Fit: The Ferrari is super sexy but have you ever tried to drive one of those things? Or just ride in it – stiff. Or just get in and out of the darn thing.
Fit is when you find your peeps. It’s when you find your tribe.
We’re not trying to imply that everything about your bschool experience will be, or should be, comfortable. Maybe the challenge of driving a Ferrari is what you need for awhile in your life. Or maybe, if you’re already someone with caviar tastes, the challenge of driving a Ford is what you need to evolve as a person. You know, to, like, keep the ego in check and make you humble.
In bschool-land, fit comes in many forms. It comes in many questions. It’s things like:
Do you want to go to a large school or a small school?
When starting out your research for an MBA, a good way to filter out appropriate schools is by the size of the program. There’s a few angles to this, including:
- Does the business school have a lot of other degree programs? If so, there’s obviously going to be a lot more students on campus. Schools like Wharton and UC-Berkeley and Michigan and NYU offer undergraduate programs in business. While you probably won’t be interacting with the college kids at all during your MBA studies, it does make for an overall bigger school and gives the place a different feeling, with more stuff happening and more people involved.
- Does the school have a wide variety of MBA programs? If they offer a part-time and/or executive MBA, do students in those tracks interact with the full-time classes? Some schools have a more segregated approach, based mostly on class scheduling; part-timers and EMBA students are around during evenings and weekends whereas full-time students take classes during the day. Other schools like Columbia offer mixed classes where you may be studying alongside people from the different MBA programs along with law school students too.
- Most important: How big is each entering class of full-time MBA students? This information is easily found on the schools’ websites and on the BusinessWeek school listings.
Most people focus on this last metric – class size – when they talk about the size of a business school. Harvard is one of the largest MBA programs, with about 900 people in each entering class. This means that there are almost 2,000 students at school every day – which is quite a lot! It also means that their network is vast, global, and diverse. Many people feel that that alone is a key benefit to attending a big school.
By contrast, you have schools like Yale, Tuck, or Berkeley with only around 250 students in each class. Such a small class size fosters a more intimate environment. There’s a greater likelihood that you will get to know the majority of your peers at one of those schools than would even be possible at a larger school. It also means that there are fewer professors on campus, but the ones who are there are more likely to be permanent members of faculty and it is often easier to forge longer-term relationships with teachers who are more embedded in the university like that.
So, as you can see, there’s a tradeoff. What you should be thinking about is, what kind of environment will you do best in? Some like the experience of meeting new people all the time. Others feel that they may get lost in a community that’s too large. What’s your personal learning style? Think back to your college days, and what type of environment that was. Did you attend a larger school or a smaller one? Do you think that was the ideal for you? If so you can seek that out for business school, and if not then this might be an important factor to use in choosing your school targets.
Using school size as a filter can be an easy way to make the first cut on which schools might be appropriate for you, to start to narrow down your choices.
Another much less methodical approach is choosing schools by the people who went there.
Different schools attract different types. You find out someone went to School X; that gives you info about the school. Do people you work with have MBAs? Where did they go? As an extreme example, you could compare the manager who went for a local MBA vs CEO who went to Harvard (obviously we’re playing to stereotype there but often, stereotypes hold true). Look through your network, find out who you know went to bschool and — especially if they graduated within the last five years — reflect on what type of person they are. Sometimes (not always) that can give you a degree of insight about the school.
This really only works for more recent grads, however. It wasn’t until the past ten-ish years that schools began putting such an emphasis on culture, and they only have the luxury of doing so in times of increasing app volumes. When app volumes go down, then they select the best candidates they can out of the pool and they might not be quite so discriminating when it comes to character and these qualities of individual fit.
Or if all of this is too much trouble:
Don’t worry about “School Fit” — just apply to the Top 10 schools. It’s bound to work out!