All of your hard work has paid off, and you are now in the enviable position of deciding between business schools.  While this is an undeniably great problem to have, it can be extremely difficult to decide where you should matriculate.  I often help my clients navigate this process, and since most of North Star’s clients are also offered substantial scholarships (over 4.9 million dollars since October 2013) the decision can be even more complicated.  Here are some questions to help frame your analysis:

  • Do you like your cohort?

Now that you have been accepted, I highly recommend that you attend welcome events and join social media groups for your fellow admitted students.  Get to know the people who would be in your class, as well the current first year students. Much of business school is about the relationships that you form with your classmates, so it’s important to find a community that resonates with you.

  • What is the quality of life REALLY like?

Now you can ask the candid questions that you (hopefully!) refrained from posing up until this point.  Are students happy?  Are they engaged?  Are alumni accessible and involved? Are courses and other opportunities, like study abroad programs and case competitions, readily available?  What are the professors like?

  • What are the short AND long-term financial implications?

MBA programs are undeniably expensive.  If you choose the right program – one that is able to help you achieve your career goals, and with an established brand – it can also be an excellent investment. I would look VERY carefully at the school’s placement record over the past five years, both for summer internships and also for permanent post-graduate positions.  I would also ask how the school helps alums who are looking to switch positions. Most schools will tell you how long it takes the average student to pay off their loans, and will help you calculate what your individual debt burden would look like before you have to deposit. Accepting a scholarship to a school with comparatively weak placement may not ultimately be a better investment than paying more for a stronger degree.

  • Are you basing your decision primarily on the rankings?

There is no question that attending a prestigious school can open doors.  However, are rankings always the best indicator of prestige?  I understand that it is tempting to interpret the rankings as objective indicators of the school’s strength.  However, having seen how schools can manipulate the outcomes, I strongly urge you to take these numbers with a grain of salt.  While there are some schools that are consistently at the top, others bounce around a great deal, both from year to year and across publications.  Please look at the historical strength of the program, the caliber of student, alumni involvement, employment and global recognition, and use the rankings as one factor but not the controlling one.

  • Is one of these programs your dream school?

Was one of these schools your top choice from the beginning, but maybe a stretch based on your numbers?  Would matriculating there truly transform your life, expand your perspective and your network and enhance your future opportunities in a dramatic way? If so, and if you are financially able to accept your seat in the class, this school may be the way to go.

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $70 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 98% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.
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