Factors to Consider When Selecting Business Schools

We recently wrote a blog on ways to research business schools. But before that you need to know which factors should you take to account when zeroing in on your perfect list of b-schools.

Here are some criteria that can bring method to your research:

Job related Factors:

1. Employment opportunities: The main reason why people do an MBA is to increase their employability skills. Therefore going through the employment reports of business schools is a key step in your research. These reports will provide you a lot of data: percentage wise breakups of the industries and functions where students got a job; names of recruiters; figures for internship recruitments and some hard facts on how many students found employment in the first three months of graduation, how many students made use of on-campus recruiting and how many converted their summer internships into full fledged jobs. If your post MBA interests lie in energy and utilities for example, and a particular b-school’s employment report shows a chunk of people getting jobs in that industry, you know you would want to apply to that b-school.

Another way of identifying business schools is by finding out about target employers who visit there and the roles they hire students for.

Its also worthwhile to find out about the resourcefulness of the career services of your target b-schools. Niche industries like media, energy, real estate, government may be hiring only a tiny percentage of the class population, but don’t let this deter you from applying. Most often, the career services teams and the industry related clubs will go out of their way to help you network with the right recruiters.

2. Industry hubs – Some regions are hubs for particular industries and studying in those regions may just as well increase your chances of finding the right recruiters. For instance the Texas based programs such as McCombs, Jones School of Business (Rice) and Texas A&M are located in the largest energy hub of USA and getting a job with a Chevron or Exxon is going to be relatively easier in this region. Canada is another energy hub and B-schools like Schulich will help you target the right employers. Similarly, New York, Paris and London are the places to be if you have your eyes fixed on fashion to going to Stern, LBS or HEC Paris/ INSEAD will offer you the right opportunities in luxury. Check out our previous blog on the research triangle park which houses b-schools like Duke (also an energy industry filler) and UNC Kenen Flagler.

3. Clubs and other resources- Most clubs at any business school are student led. Its therefore in students’ interest to keep these really active. Industry (real estate/ media and entertainment/ private equity etc) and function (consulting/marketing/operations) focused clubs hold career treks, seminars, competitions and talks by industry bigwigs, all of which go in adding to your MBA experience. Typically every club has its own website – trawl through this and reach out to the Club leaders to know more about the club’s activities.

Academics Related Factors:

4. Electives and Concentrations– A specialization/major/concentration basically means the minimum required electives/credits you are required to take in a subject to make it a concentration. Although its not mandatory to take concentrations/specializations, if you want to deep dive in a subject, they can be a good way to do it. At business schools like Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Ross, you can only take electives and not a “specialization”.

Most business schools allow you to take two or more concentrations in subjects as diverse as strategy, marketing, data analytics, finance and leadership, to name a few. Some b-schools also have a tie up with the CFA institute, so you have the option of completing your CFA along with the MBA.

In general, different b-schools have different formats for electives/ concentrations and certifications, so closely look at what your target b-schools have on offer.

5. Star faculty on campus- Some b-schools have management gurus, some have research mavericks and some others have Nobel laureates as their faculty. They may be the single-most reason you want to go to a particular b-schools. However, we are not talking about an awe-struck, starry eyed you applying to a program, because a marketing guru you have heard about is teaching there. Nobody wants a teenager-like gushing about a faculty member! There has to be a more intense reason for you to study there – you may have a deep interest in his subject or the research he is doing and think it will help you in your career.

Some b-schools allow graduate/research assistantship, where you can work with a particular professor to assist his class or his research work. Also, you may want to take an independent project under a faculty member and gain from his insights.

6. Flexibility in curriculum – Do you want to go to Harvard because you study a fixed curriculum for your entire first year, or would you rather prefer Chicago Booth, where you can select all your courses save one, and completely customize your curriculum? B-schools vary in the flexibility they offer on the course content, although all of them allow you to take electives in the second half of the program.

The bigger MBA programs that are associated with universities also let you to select electives outside the business school. So you may land up taking a few electives in technology or in law or in public policy from another college affiliated to the same university as your target business school. This flexibility is great if you want to study offbeat subjects that don’t typically come under the ambit of an MBA education.

7. Mode of curriculum delivery– Some b-schools are known as the case method b-schools. Examples are HBS, Darden, Tuck (to an extent), Richard Ivey (Canada) and IE (Spain). Some b-schools are known for their experiential learning approach- MIT, Ross and UCLA come to mind immediately. Although most b-schools have a mixed format curriculum, yet some of them, such as those listed above are famously known for their approach. If you are not a case study enthusiast, joining a b-schools that uses almost 500 cases in the two years curricula may wreck your MBA experience. Its important to find out the b-school’s pre-dominant style of teaching and whether that fits your learning requirements.

Admissions related factors:

8. Eligibility criteria- double MBA/ 3 year education/ TOEFL requirement – Indian applicants sometimes face challenges regarding their eligibility. European programs accept a three year undergrad degree. While most US b-schools also consider it as an equivalent to the US four year undergrad degree, some b-schools like Berkeley Haas don’t. If you have not done an MS or another degree course, there is no point applying.

Some b-schools do not allow a previous MBA; however this criterion is best checked with the schools themselves, as the Indian programs offer a diploma (PGDBM), which is technically not an MBA.

Similarly, some b-schools, particularly the European ones, require a TOEFL/ IELTS score and you may want to take either of the two tests to make it to the target b-school, ask them for a waiver (on account of your good English, and “convent educated” background) or just swap that b-school for another one.

Having GMAT and GPA scores above the b-school’s average figures is another benchmark for the Indian applicants.

9. Financial aspects (Fee, scholarships, financial aid)- Not all b-schools are made equal and they definitely don’t cost equal. B-school fee can cost you anywhere from INR 25 lakhs as in the case of the top Indian MBA programs (ISB & IIMs) to upward of INR 1 crore as is the case with HBS, Wharton and the likes. Other hidden costs only take these figures up north! While there is always an option to take loan from your own country, some b-schools offer loans to Indian applicants. What you need to find out is whether the credit agency requires a US based co-signer or not. Unability to arrange loans has been a party pooper for many Indian applicants, despite getting admission.

Scholarships exist, but not in abundance. Some b-schools have more scholarship money to give out as compared to others. It will be worth the effort to find this out from the school website, current students and alums and apply for a scholarship where you need to submit a separate application.

And then there are others:

FIT : This is the most used word in the MBA circles. How exactly do you determine your fit with a b-school? While all of the above factors play their roles to establish your fit with a b-school, there are some other uncategorizable ones that matter.

10. Small size v/s big size classroom– You may feel lost if you have 750+ students in the same class as you, as in the case of Wharton. And when you double this number to make room for second year MBAs then its definitely a big party. Do you find your place in this big party or a cozy get together, which you can find at, say Tuck, which has a class strength of 280. The size of the class also matters from the perspective of your alumni network- smaller classes will have smaller networks. For you as an international student, there may be still lesser alumni back home.

11. Big city v/s small city- Studying in a fast paced city like New York may be among the biggest lure for you to select b-schools based in New York. Or as a first time international student, you may want to soak in the experience of a small town school, where your life is centered around the b-school, students and campus activities. Plenty options abound.

12. Network- Building a strong network is among the most important reasons for a person to go to business school. A lot of job finding happens through your alumni network, with alumni arranging for job interviews in their companies (off campus recruiting) or alumni coming for the off campus recruiting. From this perspective, its important to figure out if your target school’s alums work in your target companies.
You will have access to your b-school’s network for life. Hence try to understand how strongly bonded the community is.

13. Personal development- The one/two years spent at business school will help you develop your softer side. While a large part of the curriculum will help you build your leadership capabilities, negotiation, communication and time management skills, there are features like experiential learning programs, trips to global destinations and activities & events held by the social and diversity clubs that will have a huge impact on your personal development within a short two years. Attending business school is not called a transformative experience for nothing!

All of the are mentioned on b-school websites, and you will learn a lot more about these experiences by reading up student blogs.

Most important! No Indian can leave this one out…..

14. The quintessential Indian relatives– last but not the least is the  Indian relatives, who are omnipresent, no matter where you do your MBA from. While some are happy with the arrangement of having guardians within the same city, others may not apply to the business school, just because their extended family stays in the vicinity. You take your pick!

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