By Marisa Kowalsky
2013 Forte Fellow at Goizueta Business School at Emory
Trying to decide what schools to apply to for your MBA is more difficult then it seems at first glance. After getting my GMAT score I looked at the ranking lists and picked out the schools that I could get into given my work experience, undergraduate GPA and GMAT score. I narrowed down the list to areas that I would be interested based on personal preference. This left me with six different options. I charged ahead, got my "recommenders" to commit and laid out all of the deadlines I needed to meet. About half way through the application process, I began questioning my decision about where to apply. Initially I had decided to go purely based on rankings, fit within the class profile and location, but as I delved deeper into the process it seemed that many of the schools offered similar products (Marketing Club, Global Learning, Experiential Initiatives, etc.) and they were all blending together.
This frustration combined with the sugar coated descriptions and testimonies that appeared in the official literature pushed me to look at each school option through a different lens. I asked myself a new set of questions. How would a class size of 400 versus a class size 180 effect me? Do rankings really matter if post-graduate average salaries and job offer rates were comparable? Are the people that this school attracts people that will be a great network when I am there and when I graduate? These new questions could not be answered by the glossy brochures that lay strewn across my dining room table, so I reached out to people who had already received their MBAs and those that worked in my industry of interest. This is what I learned, rankings matter to some companies, but the value brought by the graduates they have employed is what sells the school. A class size of 400 means you are one of 400 people vying for the attention of professors, administrators, and recruiters, so unless you are at the top of your class or are vocal and persistent it can be easy to get lost in the crowd. If you are at a school with alumni that are not involved with the institution the network is just people you have one thing in common with, not people that take interest in helping you succeed. Also, I learned that location really does matter. You're going to be there for at least two year and want to make sure you'll be happy. If that location also lends itself to more opportunities in your industry or function of choice, then you are setting yourself up for personal and professional success. Overall, I learned that each school is far more unique then they appear and understanding what will make you flourish should propel the questions you ask about possible MBA programs.