How to Choose the Best Business School for You

Angela Guido MBA Careers

03 How to Choose the Best Business School For YouHow to choose the Best MBA Course for you!

When you’re deciding which MBA to invest in and where to spend the next two years of your life, it’s a pretty complicated calculus.  

You need to take into account a dozen factors to make the right decision. Even if you use the rankings as a starting point, there are probably several factors that matter a TON to you that couldn’t enter into the rankings. Things like school values, cultural feel, and how much you like your future classmates. 

To make it easier for you to do a holistic assessment of top programs and which is the best MBA program for you, we’ve got a handy 10-question framework to guide your research. 

The People and The Place 

1. Did you feel a great connection with students and future classmates? Could you picture yourself forging lifelong collaborations and friendships with these people?  

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2. Did you like the feeling of the campus and the student living situation? Could you see yourself there for two years? 

3. Did the school’s values seem to resonate with yours? Do people really support each other, do they have fun together, is there a commitment to doing good in the world that aligns with your own beliefs?  

Your Career Plans 

4. How confident are you that career services will provide all the support you need for your career due diligence, job search, and candidate prep process? 

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5. Do the kinds of companies you’re interested in hire on campus for the kinds of jobs you really want in the geography you want to end up in post-MBA? 

6. If you will need to conduct a substantial off-campus job search, are you confident you’ll have the support and resources you need from the school? 

Your Personal Growth 

7. Do you like the school’s approach to pedagogy, curriculum flexibility, course content, professor excellence, and co-curricular opportunities? Do you feel you will learn well and learn a lot in this environment? 

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8. What does the alum situation look like? Will people stay in touch and support you avidly as you advance? Is this a community that will continue to pay dividends throughout the rest of your career? 

What Happens Once You Are Admitted (Use this if you get into more than one school) 

9. Which school seems to be more interested in YOU? Who is trying harder to woo you? 

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10. Which school is going to be the most affordable altogether (be sure to include tuition, scholarships, financial aid, and expected living expenses at both schools)? 

If you want to download a pretty version of this framework so you can print it out and use it to keep score, you can download our Best MBA Framework here. 

You can also read our much more in depth article about how to choose between two MBA programs if you’ve already been admitted to more than one school. 

But if you’re applying to business school soon and still building your list, first… 

Let’s get serious about your career 

Before you start your MBA applications, before you can choose the right schools for you, and before you even decide once and for all if you WANT or NEED an MBA, you need a Career Game Plan. 

Imagine you’re about to buy a very very expensive train ticket (cough, MBA, cough cough). You walk up to the window and say: can I please have a ticket for a train?  

The sales lady is gonna ask you where you want to go before she can sell you a ticket, right?   

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This is what the admissions committee is doing when they ask you to tell them your career plans. And they all do, whether in the essays, short answers, interviews, or all of the above. ALL schools need to know your goals and plans for the future before they can decide to admit you.  

If you don’t have a Career Game Plan, you’re trying to buy a ticket to nowhere. If you come to the MBA ticket window without a destination in mind, they’re gonna save you the money and reject you.  

Think of the MBA as a long scenic train ride. The ride might be nice, but the whole point of it is ultimately to get you where you want to go!! The worst-case scenario is a scenic train ride that drops you off right where you started.  

Believe it or not, this happens to thousands of MBAs every year.  

Because they don’t prepare properly for MBA recruiting, they end up in the job of least resistance, which is one very similar to the one they had before – the one they were trying to pivot away from! 

If you want to use the MBA to GET somewhere (and we know you do!!!) then you need a Career Game Plan. 

A good Career Game Plan has three parts:

  1. Your long-term vision (the inspiring purpose that is pulling you forward) 
  2. Your medium-term strategy (the immediate internship and post-MBA role you will target), and
  3. Your short-term tactics (the actions you will take to prepare for, earn, and succeed in that medium-term role). 

You need to have all three components to have an effective plan. And, you’ll need to have this before you even start your applications!! Why? Because over and over again, you’re going to be asked about your plan. It should influence your school choice, it’s what you’ll write about in your Personal Statements, and you’ll almost always be asked about your goals during interviews.  

If you want to read more about building a Career Game Plan, read our Ultimate Guide to Getting into Business School. But for now, let’s reduce the game plan to your goals, needs and constraints. 

Goals, Needs, Constraints 

Let’s define these terms simply: 

Goals: the object of your ambition or effort; an aim or desired result. 

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In other words, your goals are the results you want to achieve in your career through the MBA. You could go nuts with this idea and make a bucket list of accomplishments to check off as you go through the rest of your work life.  

But for our purposes, let’s keep goals simple. You need 1 goal: What is the next big professional position you want that requires a big change? 

For over 70% of MBA applicants, this question boils down simply to: what full time job do you want when you graduate from business school? 

But for some people, the next big change isn’t the first step post-MBA. If you plan to go back to your current company, for example, your big change isn’t the next job. It’s another step maybe a few years down the line, when you will pivot into a much higher-level leadership role or leave the company to start your own business. 

You need a hypothetical target. You can always change your mind, but you can’t have a plan without an aim and you can’t buy a train ticket without a destination in mind. So whatever your current situation, figure out what the next big change is and what you want the outcome to be. 

Needs: stuff that is essential or very important rather than just desirable. 

Your needs are defined by the distance between your current position and your goals. In other words, what steps must you take to get from here to there? 

Let’s take the example of an accountant who wants to switch into marketing. If you’ve been an accountant for 4 or 5 years, you’re well-acquainted with data analysis, data-driven decision making, and likely also some project and team management. These skills will come in very handy for a marketing role in a Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) company. But there’s a lot more you will need to make this major transition. 

Here are some skills and experiences that marketing requires, which you might not yet have or at least might not yet have demonstrated through your job:  

  • A certain kind of creative thinking ability 
  • Consumer focus 
  • The ability to navigate consumer behavior and psychology 
  • Collaboration across multiple functions 
  • Understanding of good marketing strategy principles and frameworks 

If you want to be competitive for marketing jobs, you’ll have to demonstrate these skills and abilities in your interviews. You will ideally also be able to talk about relevant experiences in these areas come interview time.  

So among the things you need from your MBA is the chance to cultivate those skills and experiences as quickly as possible. 

And in addition to that – perhaps most importantly – access to the kinds of jobs you want. If you plan to move into CPG marketing and zero CPG firms recruit for marketing roles at a given MBA program, then that program can’t possibly be the best MBA for you. 

Note: When you’re choosing your MBA programs and even deciding whether an MBA is right for you, be sure to keep the whole Framework for Choosing in mind. The MBA is an investment that will affect the entire rest of your career, not just your immediate post-MBA job. A quick and easy bridge to your next career step is a necessary but not sufficient screening criterion for your MBA program. In other words, the best MBA program for you MUST offer this path, but it’s not the only thing it needs to do for you.  

Having a clear sense of what you need allows you to make sense of step 3: what schools offer and whether they offer the stuff you need. 

Constraints: a limitation or constriction. 

Your constraints will limit your choices. When we talk about constraints, we’re not talking about your competitiveness. Remember, that’s a different calculus that you can discuss with us any time. 

Constraints are choices you’ve made that will limit your opportunity-set by necessity. For most people constraints relate to geography. Here are some common constraints our clients face:  

Do you need a visa to study at the schools you are targeting? 

If so, then you will only target programs that sponsor such visas. Many part-time and executive programs, for example, do not sponsor visas. 

Is there a specific geography you want to work in after school? Country, region, or city?  

Then you will only target companies that are hiring for those geographies and, therefore, schools that facilitate opportunities in those geographies. 

Will you need a visa to work in that chosen geography?  

Then you can only target companies that would sponsor such a visa or work authorization and, therefore, schools where such employers recruit. Given the randomness of some countries’ visa processes, the more such recruiters there are, the better! 

Do you have a partner coming with you or other family member to take into account? 

Then you will only target schools located in a place where your partner/family member can transfer or find an adequate opportunity, or – if they aren’t working – geographies where they’re willing/able to spend the next two years of their life. If you need to stay close to your current home because your loved one can’t move, then you will be targeting schools within a commuter radius. 

Let’s take this last case. Imagine you have a partner who works in a job they love in Boston. They’re not moving no matter what you do. There are always couples who decide to maintain a long-distance relationship for the two years of an MBA. But if you’re not one of those, then your school choice is confined to Boston and schools within a couple hours commute of the city.  

Fortunately, there are a ton of great schools in that area for every level of candidate competitiveness. But schools such as Stanford or Booth will not appear on your ranking. As far as you’re concerned, they might as well not even exist. 

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Once you’ve compiled your goals, listed their resultant needs, and mapped your constraints, you’re ready to start digging into what schools actually offer. 

Head over to our gigantic article about The Best Business Schools or go download our Comprehensive MBA Career Report with loads of insights and analysis of the top 30 MBA programs!

Tags: MBA Careers