Feb 2, 2011

How to select your Target Business Schools?

Selecting the target business schools to apply in your MBA application process is never an easy task. How should you go about selecting your final list of schools to apply to? If you have a great GMAT score, should you blindly apply to all the top schools of the world or distribute your chances by selecting the schools in various ranking zones? How much should the rankings published by BusinessWeek, USNews, Financial Times, WSJ, The Economist, etc mean while you decide which schools to apply for? Should you target the schools based on location or repute?

So here's our take on how you should go about selecting your target schools to apply during your MBA admissions process:

Step 1. Understand your profile
Most of the business schools publish some standard statistics about their incoming class on their website. While don't start comparing yours with theirs as the first step, start by understanding how does your profile look like. Few things to look in your profile would be your GMAT score, work experience, work industry, country, post MBA goals, age, sex, etc.

Step 2. Set your Priority List straight
This step involving list down the what do you want from your business school and in what order. For e.g. if your post MBA goal is in finance, your target business school should have a very strong finance program and faculty. Similarly, if you plan to go to IT field, business schools on the west coast might be more attractive. Few of the data points that you should include in your priority lists for the business schools are randomly mentioned below:

1. Strength in your interest areas (such as Finance, Marketing, etc)
2. Recruiting in your post MBA goals
3. Location (East Coast/ West Coast/ European / Major City, etc)
4. Country Specific (US / Euro / Asia,etc)
5. Class Size (Big or Small)
6. Community feeling (Usually schools in metro such as NYC will have less of a community feeling than in smaller towns)
7. Reputation, world wide and in your region, if you are an international and plan to come back
8. Tuition / Financial Aid / Living Cost
9. Weather, Climatic preference, etc
10. Any other consideration (for e.g. If you spouse works in New York City, it may be important for you to target business schools within and around NYC)

The above list is not exhaustive and not in any particular order of importance. It is your task to know what matters the most to you and put a priority list based on your requirements.

Step 3. Your profile v/s School's profile
Compare your profile with that of school's published statistics to understand where would your profile fall under to select a very broad range of schools you can target. Various MBA ranking should be used here as a reference guide to get a somewhat feel of the Tier (which could be a set of 25-30 schools) you can target. Instead of narrowing your schools down based on ranking, we advise that keep your list of schools at this step very broad (such as Top 30 or Top 20-50, etc)

Step 4. Filter your school based on your Priority List against the school set earlier identified
Evaluate your schools from Step 3 against your priority list from Step 2 WITHOUT taking into account your GMAT/Work Experience, etc to filter down to 10-15 schools that matches your requirements.

Step 5. Compare your profile with that of school's from Step 4
Step 4 gives the list of schools that broadly fits most of the criteria or requirements you have from your business school education. Now compare your profile (GMAT/Work Experience, etc) with that of these schools to understand what are your "stretch" schools and what are not out of the identified list. Decide the number of schools you want to apply from this list and voila! You have your target schools identified.

It goes without saying that the steps mentioned above are not some textbook defined standard process and you may want to customize these steps to yourself, however, these steps more or less covers all the different factors that you need to keep in consideration while deciding on business schools to apply.

Few more passing thoughts:

1. How many schools should I target?
Our general recommendation is between four and six. Having atleast four schools to apply to give you the option to apply to "difficult to get into" as well as "Fits profile" to "gettable". Also, we do not advise more than six schools because the application process including essays, resume, recommendations, etc takes time and you definitely don't want to compromise on the quality just for the quantity. See it this way - If your application is strong, you may get interview calls from all the four schools, however, a bad applications will ruin your chances in all the 10-15 schools that you have applied to.

2. Should I apply to the "stretch" schools?
Definitely, as our USP on our homepage says that you do your MBA usually once a lifetime, it better be the best you can get into. Hence, we do advise our clients to apply to their stretch schools. After all, once you get into a business school, you don't want to have any regrets and ask "What if .." questions!

3. What role does various MBA rankings play in school selection process?
As you can see above, we recommend using the ranking only passively instead of a very heavy deciding factor in your school selection. You should use it just as an initial research tool. From the steps that we have recommended above, the MBA ranking come into picture in Step 2 (as a reflection of school reputation - but we recommend using a variety of ranking instead of using just one) and then again in Step 3.

4. Which round should I target for?
The answer would be the one you are most prepared for. If you are going to be equally prepared, go for the earlier round. Avoid the last round, especially if you are an international.

Need help to get the best application out there for your dream Business School? Come to BizSchoolPrep Consulting. Whether you are a domestic applicant or an international one, our process is uniquely designed to understand your background, and then create a strategy whose sole aim is to get you to the business school of your dream. Know what makes us different.

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