6 Things You Need To Know Before Applying To Business School

6 Things You Need To Know Before Applying to Business School

BloombergBusinessweek published its biennial ranking of full-time MBA programs recently. How is the ranking calculated? 90% of their methodology is driven by two factors alone: student and recruiter satisfaction.

But what do the results tell us? Ask an MBA student whether he likes his school and — surprise, surprise —  he’ll probably answer in the affirmative. Don’t ask whether he has attended other schools and would therefore be able to compare programs. Few students attend business school twice (unless they’ve attended both undergraduate and graduate business programs, which some students do).

Recruiters possess a larger measure of objectivity than MBA grads when it comes to assessing the differences between programs. If they recruit from a broad variety of business school programs, and they’ve seen how graduates perform over time at their firms, they’ll have a basis for comparison.

But they’re looking at outputs, not inputs. Their firsthand knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of different business school programs is likely to be limited.

So if you’re applying to business school now, or plan to sometime down the road, you’ll need to look elsewhere for answers that will help you to decide whether to invest the time and expense of applying to—and attending—a particular MBA program.

Here are some factors that go into determining the value of the business school experience. They may not show up in the rankings, but they are essential criteria for making an objective comparison across the many different options available:

1. Cost of living

Business school tuition and fees are already sky-high. Then there’s the opportunity cost — the lost income — from not working for one to two years. But wait! You’re not done yet. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of living. It varies a lot depending on where the school is located, of course. This line item can impact your “operating budget” — and ultimately your multi-year loan burden post-graduation — by several thousand dollars.

2. Quality of life

Do you like the hustle and bustle of city life with its many entertainment options? Or do you prefer a quieter, greener environment where you can step outside and hike in the woods nearby? Are you concerned about the safety of your children and the availability and cost of schooling?

3. Quality of teaching

There are two main questions you need to ask here.

First is the quality of teaching. How good are the professors at taking complex topics like finance and statistics and linear programming and explaining them clearly? Because learning in a class, with a professor explaining the content, is still an important part of the business school experience.

Second, what’s the likelihood you’ll actually get assigned to classes with the best professors? That’s what you’re paying for, right? When I was at business school, I soon learned that — while I had some truly memorable teachers that are masters of their craft — not all professors teach with the same level of clarity and impact. I also learned that I was not always assigned to the best teachers. Ask alumni and current students about how this works at their school.

4. Students

You’ll be studying in teams a lot, and learning with — and from — your classmates. Diversity of work experience and skill-sets among the students whom you’ll be spending many hours with, and the general spirit of collaboration that a school fosters through its grading policies and overall environment, all factor heavily into the quality of your business school experience.

5. Career office

Do the people in the career office really take the time to understand your unique background and career aspirations, and help you fashion a career search strategy that works for you? Some career offices are outstanding in this regard, others not. Ask.

6. Alumni network

One thing you’ll learn pretty quickly once you’ve graduated and you’re back in the working world is the power of your school’s alumni network. But part of the strength of the network lies in how it’s managed both centrally by the school, and by the local alumni chapters. I’ve found that some local business school alumni chapters operate quite independently of the school. This can sometimes lead to sporadic alumni outreach and a general lack of connectivity among the local alumni community.


What other important information do you think business school rankings leave out? Please leave a comment!

If you’re writing business school essays (or planning to), you might want to check out my earlier post on this topic: The Essay That Got Me Into Wharton

Image credit: Jon M. Huntsman Hall at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania — scumdogsteev / Flickr

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