How to choose the best business school for you

Posted on January 2, 2011

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Photo courtesy of Tony Crider

Congrats future MBA! You’ve done it. All the studying, essay-writing, and putting on your best interview face has paid off, and now you’re in. But you’ve been accepted to more than one school. How do you figure out where to go? MBAsocial’s got the essential list for doing your due diligence on the schools that you worked so hard to get into.

Visit. While it might go without saying, we’re saying it: visit campus. These days, it’s easy to get away with being accepted to a school without ever setting foot in the building[s] because of off-campus alumni interviews and electronic applications. But really there’s no better way to get a feel for what you’re getting yourself into than asking the admissions office to hook you up with a student for the day to check out classes, group meetings, and if you’re lucky, an intramural dodgeball game.

Most schools have admitted/prospective student weekends, but these can be a little overwhelming, with every minute of your few days there highly scheduled. If you really want to know what it’s like to be a student, go visit with one on an off-day. It may mean taking a couple of days off during the week, but remember, this is two years of your life we’re talking about.

C’mon, just focus… You probably spent some time researching this for your applications, but make sure you recall what your prospective school’s academic focus is, and make sure that you care about that particular subject. Most schools don’t like to be pigeonholed as being strong in finance or marketing, and weaker in accounting or organizational management, but, well, they’ll get over it. Make sure you know what you’re most interested in learning about, and applying in your post-MBA career, and look to the schools that provide great classes and professors in those areas.

Location, location, location. This is the first rule of business, is it not?  Well, it doesn’t just apply to retail. Consider where your prospective schools are located, and how many of its alumni stay in the area. If you want a strong network in Dallas, you probably don’t want to go to Columbia. Similarly, think about whether or not you yourself would like to stay in the city/town of your alma mater – oftentimes that’s where the largest percentage of grads stay, at least for the first couple of years out of school.

Talk the talk. It’s easy to review a school’s admissions and marketing materials and get an on-paper look at what the school thinks it is, and wants to be. But without talking to current students who share professional or extra-curricular interests, you may be in for a big ol’ surprise. Ask the admissions office for contacts for students who lead clubs that you may be interested in joining or leading – these clubs will also crossover with professional interests. If you can’t get any additional help from admissions, just google the school and their clubs, and you’re bound to find contact info from someone who’ll give it to you straight.

Do rankings matter? If you’ve followed the steps above, then you should be able to make an informed decision without referring back to the rankings. It’s likely that the schools that you’re choosing between aren’t too far from each other in BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report, or any of the other published rankings. If there is a big disparity, then use the rankings to figure out the areas in which your prospective school got a bad grade. Was it teaching quality? Was it job placement rate? If school X fails at anything that’s important to you, then you have your decision right there.

And there you have it. Our essential list for making the big decision. Let us know how you went ahead and took the plunge. And good luck future MBAs!