We’re still a week out before decisions will start to come for the top schools, but we know that Round 1 didn’t turn out as hoped for with many BSers’ strategies. We’ve seen enough from this vantage point to give some advice and suggestions for those of you who really don’t want to experience a…
MBA employment reports! Such a rich resource to mine in your research on schools! You are hopefully already doing this, but most of you, based on our experience working with many BSers over time, we’re guessing, you’re probably not. Say you’re interested in coming to the United States for bschool, in order to stay here…
This may be in the category of pop science but we believe there could be some truth to it.
We blahgged recently about trends in the bschool landscape focusing on specific new faces in the deans’ offices at certain top schools.
As we did the research on that post, looking at the “About the Dean” pages on many school websites, we were struck by the differences — and couldn’t help but be reminded of some studies that are related. Here’s some contradictions for you:
- From USC Marshall: Narcissistic CEOs and Financial Performance: Study Reports Higher Stock Prices and Earnings Per Share if the CEO is Narcissistic (July 24, 2014)
- From HBR: Size Does Matter (in Signatures): Companies led by CEOs who have large signatures—an indicator of narcissism—perform worse than ones led by CEOs with small signatures (From the May 2013 Issue)
(It’s likely not going unnoticed that both of those studies came out well in advance of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.)
The tl;dr of those articles, especially the second one, is that indicators of narcissism, as exhibited by a large signature on a company’s annual report, or (first link) the size of the CEO’s photograph in that report or — we’re extrapolating here — on the company website — can give an indication of corporate performance. Those headlines appear to be citing contradictory results (the first study is claiming higher stock price; the second article discusses lower results compared to peers; they may or may not be measuring the same things though).
What we do know is that how a school presents its dean is a reflection of the person who holds that office at the school at least as much as it is a reflection on the school.
We also have strong experiences that anecdotally cause us to claim (without a known study or direct proof to back it up) that whoever is leading an organization is imbuing their character and values throughout the entire place.
If you have a narcissist at the top, then that creates one type of culture.
That doesn’t mean everyone there is a narcissist; in fact, it’s unlikely that you’ll have two narcissists operating in close proximity or sharing power in any meaningful way. Having a real narcissist at the top means that that person is sucking all the oxygen out of the air and it’s highly unlikely they would tolerate the antics of another narcissist in their midst. More common is that the narcissist surrounds him- or herself with astute and flexible types who know how to manipulate the narcissist in their own right — but who probably aren’t technically narcissists themselves. It’s too difficult for two of that type to co-exist peacefully.
And certainly we’re not claiming that any bschool dean is cut from the same cloth as the current so-called leader of the free world (ugh).
But it can be an interesting exercise to go wander through the pages of “About the Dean” at the schools that you’re interested in.
Here are some questions to ask (Pro Tip: If you’re really interested in this exercise, you might even want to jot down notes of your perceptions and first impressions as you navigate through each of these steps on any particular school’s site):
1. How easy is it to find this page? When you come to the first page of the school’s website, are you presented with information on the dean straightaway? A link? A picture? Or do you have to go hunting through the menus to find it?
2. When you find the menu system where the “About the Dean” page is located, how is it organized? What message do you get from the actual structure? In what way are they presenting the public with info on the dean, versus info on the school, and/or the entire leadership team as a unit?
3. When you go to the About the Dean page, what is your first impression? What is being emphasized? What do you get front-and-center when you first view the page? How are the design elements used? What is the size of the headshot — and how many photos overall do you see of that person when you browse around on the site?
4. You can do the same thing with the school’s social media, and with the dean’s professional social media if he/she has any. What do they post about? What do they want their audience to think about them? If they don’t have a visible social media presence, does that say anything meaningful? It’s likely a deliberate decision if they don’t, which on its own merits is not positive or negative, but it could be something to think about.
School websites are obviously developed through a myriad of minds; some schools use the same marketing platform and so their sites tend to look quite similar to one another, and the design choices that an individual school has within that software platform is thereby constrained. All schools have teams who produce the website, from the IT perspective down to the layout and navigation, and certainly the content that appears on each section and often each page is frequently written by different people across the functional units. So it’s not like the dean is the one who made the decisions on how the whole site is constructed or the messaging behind any individual component.
But you can bet for certain that the dean’s office is responsible for the content and presentation of all the information on the About the Dean page and probably that whole “administration” section of the site.
Clearly EssaySnark has opinions and impressions on individual schools and the respective deans running them, and we’re not going to contaminate your own possible first impressions if you decide to run this experiment for yourself. We are DEFINITELY not claiming that any school leadership is incompetent or that there is rot at the top of any of these business schools. We are by no means insiders and we’re not commenting on competence or ability. We’re just talking about how the schools are presenting themselves, and one perhaps interesting angle for you to examine as you go about your task of researching programs.
We would never suggest that a BSer not apply to a school based on who’s sitting in the dean’s office — heck, we even tell you not to be prejudiced against a school based on a bad experience with admissions.
But yeah, we have opinions.
If you’re really interested in the human side of business, then investigate for yourself what the school is about. When a school talks about culture and community, see if you can poke around under the hood and find out for yourself what that might mean. How are they walking their talk? What are their priorities? There are lots of ways to learn about the target of your interest beyond simply accepting the statements that they make at face value.
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!
We were talking about partners applying together recently and figured we’d take the opportunity to issue a reminder: What the schools say, and what you may be hearing, are often very different things. Frequently the admissions directors are asked about this topic in info sessions, and what they will usually do is play to their…
We’re not exactly advocating this as an actual strategy for selecting your MBA programs to target. But it’s something to consider! It’s certainly more practical and intelligent (yes we said it) than using rankings as the priority tool to choose where to apply. If a top MBA program has a special scholarship fund earmarked only…
We spent most of the past few weeks laying out pointers and cautioning against mistakes we see MBA applicants making all the time, which can essentially be summarized as one big warning about how much time this is going to take and that you need to be working on it earlier than you ever imagined…
Well shoot. We have literally been intending to talk about this for 1-1/2 years.
We had posted a question for all y’all way back in November 2017, looking for input on why Duke was ranked at a certain spot on the BusinessWeek list of best business schools. We got just one response at the time (hi rwelch9439!), and then another BSer popped in and gave additional insights a couple weeks later (hey buffalo!), and we had planned at the time to do a follow-up post of our own, to mostly agree with what was already said and hopefully continue the conversation about rankings.
But that didn’t happen.
Round 2 2017 took over. And then summer 2018. And then Round 1 2018. And, well, you know. Life.
But rankings are really something we want to discuss.
We would tweet stuff like:
BW ranked @NYUStern P/T MBA #35, after U of Louisville? (U of who??)
Here’s a question about the methodology used to gather some of the US News data
And we would remember the many posts in the ‘snarchives where we called out different publications, like this long-ago post about BusinessWeek’s data being unreliable.
And we would privately be scoffing and throwing things and rolling eyes and all sorts of aghastedness when we saw that School X was ranked higher than School Y on such-and-such a listing.
We really wanted to do the deep dive for you, to demystify rankings and help you understand them, so that you’re a more informed consumer of them as you go about your school research tasks.
(Because in case you’re not already aware, EssaySnark is not so much a fan of these rankings thingies.)
We planned to go into detail on points like this:
One factor of The Economist’s ranking is the percentage of students finding jobs through the school’s career services. What are the implications of this when a school decides to tailor its admissions practices in order to score better on a ranking methodology? Does it discourage schools from admitting family business or sponsored students? What if your goals are off the mainstream, so that you’ll by definition be on your own for recruiting? In some respects that could be seen as a positive factor in a profile, as it could convey to the adcom that you’re self-sufficient and ready to carve your own path in life. But could that also be a headwind against you, if a school cares about maximizing their points in the context of how this publication is scoring them? The Economist also used years of pre-MBA work experience as part of their “student quality” measure, which is just really tough to get the head around. Why is years of experience a quality factor? Not getting it.
These methodologies are obviously a very complex topic, and rather than continue to punt it down the road and reschedule it into some never-to-arrive future slot in our editorial calendar, we’re going to offer a very much condensed version today, mostly comprised of links to a few other resources that we encourage you to explore.
Then if you want to come back with your discussion points or questions or observations or theories of how a particular publication’s rankings methodology might have unintended consequences in the business school marketplace, we’re all ears.
You can start here: From a now-dead link, the GMAT people break down the rankings with a useful interactive chart — originally at http://www.mba.com/us/plan-for-business-school/choose-a-school/evaluate-schools/users-guide-to-mba-rankings and thankfully preserved at wayback
Or for a very simple overview, here’s a description of how to use the rankings from a now-defunct admissions directors’ blog targeted to military candidates.
More recently, a cheat sheet to the rankings from Darden
Obviously whenever a school is touting its appearance on a particular rankings, that’s part of its marketing and promotional effort. You know that the schools study this stuff closely. Ranking matters to ALL of them and sometimes a school will bring in a new dean with an explicit mandate to improve their standing in the rankings. It’s a rigged system — not rigged by any one party, but overall, not serving any particular constituent to any true degree of value. The only entity who profits from rankings is the publications who produce them, because it drives sales of their guidebooks and traffic to their site. That’s it. The consumer — you — the student — the supposed audience of this — does not benefit, except from a very gross value level of putting a line in the sand between schools like Michigan Ross and “U of Who?” Many schools are catering to their own colleagues in some of their policies and promotions.
The fact that some publications use the opinions of other deans as a ranking factor is just ridiculous. How could a dean at one school know what’s going on at another school? How could Dean Wharton evaluate Dean Stanford? Sure, they are professional peers, they likely interact in a variety of professional settings, and hopefully they’re following what their competition is doing in the marketplace, in terms of big new programs or initiatives being launched — but don’t hold your breath. Most deans have trouble staying on top of what’s going on at their school much less following the changes at all the other five-ish schools they consider to e direct competitors to, much less the 15-ish schools that are broadly considered to be “the best.” (Pro Tip: If you ever hear an admissions person claim that their school is “the only one who” has such-and-such a program, they’re almost always wrong.) How can a ranking put ANY weight on what the deans thinks of the other schools? It’s all just who’s got a puffed-out chest and is making noise and attracting attention. A school like NYU who has in the recent past had more low-key deans who don’t go out there strutting their stuff, yet who are very busy making all sorts of improvements to their programs and expanding to new geographies and focusing on their culture, those schools don’t get noticed. They don’t have the “reputation” — yet these are incredible schools that offer a high-value and high-impact educational experience. But you wouldn’t know it based on many of these rankings systems.
So, the main message today is, caveat emptor as far as rankings go. When a school is touting how they are #1 on this scale or #3 on that one, take it with a grain of salt. There are now so many different rankings and categories of rankings and subrankings that every good school is bound to end up in a respectable position on at least one of them. Heck, EssaySnark even posted our own rankings before!! Based on how easy it is to get into one school versus another. If you’re really focused on rankings, seems like that would be the most important one of all, no?
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One of the very best ways you can find out about a bschool that you’re interested in is to talk to the students who are going there. (Yeah, this seems like an obvious statement, but you’d be surprised. Lots of applicants never do any of this.) Right now is a Prime Time Great Opportunity to…
If you’re sitting here in early 2019 thinking about applying to bschool in the fall for the Class of 2022, then we hope you’ll take today’s advice seriously.
And if you’re sitting here in early 2019 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, we also hope you’ll listen close!
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. 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