Say you’re in finance, and you hate it.
You’re good at your job, but you just feel like it’s not what you thought it would be.
(Pro Tip: Substitute any career for “finance” as you read along, to get the most out of this post. Presumably your current career is, in some respect or other, not what you thought it would be, so personalize this to your situation.)
You know you don’t want to do finance anymore.
Do you even try for the business schools known for finance? Since you’ve already done finance, maybe you don’t want to be surrounded by the focus on finance again. If you’re looking to explicitly branch out.
Part of this is knowing yourself, and understanding your priorities — which need to be yours and yours alone. If you’re looking to go back to school to revamp your career to do something more fulfilling, then that is going to direct your school research efforts accordingly. Or, if you know in your heart of hearts that you really want to make as much money as possible, then that too should be guiding your efforts. Neither of these is better than the other, by the way. Our world needs people who are motivated to make a lot of money just as much as it needs people who are looking for something personally fulfilling that may not be bank-account-focused. Truly, whatever is driving you is fine. Being explicit about that for yourself can be very freeing, and it can simplify decisions later on, when you’re (hopefully!) admitted to multiple schools and have to make a decision which one to choose.
Again, knowing yourself is the key.
For example, say you’re this finance person, who is really keen on jumping out of finance through the process of getting an MBA. What will be the temptation for you, once you’re in the program and starting the recruiting process, to set up one or two interviews with recruiters in finance, “just to see what happens”?
After all, someone coming from finance, wanting to stay in finance and go back to finance post-MBA, is likely to land one of the highest salaries in the graduating class.
Are you able to resist that siren call?
Now, to some degree, all of this is kind of an irrelevant conversation. Today, there’s no such thing as a “finance school” — not like there used to be. About a bschool generation ago, you definitely would have a very different experience at a school like, say, Wharton or LBS or Columbia which are famous as “finance schools” compared to maybe Kellogg which is the “marketing school” or INSEAD where everyone wanted to do consulting. These days, those lines have definitely blurred; the students who flock to MBA programs are much more varied in their backgrounds and interests (except perhaps that tech and consulting are the big drivers overall), plus the schools themselves have diversified, and worked to break out of their own limitations, of being branded as a “this” school or a “that” one.
If you know you want to go to a school to focus on X, then figuring out which schools are “the best” at X and applying there is a natural strategy to choose. Some categories of “X” are self-limiting; if you want to do something in luxury goods, then the main players are NYU and Columbia and Harvard. If you want to do fintech, then Booth and NYU and Columbia and Wharton are obvious choices. If you want to do clean energy, then Ross is a natural fit. If you’re looking at nonprofit, then Yale and NYU (again!) and certainly some others too would be your targets.
So Strategy #1, figure out what you want to specialize in, figure out which schools specialize in that too, and apply there.
Strategy #2 is apply to the opposite schools.
Maybe you honest-to-goodness do not know what you want to do with yourself. Maybe you’re nervous about getting “stuck”, like we said with the example about being lured in to some finance recruiting when you had planned to break out of the finance track. (Again, all schools are strong in finance to some degree or another, but there are a smaller number who are pretty much famous for finance. All MBA programs everywhere have a huge amount of content and programming and curriculum around finance. Remember, finance is considered the language of business. Or maybe that’s accounting. Whatever, if you’re getting an MBA, you’re going to be taking finance stuff. We’re just talking about what else you do and how you tailor the rest of your experience, considering all the curriculum that you have choice and flexibility with — and no, you really don’t need to know now what choices you’ll be making later for actual classes or concentration, but it can help to think these things through in advance.)
If you’ve decided you want to use bschool as a “clean slate” approach to explore all options and geographies and industries and functions, you may feel more free to do that at a school that’s really dissimilar to the schools that are famous for expertise in your current career. So for example, you have no clue what you want to do as long as it’s not finance: Then apply to Berkeley. It’s not that Berkeley doesn’t have great finance curriculum or connections. It’s just that they have so many other things too, that you’ll be immersed in everything and exposed to multiple new opportunities — ones you may not otherwise have even perceived, if you’d ended up at a traditionally more finance-y program.
Again, there are many ways to choose a school, and all of this is yet another exhortation to be embarking on these tasks of research and outreach today. Now is when you need to be kicking the tires and learning. Now is when you can be in shopper-mode. BTW, we acknowledge that much of this may sound a little esoteric. “I just wanna get an MBA!” you may be thinking. Is all of this stuff we’re suggesting even practical?
The answer to that is, it will be if you engage in it. It is highly (highly!) unusual for an applicant to present any level of sophisticated insight into their rationale for the MBA and reasons for choosing the school that they apply to. Adcom readers will sit up and take notice if you bring these reasons into your essay effectively. You will stand out, for sure — mostly because this stuff cannot be faked. Will it be easy for you to figure out your priorities and use those to guide the schools you will target? No, probably not. Will it offer tremendous payoff if you go to the effort of trying? Yes, almost 100% yes, we can assure you.
And remember, what one person calls a school is not necessarily the bottom line on what that school is about. That’s why asking many people for opinions and experiences is so helpful. Maybe EssaySnark names Ross as a clean energy school but you already work in energy and you know that Duke is way better. Leverage your network, ask questions, challenge assumptions. This process is about learning your own priorities just as much as it is in getting in to “the best” school.
“The best” school isn’t about MBA ranking. It’s about which school will let you do your best work, and which will set you up for the success of your own individual and personal path.
Shameless self-promotion: In our Comprehensive Profile Review, we offer commentary on the schools you’re currently considering, based on your unique profile and your stated preferences, priorities and criteria in considering that school. Plus, we suggest other schools you may not have thought of — and often, many months later, BSers come back to report that the school we suggested to them is the one that they’re going to! We have a pretty good track record of intuiting the fit between person and program. Hit us up if you want our assessment on your specific situation!