A crucial part of your school research process is talking to students, ideally on campus when you go for a visit, or second-best at a school’s recruiting event, or if nothing else, then hopefully at minimum by phone. You’ll want to talk to them in-depth about their experiences (Pro Tip: not about your apps). Do this with as many students as you can, at all the schools that you’re interested in.
But! Warning! This is a one-dimensional source of information!
The hardest thing of all is that once you’re talking to students at one school or another, all they do is rave about THEIR school, and perhaps explain why they chose School X over School Y when they were in your shoes — but it’s IMPOSSIBLE to do a truly apples-to-apples comparison since nobody goes through 2 bschool programs. So all they can say are the things they like (often parroting what the school promotes, like “Columbia! It’s amazing! We’re at The Center of Business!”) or every now and then you’ll find some disgruntled student who is more forthcoming on what they don’t like about their school…. but this is pretty rare, because they know how much student satisfaction ties in with rankings, and everyone wants their school to be highly ranked. Plus, once you’re there, you become part of the cult and you’ve drunk the kool-aid, so expressing negatives about your choice can make you feel ostracized from the tribe. Most people aren’t that brave (or aren’t that pissed off about whatever they’ve experienced as negatives to voice it to a stranger met in this context). And, having YOU choose their school validates THEIR own choice for having chosen it, too. Complicated human emotions.
Recent grads are sometimes better able to have perspective but they too can be subject to those same factors, and hop on that bandwagon to try to convince new admits to sign up.
Here’s a refreshingly introspective editorial piece from a Stanford student (undergrad at the college, not MBA at the bschool) who recognized the issue.
Definitely keep talking to people. But as we’ve cautioned before: Be a sponge, yet have a filter.