One of the most crucial aspects of getting accepted in an MBA program is selecting business schools during the application process. The vast multitude of business schools around the world that offer an MBA program, make the decision making process even more difficult. A good application is more often than not preceded by sound business school research. While there are many factors that should be considered while applying to a business school, some of the more important parameters that would help make an informed decision have been described below:
A good place to start your research is the rankings. They put all the schools in one place and signal which programs have the best reputation. They also help you get a feel for a school’s selectivity: the median GMAT scores that a school requires, the grade point average of students and years of work experience. There are various rankings out there and one has to be careful to use an integrated approach to see which schools perform well across the different rankings out there. One approach could be to conduct a small exercise to take average of rankings from various agencies like US News, Businessweek & Financial times OR take an average of rankings across years like 3 years average rank etc. However, the rankings should not be treated as the only driver in the decision making success. It is a great place to start narrowing down your options.
As you research the schools that most interest you, consider their teaching style and what kind of classroom experience most resonates with you. Some schools predominantly use case studies: as homework, students work in teams to dissect “cases” that focus on a particular problem or issue faced by a company, and in the classroom, a professor cold calls individual students: a style of debate based around discussing opposing viewpoints, in order to improve skills of argument and analysis. Some schools offer a lecture-based program while others present a hands-on, experience based learning environment; some schools offer a blend of all three. It is important that you take some time to think about which of these styles would resonate with you.
If you have a good idea of what you want to do after business school, think about which school will help you achieve that. While programs vary, most business school curricula marry core courses on marketing, finance, accounting and organizational behavior with electives on more specialized topics such as operations strategy, real estate development or investment management. Many schools offer programs focused around a theme, such as healthcare management or information management. While most top firms hire from all the top business schools, certain schools are known for their focus in specific areas. It is worth spending some time to gain an insight into these facts which help distinguish schools. The soul-searching you do here would be extremely helpful in answering the standard short-term and long-term goal question. For example, schools in and around the New York area are known for their focus in finance and are ideal for students who aspire for a career in financial services. West Coast schools are known to have strong network of alums in the technology-product management/technology-venture capital space and should be strongly considered by students who have an interest in those areas.
Also check to see if firms are hiring international students from that school. The recent financial crisis has taken its toll on the number of firms willing to sponsor visas for international students. If the statistics are not mentioned on the school website, feel free to reach out members on the adcom at these schools and they should be happy to share the data.
While scholarships are hard to come by at most top schools, it is worth checking to see if the schools have tie-ups with banks that provide loans to international students with the school acting as the co-signer. Some firms in India (Tata Group, Reliance, etc) provide scholarships to students who have been accepted at top business schools, applying early to these programs is highly recommended. While tuition costs could be standard across schools, the cost of living for two years in a big city (e.g. Anderson, UCLA,LA) could be way more expensive that a small town (Darden, UVA, Charlottesville).
1 YEAR vs. 2 YEAR PROGRAM (OR EUROPE vs US):
While there are jargons in place like – if you compare “Opportunity Cost” for 1 year vs 2 year course; or if you want to get back to work quickly then join 1 year course. But actually if you really want to dig a little deeper and then compare – forgetting for a while cost borne for one more year or salary lost for an additional year – taking into cognizance the learning aspect. The two year program is well served for people who are looking at switching careers. The internship at the end of the first year provides an opportunity to demonstrate an ability to make the transition. Also, European B schools on an average typically tend to have a higher average work experience than most US B schools, so if you’re low on experience you might want to consider more schools in the US. On the other hand, the one year program could work well if one is looking at taking on a broader role within the same industry/function. If you are a quick learner, you can assimilate quickly; the one year program would work well. However, if you are a conceptual learner and you take time to learn and reflect – then two year program is for you. Identify your learning style, career goals and then take a call. It is not the matter of just one additional year – it is about 30-35 years of your work life that will shape your career!
Before you begin the research phase in earnest, some personal reflection is required. Why do you want to get an MBA? Do you want to live in a big city? Do you have a preference for going to Europe vs US? After you have answered those questions, look at the schools that have programs to match your needs. Read the MBA guidebooks, study the schools’ websites, consume their in-house blogs, investigate their application process, check if the schools will be doing an info session in your city (as part of a World MBA tour or otherwise).
Make a conscientious effort to familiarize yourself with the school and the program. It is easier said than done, especially when you are living on the other side of the world. However, any effort that you make to distinguish yourself from the rest of the applicant pool significantly increases your chances of getting accepted.