In narrowing down the list of MBA programs that I am applying to, below are the main criteria that I have used to evaluate the different business schools. I am only considering business schools located in the US that (loosely prioritized):
a) Have a strong brand and alumni and recruiting network to open doors throughout my career, particularly in the area that I am interested in
b) Provide unique experiences that I cannot get elsewhere, including a diverse set of academic and extracurricular options to tailor my business school experience
c) Have a supportive, tight-knit student community, so I can learn with people and in situations outside of my comfort zone
d) Teach through a mix of classroom and experiential learning methods, so I know how to apply theoretical concepts in real-world situations and have a framework to manage change
e) Are located in a big city, so there are interesting things to see and do and people to meet outside of school
After using these criteria to narrow down my list of schools, the deciding factor came down to my perceived “fit” with a school, from visiting campuses, talking with current students and alumni and whether I could envision enjoying my two years there.
Using (a) as a starting point, that immediately narrowed down the list to the top 15 or so business schools, beginning with Harvard and Stanford, and ending with, say, UCLA (Anderson) and Yale. It also makes the focus of some schools, such as finance for Chicago Booth and Columbia, less of a good fit for me (although I know both are pushing their entrepreneurship and other opportunities as well). Based on (e), that took out schools like Dartmouth (Tuck), Michigan (Ross) and Yale. I briefly considered London Business School and INSEAD, but thought that a US-based experience and network is more appropriate for me.
As far as (b), I prefer a larger incoming class size than a smaller one, because larger programs tend to have more resources and options – but, the trick will be to identify which opportunities I want to take advantage of, and it also means that sometimes not everyone can participate in a given opportunity. At a smaller school like Berkeley (Haas), which has an incoming class of about 250 students every year, it seems that they compensate for having a smaller class by empowering students to drive their experience, but some large schools, such as Northwestern (Kellogg), do the same.
While I have a good idea about (c), I think that this aspect of the decision will come from attending various admitted students days (if I am fortunate enough to have any choices to make). Lastly, with (d), there are variations among the programs, with Harvard at one end of the spectrum with its focus on the case study learning method and Stanford at the other, where team-based projects, experiential learning and simulations make up about half of its curriculum. But, at the end of the day, career opportunities and other factors are more important to me than how I am learning, particularly since the top programs all have opportunities to learn beyond the classroom.
In a future post, I will also handicap my chances at getting into various schools. For now, I will just say that of the two schools I have applied to, MIT Sloan is my target school, and if I don’t get an interview at either school, I might have to reconsider the schools I’m applying to in Round 2.