Evaluate 3 Factors When Comparing Business School Acceptances

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com

Receiving an offer of admission from one of your target business schools is every MBA hopeful’s dream, and that achievement feels even more amazing when a second or even third offer comes in.

After taking some time to properly celebrate, now comes the hard part. Since you likely applied only to programs that you felt passionate about, you must decide where to spend the next two years of your life, and a small fortune. The decision-making process is different for everyone, but there are a few things to consider that may sway your choice.

1. Financial incentives: For some applicants, a generous scholarship offer from one school clinches the deal. However, I typically counsel clients not to focus too heavily on this aspect.

More money from a lesser-ranked school may mean you graduate with little or no debt, but the choice could cost you down the line when it comes to the quality of your network. Within the first few years out of business school , the salary bump that accompanies an MBA with a strong brand will compensate for that initial financial advantage.

If the schools in contention are similarly ranked but have offered drastically different scholarship amounts, or if one program has offered a financial award and the second program offers nothing, you may be able to change that to level the playing field.

Reach out to the admissions office, reiterate your sincere interest in attending their program, and then ask if it’s possible to be considered for a higher scholarship amount – or any scholarship amount – because you now have another offer of acceptance and financial incentive on the table. If you handle this tactfully, and without mentioning the other school by name, you have nothing to lose.

2. Career goals: If you haven’t already done so, now is the time for an in-depth study of how each program will help you advance your professional trajectory. Learn what student clubs and resources exist that support your career interests. Find out which companies recruit heavily at the school, and take a good look at the strength of the career services center and alumni network.

Check out the annual employment report or company lists published on the school’s website. See if one program seems to provide a substantial advantage in your field. If you need more input, call up recruiters and companies you’re interested in to see what they think of the schools you’re choosing between.

Hugo Varela, who works in the health care industry in Madrid, received offers of admission from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, and the MIT Sloan School of Management in round one this season.

As he wrestled these past few weeks with the decision of which program to attend, Varela said in an email that, “The single most critical factor is whether a certain school provides me with the best opportunity to reach my goals.”

However, he said that in his case, “The three schools I have been admitted to could put me in a great position to achieve those goals, without much of a difference among them in terms of opportunities.”

Looking solely at career stats, therefore, may not be enough to guide your decision.

3. Fit: This is always the most unquantifiable yet crucial element to consider when deciding on a school. Check your gut as you visit the campus or chat with current students and alumni.

Think about if you feel intimidated or uncomfortable, or welcomed and completely at ease. When you reach out to alumni or students, note if they are eager and quick to answer your questions, or if you have to wait days for a follow-up email or call.

Due to work constraints, Varela says he was able to visit only the Tuck campus in person, but he talked to current students and attended school-hosted events in Madrid before and after applying in order to get to know as much as he could about every school.

“Current students and alumni really have been key for me to decide where to apply and where to attend,” he wrote.

If possible, attending each program’s admitted students weekend, where you’ll spend time on campus around current students and other admitted applicants, is one of the best ways to help you decide which school is a better fit. Sometimes though, a campus visit is logistically or financially impossible.

“As an international student who could not physically visit schools, I think attending infosessions, talking to students and alums and online research to the point of cyber-stalking was what helped me decide on which schools to apply to, and also gave me an edge in the admissions process, especially the interviews,” wrote a prospective student from Bangalore, India, who goes by Vandana? and works for a global online entertainment portal.

Vandana maintains a blog chronicling her MBA journey, and was admitted to UCLA Anderson School of Management, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business in round one this season.

“My Kellogg interviewer actually remarked how great it was that I could glean so much about Kellogg – in-depth knowledge on clubs, activities, student culture and really get a feel for the school despite living halfway across the world,” she wrote.

The decision may ultimately come down to where you want to end up geographically after graduation, or what type of experience you want to have during your MBA. For each candidate, the answer will be different.

“Deciding between programs is hard,” Varela wrote. “But it is one of those decisions where you are going to win no matter what you choose.”

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