors, career services, the financial aid team, Deans, admissions committee members. Ask specific questions that relate to…
- The learning: how does learning happen here and what makes someone successful or unsuccessful in this environment?
- The student experience: what’s this community like – what are its values and norms? Will people share their notes with me if I miss a class? This is a good place to start. It may surprise you to learn sharing notes is against Harvard’s honor code, for example. Another good question: What are two surprises you got after matriculating – one pleasant, one unpleasant?
- The alumna/us experience: How responsive are alums? Do they get together in the city I plan to live in after school? How has the community (beyond the personal close friends you made) supported you in your career after school?
Take notes on all of the above as you compare and contrast schools. As you do this, a clear front runner will likely emerge and you will begin to KNOW which school is really your best choice. If that happens, take it and run. Don’t look back. Instead, look ahead to a much higher priority items like prepping for internship recruiting. If you’re not there yet, keep going.
Step 4: Let your noodle do its thing
Time to analyze all that info you collected. If you don’t have your answer by this point, it’s because your head and your heart are duking it out. In other words, your feelings are already telling you which one is correct, but your mind is beating them into submission with its fine logic and very good rationale for taking the less awesome path for you. The rationale could be money. It could be the “brand.” It could be any number of things that aren’t as important to you as following your true path but that seem important to you because someone else made you think they should be.
So don’t fight it. Let your thinker have its way. Do the analysis. Here are some good frameworks.
GO HERE to download my “How to choose your bschool” framework. It's got 10 essential questions you need to ask about each school to do your analysis and a ranking system that makes it easier to choose.
1. Pros and cons – write up the lists for each school and score them.
2. SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. List these out for each school and see which one has the strongest upside with the least downside.
3. Expected ROI – what is the investment required in cash money for each school? How much money can you expect to make in the five years after your MBA (check the average salary for your industry/function of choice in each school’s placement report)? Which one has a faster-break even and a higher ROI? Skip this if these terms mean nothing to you – you’ll learn ‘em in your first Corp Fin class.
4. Invent your own framework. Get creative. Do a mindmap, make a Prezi or a PowerPoint, try to convince your 8-year-old niece. Whatever. Use your mind to organize your thoughts and opinions and come up with some kind of weighted comparison of the two schools.
Then move immediately to Step 5.
Step 5: Flip a coin.
Yes I mean it. Put all the analysis aside and flip a coin. You’re going to School A if it’s heads. And School B is tails. Commit to doing to whatever the coin says.
Then flip the coin.
Then see how you feel.
Imagine it’s heads and so you’re bound for School A.
Do you feel relieved, excited, energized, uplifted, eager, enthusiastic, and all these other good feeling emotions that signify something amazing to look forward to? If so, then School A is your school.
On the flip side, in committing to School A, do you feel deflated, numb, disappointed, crestfallen, deprived, perhaps slightly safer, but also a little dead inside? Then School B is your school.
Trust the feels and do what they tell you to do. The coin was a McGuffin to trick your emotions into revealing themselves starkly.
Why this works
Humans tend to use two different faculties to varying degrees to make decisions. Logic and feeling. It doesn’t matter which one you have an innate preference for (I’m referencing your Myers Briggs type if you’re familiar with that – the T or the F in the 3rd spot). When we make very big decisions, a successful life requires us to engage both faculties.
Logic is linear, so it can only get you so far. Two years, a new home, and a whole different community is a radical, multidimensional life change. Your feelings will incorporate all the intangible, non-quantifiable, and experiential aspects of the decision that will actually be a much greater predictor of your future happiness. Science has shown that emotions are essential to great decision making. But it's also common sense: after all, happiness is a feeling. Since that’s what you want, let your feelings help you get more of it. That’s what they’re there for.
So after all the analysis, set the logic aside and force your feelings to reveal themselves. Then obey them. They are steering you towards who you are meant to be.
Probably goes without saying, but you can use this 5-step framework to make any big life decision. It works.
If you use it, drop me a line and let me know how it goes and which school is your destiny. And again, here is the link to download my handy-dandy framework: the 10 questions you need to ask to choose the right business school for you.
And then once you’ve crossed the Rubicon, sign up for a free career strategy session with me so you can set your course for that summer internship. Hopefully you’ll end up with another high quality problem and have to choose between options for the summer.