If you’re sitting here in early 2021 thinking about applying to bschool in the fall for the Class of 2024, then here’s the very best advice we can offer for you today — and, actually, for many other (most? all? other) points in the long process you’re about to embark upon.
And if you’re sitting here in early 2021 having already gone through that process, feeling grateful that you’ll be starting an MBA program this fall yet tormenting yourself with the decision about which of your multiple-school admit offers to accept, this advice may also be useful!
We’ll call the pre-applicant BSer Case A. You’ve not yet applied to any school (or perhaps you have and you’ve only seen rejections so far 🙁 ).
We’ll call the happy success story BSer Case B. You’ve made it in and felt the rush of excitement, not once but twice or more, and then gone through many difficult days of trying to figure out this all-important decision on where to actually attend.
The Case A BSers may not appreciate this, but the Case B BSers probably do:
The most important task in the entire MBA application process is school research.
Why do we say that?
Because the only way that you’ll be able to easily navigate Case B is if you have figured out which of the schools is the right fit for you.
Yes that should happen BEFORE you apply. But often, it doesn’t.
Everyone wants to go to “the best” bschool. Many many many applicants, though, outsource the determination of “the best” to some external source. Rankings will not tell you what school is best for you. You come up with a list based on M7 or some other nonsense and you get those apps out. It’s very possible to still make it in even without doing your own firsthand research, but then if you were lucky enough (aka, your profile was strong enough and you worked hard enough on your apps) to get in to multiple schools, well, then what? Do you just go with the school that’s ranked higher?
Or, sometimes, Case A BSers figure, “All bschools are the same and I just want to go to a good one” so they paper the country with applications, which rarely works and is VERY expensive.
For Case B, the tl;dr is:
There’s a lot of factors that go into the decision of which school to choose but in the end we always tell folks to go with the gut — and to solicit opinions, but not really listen to any of ’em, ‘cuz nobody else has any skin in the game for this except for you! If you were admitted to two or more schools among the Top 10, then some people simply choose the one that they feel is “better” — so, if they get into Duke and Kellogg, many choose Kellogg. If they get into Tuck and Wharton, they choose Wharton. Etc. Often, in an admit-pairing, there’s one school that’s got more prestige, where you’ll be impressing your friends to say you are going there.
But is that automatically “the best” school for you?
Maybe it is. Certainly, if you cracked the Top 10 with more than one app, you cannot go wrong, whichever you choose! It’s not like we’re dissing any of these schools. It’s totally your decision, and if you feel that the best school for you is the one that’s ranked higher, that’s totally normal and natural and nothing wrong with making that choice.
But is it “the best” for you as an individual? Can you identify the reasons why? For you personally?
If you’ve got the curse of good luck and you’re sitting here stuck between multiple admits, then the most effective way to decide of course is to participate in the Welcome Weekend events for both schools — even though they are virtual this year, they’re still going to let you experience the school for yourself. That’s how you discover what the school culture and experience will be, where you get to know your potential future classmates and get a feel for what this school is like. And the food.
But you wanna know the better way to go?
Bschool is about people, yes. You want to see what these other admits are like and figure out if you sync with them.
Bschool is about the jobs, yes. You want to know if the employers you’re interested in are recruiting at your school to fill the jobs you’re currently planning to pursue — knowing, too, that those plans may change, and so not being overly fixated on these specifics, but researching them nonetheless.
But in the end, the paper-the-country applicant is absolutely right: Bschools are in fact interchangeable on this one very important dimension, the dimension that matters most in this process:
What about YOU? Which school will allow you to do your best work? Which school is the place that you get excited about, that has the programs and initiatives and opportunities that make your mouth drool? (and now we’re not talking about the food)
Here’s a trick:
Dig out that essay you wrote for your school.
Now that you’ve been admitted, go back over the reasons you cited for why you wanted to go there in the first place.
For 99.9% of all applicants, those reasons at the time were totally manufactured. It was an artificial process, where you read through the website until you found something that fit the point you were trying to make about the career goal that you’re interested in. It was pretty arbitrary; it was just plugging School Resource X into a box, and then going back and finding Resource Y, and Resource Z, and doing the same on the next school’s essay thereafter.
But now that you’ve been admitted, open up those essays. What did you say about this school at the time, when you were begging at the altar of an admit?
Do those reasons still apply?
Or do you have others?
Can you articulate clearly why this school is right for you?
What will you actually DO there when you get on campus and start, like, learning stuff?
Many schools have very similar programs and clubs and opportunities so it’s not like, “Oh, this school calls it this but this other school calls it that….”
We’re talking about, have you actually discussed these programs and resources and clubs with actual students? Do you know what these things will do for you, what you will gain from them, why you should bother? On the surface they may sound alike but are they REALLY alike? What are the differences? Why do they matter? Based on what type of person YOU are, how are they relevant? What are your specific priorities? If you can only do one significant international trip as part of your MBA, which one will it be, and why? What school has the best opportunity for that? What is the timing for that experience, based on where you will be in the course of the overall education? How will you leverage it? Will you already have been able to take Course X that you want to do first, or will that course only be offered after the trip?
These are just basic ideas to help you analyze all of the options. All of this is meant only to emphasize: The most important part of this process is school research.
Or another way to put it is, go to the school where you will do your best work (thank you, Dean Bruner). Understanding that requires you to understand yourself first. What kind of environment do you thrive in?
All of these questions need to be asked.
Regardless of whether you’re at the very beginning of this process and just starting to kick the tires on which programs you might be interested in, or at the very end where you’re making the seemingly impossible decision and selecting between two awesome opportunities, keep that in mind: Where will you do your best work?
That’s all that matters in the end, don’t you think?
You may also be interested in:
- An MBA is what you make of it
- The deal with culture and school fit
- Choosing between top-ranked MBA programs