Researching business schools sounds straightforward, but it can be hard to know where to start. Just visiting websites and reviewing rankings isn’t enough – how do you know what to look for? Which factors really matter? Here are some suggestions to help you frame your search and find target schools that are a great fit.
- First, pick points of comparison.
Create a list of factors that you would like to compare, and compile this information for 10 schools that you want to explore. For instance, I suggest that my clients start by looking at size, location, average GMAT and GPA, curriculum, placement and alumni giving rates.
- Next, look more closely at points of differentiation.
For instance, who actually teaches the courses – professors or teaching assistants? Are electives and international experiences readily available, or is it hard to actually take advantage of these opportunities? Does the career office work directly with students, or serve as more of a passive resource? Furthermore, pay attention to details that matter to you personally, like the placement rate and list of firms for students with career goals that are similar to yours.
- Third, register for opportunities to visit and interact with the schools.
I firmly believe that visiting a school, meeting students, alumni and administrators, is extremely useful. If it isn’t feasible for you to go on campus, I still encourage you to attend information sessions and events in your area. Furthermore, it is helpful to join the mailing list and read what the school sends out to potential applicants. You will learn about how the school sees itself, as well as staying on top of useful logistical information.
- Fourth, reach out to students and alumni.
Many programs facilitate this for you, and you can also leverage your personal network and look on school websites to find people who identify themselves as resources for potential applicants. The best way to make a good impression and to extract useful information is to be organized and respectful of the other person’s time. I suggest connecting initially via email, and preparing a brief list of questions that you couldn’t just research online. For instance, asking what the student likes best about the program is reasonable – but asking them to explain the first year curriculum, which is on the website, is less appropriate.
- Fifth, pay attention to clues about the culture.
Business school, ideally, is about more than academics and credentials. Most people are also looking to build a strong network, and to develop personally while enjoying the two years. Although many programs may look similar on the surface, there is no question that the communities vary widely. Ask questions about how well people get to know their peers and their professors, what the social life is like, and whether people are collaborative in the classroom and when it comes to recruiting.
- Finally, keep an open mind.
At this point in the process, when you are first exploring MBA programs, one of the biggest challenges can be getting beyond stereotypes and preconceived ideas about different programs. Very often, a school that wasn’t high on your initial list can rise to the top as you refine your criteria and learn more about the possibilities.