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MBA School Selection Strategy

July 14, 2011 :: Alex Collazo

Applying to an MBA is a titanic step in your life.

You will meet friends, employers, partners, future wives and husbands… one way or another you will pave the path toward your future.

But obtaining an MBA is only the first step in the path

Your dreams and goals (and we each have our own), at some level, revolve around bettering your position in your career, bringing financial security to yourself and your family, and quite possibly finding some fame and fortune along the way.

The true value of an elite MBA

It’s important to shut out the noise for a second about the value that an elite MBA will bring you. Don’t get us wrong—we are notorious for advising y’all to simply go to the best possible school you can get into, period. And that is almost always the most elegant way to hack through the jungle of the admissions process.

But play along, and shut out the noise about rankings and prestige and all that jazz for a second. Because not everyone can get into Harvard, for one reason or another. But let’s look around… can we count more than 900 or so successful businessfolk in the world?

Helllllllllllll yes.

Do you need a Harvard MBA in order to be wildly successful?

Hellllllllllll no.

Will a Harvard MBA help? Of course it will. If you can earn that admit, for the love of God, go brother/sister, go! But to the hunnnnnndreds of applicants who WON’T earn that admit, that doesn’t mean you need to pack your bags.

Look Past the seal, look toward your goals

Build an application strategy that looks PAST the seal of the MBA, the pedigree, the glamour, the bragging rights… and instead, set your scopes exclusively on your long-term goals.

Plenty of absolutely amazingly successful people have come out of second and third-tier schools, and have had the time of their lives. And similarly, tons of folks emerge from HBS without any star-studded careers to brag about.

It really does come down to YOU and what you’re determined to achieve. We’ve run this scenario before, but it’s worth a repeat. Just imagine that by some freak accident, MBA programs went up in flames. Someone “hacked the mainframe” in the MBA lair and pulled the plug with a smug grin, a la Monty Burns. No more MBA. There is no way to receive this coveted education. No place to mingle with like-minded folks, no professors to learn finance from, no degrees to use as STAMPS to put next to your name.

Now what? Do you give up your goal to start Company X and take a job at McDonalds flipping burgers because you just don’t know what to do anymore? Do you give up your dream of introducing banking to the rural parts of India, and apply for a job selling knives door-to-door? Heck no. You shake it off, you suck it up, and you go to Plan B. That’s what leaders do.

They keep their objectives in front of them, always. Leaders find a way to GET THERE, because they’ve made “getting there”… a foregone conclusion.

Hopefully you’re convinced that there are many schools that might help. Where to go from here? Some criteria to help nail your target list:

Fitting in

Know whom the school is looking for; what type of applicants they go for. How to do this? Talk to alums, visit the school. You will catch a vibe. A perfect test? Of course not, but there may not be a better one. You can only glean so much from a website—they all describe more or less the same kind of kid, right?

Being realistic

Find out what the average GMAT and average work experience and average age of the candidates are. If you’re right there, that’s a great way to consider yourself at least in the ballpark. If your GMAT is 680, and the average GMAT is 710… sure you have a shot, but recognize that you’re fighting an uphill battle.

Similarly, if the average GMAT is 640, you should have a better chance of converting. Doesn’t mean anything one way or another—much depends on your essays, your interview, recs, etc. But these are great proxies for figuring out roughly what your chances are.

Following your dreams

You have “only” a 660 and want to apply to Stanford (Average 714!) because it’s always been your dream. You have other good experience that you feel makes you a good candidate? Go for it! Your passion, and your amazing essays might push you over the edge. It would be unwise in this instance to expect an admit, and for sure you should include safer schools, but you should absolutely go for broke on a school or two. Life is too short not to take such leaps of faith.

Including at least two “good chance” schools

Pick at least two schools in which you are on par with (or above) other candidates GMATs, grades, experience, etc.

Including at least one safe school ­

Apply to at least one school where you are solidly “better” than the average MBA student. Try not to consider this a miserable “if all else fails” option. There are scores of AMAZING programs that can help you reach your dreams, that aren’t Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton.

Give yourself options. And then go with gusto on ALL of them, with the understanding that your selection strategy was incredibly sound. Make it so that an acceptance of any kind simply proves how brilliant your strategy was to begin with. Because with even just ONE choice of a potential MBA program, you are in an enviable position compared to many hopefuls out there.