July is here–and you may be feeling the pressure to finalize your business schools target list and begin strategizing for those first-round essays.  Your instincts wouldn’t be steering you wrong.  The question though is which schools, and how many of them, should you choose.

Rankings: For Entertainment Use Only

Rankings can certainly be a helpful starting point to build your initial b-schools list. (The latest rankings are always available in the notes section of our Facebook page.)

However, they should be taken with a grain of salt. School Selection slides Each of them measures different criteria: Forbes calculates ROI five years after graduation, Businessweek looks closely at student and recruiter satisfaction, US News includes GMAT/admissions selectivity as well as a survey of MBA program leaders.  Which is why a phenomenal program like Yale SOM is ranked everywhere from #8 to #24, depending on who you ask.

Instead, through your own research, identify the strongest programs in your areas of interest.  Consider opportunities to gain knowledge and connections both inside and outside of the classroom.  Rank them for yourself.  And then, weigh the other factors that will help you determine if the school is a good fit.

Here are the ones we think are worth considering:

Student Experience

  • Location: Where exactly will you be spending your two years?  Do you care if you are in a big city or a small town?  Are you looking to have access to certain businesses outside of your doorstep?
  • Culture: What is the school’s culture like?  What does it value?  If you can, observe this firsthand by visiting the campus, sitting in on classes, and spending the afternoon in the student center.  If not, you can still get a great sense from talking with current students and alumni and attending information sessions in your city.  Later on, the interview process will give you some additional impressions.
  • Extracurriculars: What types of student activities can you become involved in after class?  Are there professional clubs that fit with your career goals and interests?  Cultural clubs?  Social/athletic clubs?  (And if not, does the school welcome you to start them yourself?)

Educational Approach

  • Curriculum: Do the core classes and electives fit with your academic needs?  Is it important for you to be able to place out of classes that you’ve already taken?  Are you looking to pursue a concentration in your target field?  Again, what are the program’s strengths in your areas of interest?
  • Learning environment: Is large vs. small class size important to you?  What are the primary teaching methods (e.g. case study, team projects, lectures)?  Does the academic calendar work with your timing?  Are there speakers and conferences that can supplement your learning outside the classroom?  Are there faculty members you would like to learn from, or perhaps pursue an independent study with?  Will you be able to get hands-on, practical experience?

Career Support

  • Job placement: How will the career services department support you in pursuing your goals?  Are there career conferences, club events and “treks” for your fields of interest?  Are your target companies recruiting on campus?   If not, will you have support in pursuing those companies independently?
  • Connections: Is there a helpful and active alumni network that you can draw upon, both while you are a student and after graduation?  Where in the world are they based?
  • Credentials: Do those in your target industry recognize the value of an MBA from that program?  In your target geographic area?  How much does this matter to you?

Quality + Quantity

Once you’ve picked the right schools, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. There is no such thing as a “safety school” when applying to a top MBA program–and it’s important to make sure that your MBA plans aren’t devastated if your dream school decides not to give you an acceptance.  There are LOTS of outstanding MBA programs that can deliver on the above, for you personally.  Create option value for yourself by applying to enough schools.  In our experience, that number is a minimum of four programs, but ideally six (or even eight, with the last few trickling into the 2nd round).

[For personalized help with school selection, or general MBA admissions advice, please contact us at info@shineadmissions.com]

© Hillary Schubach, July 10, 2013, 11:16 am MT