Those admits are flying in!
First of all, congratulations, my friend. Take a second to do a happy dance, let out some joyful noise, or plan your self-celebration party, whatever floats your boat. To have your pick of MBA programs is a rare thing—you are livin’ the dream.
Alright, now that you’ve composed yourself (need another second? That’s cool too.), it’s decision time. How do you pick amongst your dream schools?
In many cases, there’s a silver bullet behind making this decision. Is one of the schools far and away the best ranked program among your options? Or even the most highly ranked by a small margin? There’s your answer—go to that school.
“But X course at program B,” or, “Y professor at program C,” or “I just felt at home at program D…” Let us stop you there. There is no course, no professor, no feeling of “fit” that will outweigh the advantages of going to the BEST program you can possibly go to.
Being a pragmatic, business-minded MBA applicant you must be well aware of the outsize influence of name brand in the real world. Until that changes, your career will benefit far more from having gained an MBA from a top-ranked program than it will from a middle-ranked program that just “felt right.”
Got it? Cool.
If you’re still reading this, that probably means there’s no quick and easy answer for you because the programs you are choosing between are roughly equal in rank. Now that’s a conundrum. There are a number of factors that can help you make your decision, though, as well as lots of red herrings that you should give no credence to as you make your choice.
Let’s start with what you SHOULD pay attention to when making your decision.
After rank, this is definitely the number one determinant of the right MBA program for you. Why should you care about this more than any other factor? Because surrounding yourself with the brightest, most ambitious, most likely to succeed people will help YOU succeed, too. Consider as well that the higher ranked a school is, the more selective it is, and therefore the higher quality its student body will be.
However, beyond the cold, calculated self-interest of surrounding yourself with others on a path to success, consider that your peers in the MBA program are going to become a lifelong network for you to rely on as you advance in your career. They may even become lifelong friends, or partners in your next venture. You want to surround yourself with the best of the best, so if you can’t make a decision based on rank, then make a decision based on what you’ve seen, heard, and experienced about the student body of the various programs you’re considering.
You probably got a feel for this when you visited campus, talked to students, or reached out to alumni. Were they warm, welcoming, helpful? Did they seem like they were the kind of people you would want to network with? Did they seem like superstars? Those are the kind of people you want on your team.
Rank being equal, and student body perhaps difficult to judge, another great indicator to fall back on is how well the various programs under consideration place their graduates in careers. After all, don’t you get an MBA to end up in your dream job?
The good news is that this is a fairly straightforward measure. Every school will have statistics on career placement available on their website, and many will even break it down by industry. Have a gander, and consider your likelihood of career success when choosing which program to attend.
While these factors can help you make your decision, there’s an endless stream of information being thrown at you that WON’T help you make your decision, and shouldn’t even make it into the pros and cons list.
This boils down to the myth of “fit.” Schools will throw a hundred different factors out there to try and promote their perfect fit for you, and you should see most if not all of it as complete poppycock. School size, location in an urban or rural or small town setting, class size, school spirit; all of these are red herrings that distract you from considering your likelihood of success with X or Y program. Trust us, if you attend the BEST school you got into, you will find that feeling of “fit” amongst your equally high-potential peers and the great resources that a top school has to offer.
At the end of the day, these red herrings are just clever marketing—material programs use to attract as many applicants as possible. Higher application rates mean more selectivity for them, and more dollars in the bank, so of course they’re going to give you a hundred little reasons that they are better suited to you than program ABC that’s at least two echelons above them. Tune it out, friends, and focus on rank, student body, and career placement—that’s your formula for success.
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