So you’re done with the GMAT and understand your basic “profile”. It’s finally the fun part of reading up on schools and day dreaming about where you may end up.
You can get information about schools a number of ways. I will list them in terms of how useful I found them:
School visit – This is by far the best way to learn about a school and its culture. On a typical visit, you can tour the facilities, sit in on a class, potentially lunch with students and ask questions during a Q&A. Some schools (e.g. Tuck and Fuqua) even allow you to schedule an interview without being invited. Most schools do a very good job of selling themselves via their website and their marketing materials. Visiting will allow you to cut through the marketing spiel and give you a real sense of what the school is about. For example, one of the big differentiators for Tuck is its location in Hanover. When I visited, I loved the location but equally you may visit and dislike the location. Far better to know that before applying than spending your time applying to a school where you won’t be happy or won’t attend.
Networking with students or alums – If you really can’t visit your target schools, the second best option is to reach out to current students and alums. Linkedin and student clubs are probably the easiest way to find people to speak with. Most current students are actually more than happy to arrange a call via skype to discuss their school. The information you glean from these conversations definitely becomes essay fodder! Also if you really make an impression, someone might put in a good word for you without your knowledge. One piece of advice I would give is to mix up the type of people you approach. Alums who graduated 5+ years ago can actually give a more impartial view of how the b-school school / MBA since they have had more time to look back at their b-school experience. If you are finding that students and alums are not very responsive, this may hint at a school’s culture and the level of alumni participation (or it’s finals time so everyone is super busy).
School hosted events – If you live in a big city, chances are you will get quite a few schools pass through over the course of the year trying to sell their wares. Last year, all of the top 15 schools visited London and hosted events ranging from student coffee chats to small group dinners. Make sure you understand clearly that these are pure sales pitches. The admissions team WANT you to apply to their schools regardless of whether you are competitive. They will also roll out happy and successful alums to convince you. It is a good way of getting face time with someone from the admissions team and meeting alums. At these events, it’s very difficult to make a positive impression on an admissions team. At most they might remember you if you had a quirky profile and you had an in depth conversation with them about it. Note that it is VERY easy to make a terrible impression though. I can’t say for certain but asking ridiculous questions such as “650 GMAT, what are my chances?” can make you stand out negatively or at the very least irritate everyone at the event.
School’s website and blogs – This resource is pretty self explanatory. Some schools have better websites than others but overall they feel pretty generic. Most will talk about how they develop leadership, have amazing career placement stats, awe-inspiring faculty, etc. Dig a little deeper though and you will find nuggets of useful information such as the core curriculum, what research the faculty have produced recently, the research centres that may correlate with your interests and a lot more. The student blogs on the other hand were far more useful. You can get a good sense of what day to day life is like at a school from these posts. Overall though this is the bare minimum you should looking at. If your research consists of only looking at websites and blogs, then you are probably not digging deep enough.
Rankings – We would all be lying if we said ranking didn’t come into it whatsoever. Just make sure you are not married to a certain ranking and make your decision solely on that basis. Don’t get stuck into thinking a school ranked 10 can’t be as good as the school ranked 5. What factors are used in the ranking? School #10 may place far better into your desired industry than #5. Rankings are a good place to start your research but don’t finish it there.
MBA tour events – These events are a zoo. It’s fine if you just want to walk around picking up brochures from 10+ schools but overall I found them to be pretty useless. Occasionally you get events with 15minute 1-on-1 slots with a member of the admissions team. It sure beats waiting in a queue of 5 or standing in an awkward circle.
From all these sources, you can get start to formulate a shortlist of schools that you are willing to apply to. For instance, if you decided you want to be in a city then schools like Tuck, Johnson, Fuqua are not for you. Really interested in Healthcare? Fuqua and Wharton should garner further consideration. Now you have found your target schools, I will talk about essay writing (yay!… not) in the next edition.
No FAQ and debunking myths this time round! Happy to answer any questions though, just drop me a comment below.