Finances are often a big part of the picture in deciding between different MBA programs. If one school offers free money and another does not, that can tilt the scale significantly. Or, if one school is in a very expensive city, and another has a more reasonable cost of living, these factors do matter.
But there’s other dimensions that are at least as important, we believe, and those are what we call qualitative factors.
The “big city” part is an element of this for sure. What type of life experience do you want to have while you pursue your MBA?
And, geography matters a lot, too. If you know now that you want to end up in a particular part of the world post-MBA, then it often makes sense to go to school in that area. For example, someone who has family in Delaware may choose NYU over Berkeley Haas for very good reasons. Conversely, recruiting into West Coast companies would likely be easier at Haas, especially since it sometimes seems Stern is not even a known brand name once you get outside of New York — but this also can be industry-specific.
Here’s the more counterintuitive part, which some BSers are already aware of and place a premium on when they make decisions on where to go to bschool: What school is most different to what you’ve done before? Sometimes people intentionally seek out a very different environment and experience than what they’ve had in the past — so, someone who went to a small college might now opt for a very large school, or someone who’s only lived in big cities would go for a small town — or if they’ve never lived in snow, they choose that school. Etc.
There are lots of ways to slice and dice the decision based on opportunities for change. Depends on your priorities!
If it’s possible for you, our main advice to offer is to attend both schools’ Welcome Weekends if possible (sometimes they’re unfortunately both scheduled on the same weekend though!). That’s where many candidates really decide which school clicks for them the most and where they belong. Many schools trumpet similar values about community and collaboration, yet those values are expressed quite differently at the different places because the type of students who choose each school can be very different from place to place. This seems most pronounced geographically, where you may find that students who attend Darden are different in difficult-to-identify ways from those who go to Haas. Same with UCLA compared to Tuck. People all choose a school for different reasons, and yet there are interesting commonalities that surface when you interact with students at one school for a weekend. The flavor of a school will come out. These things can be hard to articulate but it can be visceral when you’re immersed in the respective cultures.
Take lots of notes in real-time as you’re going through these experiences! This may help you to sort through your preferences later on when you have more distance. If you try to capture your feelings about the weekend once you get home and several days have gone by, it’s likely you will have lost the essence of many of those moments. Do it on breaks and as you go through the events and have the interactions with others. Pay attention to the other candidates who are there but also especially to the students themselves. Both pools of people are going to give you valuable vibes about whether it’s the right place for you.
A great way to evaluate is to keep asking the question: Is this where I will experience the most growth? Can I see myself with these people for two years, and a lifetime? Because not to make it bigger than it already is, but this school will be with you forever.
At the same time, if you’re in the privileged position (after having worked very, very hard!) of being able to decide between multiple offers, then honestly, you can’t make a wrong choice! All of the programs that you tried for will deliver a transformative experience and set you up for success in a new life. Bschool is what you make of it, and this choice is about maximizing the things that you value the most. Hopefully you already have insight into some of those things, based on all the hard work of introspection and reflection you did in writing your essays! Going back to the notes you captured in that process might even be an interesting exercise now, either as a reminder and reinforcement of what you want from an MBA, or to show you how your thinking has evolved in certain respects.
One reason that this decision can be difficult is because there’s so much you don’t know. It always feels like you’re operating on a limited view of the important variables. That’s because you really don’t! Sitting here today, trying to maximize the opportunity, you’re looking at it through the eyes of who you are today. But who knows what the Future You will value! You won’t know that until you actually have the experience. This can add to the analysis paralysis that happens with many folks at this stage.
If that’s you, then try the trick we describe here for choosing between schools.
And hit us up if we can offer any input! If we worked with you extensively over this season then you can describe your decision dilemma in the notes field below the School Targets form in SnarkCenter and we’re happy to give our two cents. Another option is our Private Consult if we’ve not had the pleasure of hearing about your fabulous successes before.
Either way, we hope you’ll let us know what you decide! We’re always so eager to learn what goes into a final decision like this and gain insight into the choices that you make. Please stay in touch through this process! And if you’re earlier than this in your cycle, we also are around to help with questions if you have them!