We often stay in touch with certain former BSers as they go through the actual GOAL of this whole process and launch into their MBA adventure, and it’s so helpful and interesting to get reports back from the field. One comment from a current student in a recent private exchange with us is worth sharing:…
We’ve been saying it over and over again lately: YOU NEED TO RESEARCH THE SCHOOLS.
But what if your response to that exhortation is, “Okay great I will! But what am I supposed to be researching???”
There are many facets to be exploring and plenty of things to uncover about a target MBA program.
First and foremost, you want to evaluate the basics, like location and size of the class. Geography is important — be sure to read the comments on that post about how easy it might be to recruit in one part of the country when you’re in a school somewhere else. Geography also affects climate, obviously, and if you’re allergic to the cold and the snow then that’s going to rule out a whole bunch of schools as possible targets. Class size matters a lot too, and there are legitimate pros and cons on both ends of the spectrum. A very small school has certain advantages, and a very large one has different ones.*
What are your priorities?
Knowing this is the first step.
Then, once you have a working list of schools — which will undoubtedly change, even perhaps dramatically, as you continue your research (since that’s the whole point of doing research in the first place! to validate and vet your initial ideas, and make sure that you’re honing in on the schools that are really right for you) — you’ll dive in with your efforts on each individual school. And yes, this is a lot of work — but it tends to be super fun work. You’re reading websites and logging onto chats and watching webinars and talking to people about their experiences. You’ll be continuing all of these tasks from now to
eternity the day you decide on a specific program, which is well past the time when you a) submit your app, b) do your interview, c) get your decision, d) attend the school’s Welcome Weekend, which won’t be happening until something like the end of January.
Yes, you’re going to be doing this for awhile!
Once you have a pretty good idea that yes, you will in fact be applying to a specific school in Round 1, then your main objective will be uncovering concrete facts and details about the program that can help you articulate WHY you want to go to this program.
Yes you want an MBA. Yes this is a great school to get one. But WHY?
WHY is it a great school?
And WHY do you need an MBA?
(Pro Tip: Having your career goals well articulated now, before you are knee-deep into researching the schools, can get you really far down the path of answering these questions!!)
Can you answer that simple question? Why do you need an MBA?
‘Cuz you’re gonna have to answer that when it comes time to write some essays!
What you must vow to us, right here right now as you’re reading it, is that you will never ever use the phrase “business acumen” in any of your essays.
It’ll make EssaySnark feel better.
Your goal in your school research, then, is in providing you with meaning FOR YOURSELF.
Knowing you want an MBA is one thing, but knowing WHY you want to spend two years of your life – plus at least one full year more in this blasted application process – and spend oodles and oodles of cold hard cash, and go through all the pain and suffering and trials and tribulations of not just applying, but flying around tarnation to visit these places, and the stress of the interviews, and then a massive major relocation that uproots everything in your life, and that’s even before you’ve started!!!
WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO THIS?
There are macro and micro answers to this.
You should be gathering notes on them both.
This is the raw material from which your most excellent essays will be drawn.
*None of that even starts to touch on the issues involved if you have a partner who’s going to be following along with you, relocating to a new city and building a life of their own there. We have posts here on the blahg about applying for an MBA with a partner and a bunch more in the ‘snarchive about couples applying together, so those are places to start if that’s you.
When a starry-eyed wanna-be-bschool-student tells us that they are only interested in the M7, then we assume we’re in for some trouble. Using the “M7” designation is just another way to say “I care about brand and reputation more than anything.” We’re not exactly bschool insiders, but we’ve been around quite a bit – and…
This is a GREAT time to make massive progress on your MBA applications!!! Whether you’re in go-go-go! mode or you’re chillin on this whole application thing there is a low stress and FUN!! task you can (and should!) be tackling right now: School Research. The goal of school research is to figure out if you’re…
This “school fit” thing is really a nebulous concept.
At least, at first it is. When you’re first trying to figure out what schools to apply to and everything. It can be truly overwhelming. Where do you start, and how do you understand this “fit” thing in the first place?
Often this only is revealed in its final form much later in the process.
Initially people will decide where to apply based on multiple and myriad factors. The list will change frequently. The value of “school fit” initially is it tells you where NOT to apply.
How it works is this:
You come up with your list of schools, based either on where other people you know have gone, or maybe just only on rankings. Or geography. You decide you don’t want to go to school where it snows. Or that you want a place with an outdoors culture.
And then you go visit. (Hint: Now would be a grand time to do that!!)
Or if you can’t visit — and even if you can — you start talking to people. You connect with the school. You attend their webinars and go to a local info session when one is in town. You hook up with some students in a coffee chat and learn about their experiences.
Through these points of contact, you start to form impressions. Those opinions will guide you. You will discover what school has people you resonate with.
This is what is meant by “school fit” — at least, it’s one key dimension of it (and, to EssaySnark, really it’s the only one that matters).
The other aspect of “school fit” is a more clinical one, namely: Are you a fit to what type of student they typically accept? It’s coming from the direction of the school, and how you present yourself to them. That’s a whole different topic which we should probably discuss in full another time — or, just read all of the posts on this blahg about planning your strategy and writing your essays, and pick up the school strategy guide for the school that you’re targeting. We cover this stuff 24/7 here.
The final arbiter of “school fit” often does not manifest until very late in the process. That’s when you’re faced with decisions on which offer to accept. If you’ve done your homework and played your cards right and applied to the right set of schools in Round 1, then almost guaranteed you will be faced with the difficult decision of choosing between multiple options.
Sometimes that choice is a tormented one. BSers often agonize in the end, over which one to select, when there are multiple choices on the table.
But sometimes, the choice becomes obvious even before it has to be made (or sometimes it’s made for you).
An example from Round 1 last Fall is a BSer who was invited to interview at three top schools. But then as decisions started getting released, one of those was a “no.”
Here’s what we said to this person in response:
OH NO! How disappointing about [School X]!!!!!!!!!!
(But you wanna know a secret? We see you as more of a [School Y] or a [School Z] person anyway!!! When it comes down to values and all that!!)
Still, really bummed to hear that [School X] said no in the end. 🙁
It’s incredibly happy news to know that [School Y] accepted you, and let’s see what [School Z] does next and maybe you’ll have a difficult decision to make in the coming weeks!!!
Fingers crossed for this last one!
And, here’s what that BSer said back in response:
Thank you!! To be honest, I felt the same way, and have shared with a few close friends that I felt like it might be really hard to pick [School Y] or [School Z] over [School X] if I got into [School X], so getting that off the table almost feels like a relief (though of course I am disappointed). [School Y] and [School Z] were absolutely my favorites! I cried when [School Y] called me – she said very nice things about connecting with my essays and what a great fit I’d be for them. And hey – NO MORE ESSAYS or APPLICATIONS! Let’s see what [School Z] says!
BTW, this person did get into School Z as well.
So the moral of this story is:
Do your research — starting NOW.
Expect your list to evolve.
You’ll be making many decisions along the way, but you won’t likely know that how you’ll feel about any school until you get further into the process of applying, and learning about them, and experiencing those choices firsthand.
There is no One Size Fits All answer to the question of school fit. It’s totally personal and individual. But it’s just like falling in love: You know it when it happens to you.
Doh! This post was supposed to go up BEFORE yesterday’s! When we give feedback to a BSer in the Essay Decimator process, sometimes they come back with questions of “Why?” Like, “Why do I need to do that, when I’m already doing this?” A common one is when they ask about our recommendation to lay…
Here’s one of those incredibly awesome emails that we receive from time to time – this one came in right around the Round 2 deadlines at the end of 2016:
Merry almost Christmas EssaySnark,
Thank you for the awesome Comprehensive Profile Review you did on me in August. It was extremely valuable to help me target my overall application and interviews.
So here’s the overall results for you, hopefully the data is useful and allows you to help others more effectively!
Applied: Berkeley Haas, Yale SOM, Michigan Ross, UCLA Anderson, UT Austin McCombs
Interview Invites: Michigan Ross, UCLA Anderson, UT Austin
Admission Offers! Michigan Ross, UCLA Anderson
I was a bit surprised at getting dinged by UT Austin, but since Ross was my #1 I’m not feeling too down about it.
Once again, thanks for the awesome analysis and helping me put my best foot forward.
(Posted with permission, of course.)
This particular BSer had first contacted us towards the end of August to request access to our Military MBA microsite, then ended up going for our Comprehensive Profile Review. (We offer discounted pricing for military, TFA/TFI, Peace Corps, etc., so hit us up if you’re one of those do-gooder types and we’ll fill you in on the details.) This BSer had a middling-to-average profile which, in this era of hypercompetitive admissions, makes us a little nervous, and we spelled that out in great detail in the write-up we produced for the profile review. However, this candidate also had some strong points of differentiation going on based on some facts of the background, plus he was aiming for Round 1. So we had hope.
Where we had the most hope of all was the very reasonable set of targets that he’d defined:
- Michigan Ross
- Yale SOM
- Berkeley Haas
- UCLA Anderson
- UNC Kenan-Flagler
- UT-Austin McCombs
That’s definitely a balanced list, and it’s great seeing a school like Ross at the very top. When we saw that, it immediately told us that this guy had done his homework and had chosen these schools for a reason. This is what that elusive ideal of “school fit” is all about: Figuring out which schools offer what you value most in your pursuit of this next big step in your life.
Here’s a sketch of the rationale that this BSer offered pre-application in choosing this list:
My choice of schools is based off of intersecting strengths between consulting and technology:
Michigan – National recognition, strong inter-disciplinary approach, most hands-on curriculum I have seen so far. Great consulting strengths.
Yale – Consulting strengths, unique curriculum, and new Dean is really pushing international perspectives along with technology.
Berkeley – Heart of the Silicon Valley, academically rigorous, technology emphasis.
UCLA – Regionally strong, collaborative culture, accessible faculty, unique entertainment opportunities.
UT Austin – Coming up in a big way, great location for a booming economy and local tech industry, regionally strong, offer concentrations in information technology.
If you’re still hanging around Snarkville after having gone through a nearly-complete admissions season, then that list and those reasons may strike you as obvious. If you’ve been doing your own research, then you probably would read that and agree, and you even might think that most of those things are common knowledge. But we can assure you, that’s a very nicely edited list, with some good reasons being cited for each school. Many applicants apply blindly to schools all across the country without knowing even half as much about where they’re submitting to. If you’d read that list of targets and reasons before you’d started your entire application journey, would you know those things about those schools? Our point in emphasizing this is to give some kudos for putting in the effort to select appropriate schools – not just for the career interests that this BSer had defined for himself, but also being realistic about the challenges with the core stats of the profile. Again, this applicant had a good set of stats, but in this day and age, “good” is rarely going to be enough at the very best schools. He didn’t need us to tell him that in the Profile Review, because, again, he’d already done his own research.
In his own words, after he got that Profile Review back:
I just finished going through the profile review and damn, comprehensive isn’t a comprehensive enough word to describe it.
I’m definitely surprised at how quickly the competition is increasing, particularly for the GMAT. Up to a year ago I fell in some sweet spots for these schools and I’m already dragging at the low end now!
Some questions came to mind as I read through the review, more of a quick azimuth check on where I’m going from here. I’ll look through the blog first, and if I can’t find them would you mind 2-3 questions?
Thanks for a really cool service,
(This BSer instantly endeared himself to us with that simple statement, “I’ll look through the blog first” — he likely has no idea how much we appreciated that! No need to tell this guy to RTFM. Thanks dude.)
The questions he had were asking about a couple other programs that we’d suggested to him in the Profile Review, and also some questions on whether he should write an optional essay about a specific point we identified on his profile.
After that, in late August, he went dark on us until November when he shared the news of three interview invitations, and then the happy update came a month later with the actual admits. This BSer went off on his own and pulled together the applications to those schools, and he clearly did something right, as you can see from those results!
Of course, the very best part is an admit to his first-choice school.
Well done, BSer! Thanks for letting us share this with the world, and congrats on your next big adventure!!
Every now and then we run into a BSer who’s bound and determined to go for the full-time two-year MBA at an American business school. Nothing wrong with that! It’s quite the experience and opportunity! Who would NOT want to take two years’ vacation from life and go off and study fun business courses in a new location?
Totally get it.
A problem sometimes arises when this bound-and-determinedness is coming from someone who’s significantly older, and especially when it’s someone who has some glitches and flaws in the profile that makes it a challenge to attract the attention of the adcoms at these top schools.
We’re not saying that there’s a cutoff in age for a full-time MBA. But we are saying that that program is designed for a particular phase of life, and stage of career, and if you’re outside the norm by too much, then it’s just going to be harder to break in. That is, unless you have so much going for you in so many other ways of distinction and differentiation that the adcoms just can’t say no to you.
But that rarely happens.
We did a mini-series of posts here on the blahg in February 2016 talking about why EMBA is a four-letter word, and we understand the bias against it. However we sometimes see BSers who misunderstand what the differing opportunities are about. There are many valid reasons for why someone might be a better fit to one type of MBA program versus another. The real risk that you have when your profile looks more like the standard Executive MBA student’s profile, and you’re trying for a regular full-time MBA, is that as much as you might want to insist to the adcoms that the full-time track is the one you want, it’s up to them to decide if you have demonstrated that fit appropriately or not.
We sometimes see people banging their head against the full-time wall, trying over and over again at various and sundry schools, and racking up reject after reject. There are four possible options to pursue when that happens:
1. Step back and identify WHY you belong in the standard full-time track, and make that an integral part of your pitch
2. Examine your targets and consider applying to the next lower tier of school
3. Look for a top bschool in another geography
4. Switch gears completely and consider Executive MBA instead
The American schools are the most competitive, and the full-time tracks the most of all. But there’s plenty of schools out there, and plenty of programs. If you are targeting an ex-U.S. program then what is a very competitive the-odds-are-stacked-against-you profile may suddenly become an applicant in demand.
It really depends on your priorities.
Many part-time and Executive MBA programs get the bulk of their applications late in the season, mostly because of people in exactly this position: They originally try for the F/T tracks in the early rounds of the season and get squeezed out, and then look for their options later on since they really want to go to bschool. It’s not impossible to get into one of these non-full-time programs towards the end of the cycle. If you feel you could fit in with the EMBA cohort at a top bschool then it’s definitely not too late to start putting those plans in place.
Apparently this was Career Goals week here on the EssaySnark blahg! We didn’t plan it that way, but every day we ended up posting about goals, because they’re that important, and because they’re so easy to mess up with. The other day we lectured you about how you need to figure out the goals for…
There’s this unavoidable phenomenon that the schools themselves must be acutely aware of and yet apparently powerless to fix for themselves. So we’ll attempt to fix it. The phenonemon is this: Everyone applying to School X talks about the same stuff in their essays. They’re all a bunch of lemmings, racing furiously on cute little…