You know you want to apply to business school, but there are so many schools to choose from, and you need to use your time wisely. Here are some tips in finding the right MBA programs for you.

Fit, Not Rankings

Ranking can be a helpful starting point, but they should NOT be your primary factor in school selection. Instead, determine the strongest programs in your areas of interest, taking into account the opportunities you can gain both inside and outside of the classroom. Does the school’s curriculum and electives meet your academic needs? Do the companies you want to work for recruit on campus (and does that matter to you)? Are there extracurricular activities that will enable you to connect with like-minded students or attend relevant events? Also consider the school’s location, culture, learning environment, and whether you can make connections through an active alumni network.

Attend MBA Fairs

MBA fairs are a great opportunity to attend admissions panels in your city. It’s also a great time to pick up tips on the GMAT and speak directly with admissions officers from your target schools. Book one-on-one sessions when you can, which offer a great chance to build a relationship with the school’s admissions team. To prepare, do your homework and come in with thoughtful questions beyond what you can find on the schools’ websites. And remember that every interaction reflects you as a candidate. Be courteous, friendly and professional to everyone you meet, and show your enthusiasm for the school. Have business cards and your resume on hand. Most of all, keep an open mind. You just might discover a new favorite program.

Schedule a Campus Visit

The very best way to get a sense of a program is to visit it firsthand. Contact the school well in advance to schedule a time to take a tour, meet with current students/professors, and sit in on a class. Dress professionally, check in with admissions when you arrive, and remember to make a positive impression at every touch point. And remember: this is a research opportunity for you. Talk with lots of people to get differing viewpoints on the culture, extracurriculars, alumni, and programming—and take notes to potentially reference those anecdotes in your applications.  If you can’t travel to campus, find current students and alumni to talk with and gather those same insights. Tap into your college alumni database, friends, colleagues for contacts. If you come up empty-handed, the admissions office might have student ambassadors willing to talk with prospective applicants.

Above all else, trust your instincts. Rankings change, life plans change. If a school feels like an ideal fit and it can propel you toward your goals, consider those factors most closely.

PS – there’s no such thing as a “safety school” when applying to a top-20 school. Be smart and throw your hat in the ring at sufficient number of schools. From our experience that means no fewer than four, ideally six or up to eight.

[To determine the best MBA programs for you, or for general MBA admissions advice, contact us at]

© Shine/ MBA Admissions Consulting, April 16 2015, 10:30am MT