If you seek a business school environment where you’ll truly thrive, focus on fit over ranking and brand. While the latter two are important, if you don’t feel at home from the moment you set foot on campus, you won’t get the most out of the MBA experience.
For applicants who must choose between two or more admissions offers—lucky you!—this post should help clarify matters. For those just beginning the research phase, keeping these qualities in mind will serve you well as you narrow down your list.
When you focus on fit, you should consider the three C’s – curriculum, culture, and communication.
Is the Curriculum a Good Fit?
B-schools regularly revamp their courses to keep up with trends in leadership and innovations in the world at large. Common changes include more required and elective experiential courses, plus new opportunities for students to customize their learning experience.
All general management MBA programs will provide you with the fundamentals of core management skills. The next step to determining fit requires you to find out just how well the programs align with your post-MBA career goals.
Top business schools are known for their strengths in specific fields—finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, health care, real estate development, etc. So start by narrowing your list based on how well the program can prepare you for that industry.
If you have laser-focused career goals, consider business schools that offer a concentration in your area of interest. Also, you might prefer a school with a more versatile curriculum from the beginning that you can really tailor to your needs. Choose a program with a curriculum that suits you and your learning style best.
Is the Culture a Good Fit?
Understanding the prevailing culture at a school will help you decide whether the program is a good fit for your personality. You can begin your assessment by determining whether the culture is predominantly competitive or collaborative.
Size and location often play an important role in this regard. Larger programs in urban centers, such as Harvard, Wharton, and Chicago Booth typically feel much more competitive and intense.
Smaller business schools and those located in rural settings usually foster a close-knit community feeling. Here, many students live on campus and socialize with fellow students and faculty on a regular basis. MBA programs with smaller cohorts take pride in their down-to-earth, collaborative cultures.
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to a school’s culture. It’s simply a matter of choosing the environment where you think you’ll thrive.
How Good Is the Communication?
You may also want to consider whether the admissions team seems genuinely interested in getting to know applicants, too. A great way to gauge this is by seeing how often and how much engagement the admissions committee offers you.
Take, for example, the Michigan Ross School of Business, where the director of MBA admissions and financial aid Soojin Kwon updates her blog every few weeks. On it, she offers application tips, deadline and interview news, school events and other thoughts. She or someone in her department also answer each post’s comments. It may just be that famous Midwestern hospitality, but Ross candidates seem to feel a genuine connection that starts during their admissions experience.
Another excellent source of communication comes from the school-sponsored student blogs. These blogs a great way to connect with current students and learn more about the daily experience at your target schools.
Choosing where to pursue an MBA is a huge decision. A focus on fit will help you narrow down the options. Do your homework and understand the strengths and potential drawbacks of each option. Knowing yourself and how a particular school suits your professional goals and needs is the essence of making the right choice.
For more on the topic of school selection, check out my US News & World Report blog post, Reach, Target, Safety: How to Choose MBA Programs Strategically.