Applying For an MBA? 5 Things to Consider

Everyone has their favorite B-Schools: US News & World Report; Bloomberg Businessweek; the Financial Times, even Poets & Quants. With so many rankings out there, how do you know what B-School is right for you?

After attending and teaching in top B-Schools ourselves, we have some suggestions of things to look for as you extend your search outside of the top 10 schools. We recognize that a top 10 school is not for everyone and the value of an MBA is more than just the brand of your school — it is the combination of the content of your degree, the professors and colleagues you learn from, the alumni network you become a part of, and the effort you put into it.

1. The admissions process


When you begin looking at an MBA program, look for whether or not they offer you a personal interview. If so, do they have a candid discussion with you about whether an MBA is even appropriate for you? If so, do they suggest which MBA degree is best (part-time, full-time, executive) for you, considering your background, work experience, undergraduate degree and career aspirations? Smaller schools will take the time to counsel you and if you are making a career transition, this will be very helpful as you anticipate how an MBA will help make that transition. 

2. Access to faculty who care/mentor you


Read up on the faculty who teach in the MBA program you are considering.  Many more now have work experience and do not just move through graduate school to teaching, but have some kind of work experience, either corporate work experience or consulting experience. This is important to you as a student because that experience provides them with a real-world perspective as they teach, a pool of guest speakers to help you deepen your knowledge of an industry, and a network to draw on as you consider jobs and internships. Aneil and I still stay in touch with students after they graduate, and mentor them on jobs and careers, as well as provide references for them, often years after graduation.

3. Networking with interesting student colleagues


Networking is important in business and your most important network is your b-school network. You will want to make sure you will have access to interesting people who can form your own network now and into the future as you look for new jobs when the time comes. One way to look at this is to identify which B-School has alumni networks around the country and look to see what type of events they have going on. This will tell you how active alumni networks are for that school and how much those alums enjoy networking with others from their school. You can also evaluate the quality of the alumni network by looking at alums on LinkedIn. Look to see where people who are working in your desired field have earned their MBAs to see what b-school is a good fit for you.

4. A great career services staff who can help you find the perfect post-graduation job


Some B-Schools have better career services staffs than others. This is particularly important when b-school faculty are more research-oriented and don’t have the depth of job contacts that will be important to you. In those instances, you will want a great career services staff who will help you find great jobs and internships and who have established relationships with solid companies that are already coming to recruit on campus.

5. A life-changing experience: taking you from good to great


Some B-Schools only focus on those students who have high GMAT test scores and grades. It’s easy for them to “look good” if they only select people who have little to develop in terms of analytical skills.  Employers, however, are looking for much broader development in their hires. If you really want to get value from two years of b-school, find a school where you can learn from your classes, extra-curriculars, internships, peers, alumni networks, access to guest speakers, etc., so that you will be transformed into a smarter, better version of yourself when you graduate—that school, no matter its ranking, is worth your enormous investment of time and money.  As MBA Director Page Midyette told us,

Those considering an MBA should definitely seek out and consider options beyond programs that are prominent in the rankings. For instance, the unranked Meredith College MBA is an AACSB-accredited program where students collaborate in small classes, typically less than twenty students, led by full professors who know each student personally. The intimate environment allows students to fully engage in an MBA journey that challenges through active participation with their peers, who are professionals from a wide array of companies and industries. Not only are the students themselves transformed by the experience, so are careers at all levels, from analyst to manager, from salesman to director of finance, from regional manager to vice president, and from North Carolina to Saudi Arabia and Singapore.  Anyone considering an MBA should at least consider looking beyond the rankings; they may find a strong alternative that proves to be a better fit for their needs. 

Good luck on those applications!

Karen and Aneil Mishra are business school professors and authors of Trust is Everything (2008) and Becoming a Trustworthy Leader (2012).