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MBA Admissions Edge: Top tips for researching schools

Fortuna Admissions  - December 22, 2016

Admissions Edge: Top Tips for Researching Schools

There’s only one MBA degree, yet no two programs are the same. Before submitting applications, you want a real understanding of each school’s identity and assets, and, more importantly, why they are the best fit for you. It’s critical to do your homework, and that’s where things can get tricky.

The glut of information that’s instantly available is a blessing and a curse. In a microsecond, you’re viewing photos, videos, editorials, blogs, and tweets on a myriad of topics from various sources… only to emerge hours later stunned and square-eyed. Consider these four tips for separating the wheat from the chaff. 

Tip 1: Create your personal lens and filter

Your ability to be discerning begins with honest introspection. The first question MBA ad comms ask the thousands of applicants vying for just a few hundred spots is: “Why do you want to go to business school? And why our school?”

Reflect firstly on your values, strengths, motivations, and career interests; your particular motivation and future ambitions will become the lens and filter for sussing out what’s most relevant, practical, and useful to you.

Tip 2: Know the hierarchy of good source material   

The best sources of information are the schools themselves. While we encourage you to devour each program’s website, it’s helpful to start with the MBA Student Profile and employment report. Both are chock full of data about current and graduating students. You’ll see where folks are coming from and where they’re going after graduation. As you compare programs, ask yourself: Can I see myself thriving there? How can each school help me achieve my career goals?

Then there are school-hosted blogs, which are among the best sources of accurate information. Students or admissions-run MBA blogs keep applicants apprised of news, opportunities, admissions policies, and events. You can follow the latest on social media channels like Facebook and YouTube, and often get swift responses on Twitter feeds. More informal advice can be gleaned on discussion boards maintained by groups of students who specialize in talking to applicants.

These and other online resources are part of each school’s ‘MBA Cloud’—and everything that isn’t should be approached with a healthy dose of skepticism: Who is the person giving the advice? Are they an alumnus or experienced consultant? How can you check the validity of their information?

Tip 3: Discern each school’s personality and strengths

Programs may appear similar at a glance, but each one possesses a distinctive identity and approach to management development. While it can be tempting, don’t rely on the MBA rankings. The institutional and community culture, strength of its alumni network, virtues of its curriculum and faculty, and opportunities for career advancement are all more important. Remember to consider location, program length, and cost.

When you do look at rankings, remember that each use different criteria. Learn what’s being measured and decide whether it’s relevant to you. For example, Business Week emphasizes satisfaction levels of students and recruiters, Forbes MBA is a fairly simple calculation of ROI, and The Economist favors the international make-up of the school and post-MBA career opportunities.

Tip 4: Get a feel for the culture and vibe

It’s ideal to visit your top schools; it provides a sense of personality and cultural fit. Of course you should join the tour and official information sessions, but also consider visiting when they aren’t expecting you. By catching students in the hallway or sitting in on a lecture, you can glean the community vibe. Are people welcoming? Does it feel like a more competitive classroom, or is the environment collaborative and supportive? Is faculty engaging with students, or dashing off to other commitments?

But if a visit isn’t possible, participate in online webinars, attend local information sessions, or an MBA fair. Make time to reach out to students and alumni who share similar interests, initiating candid conversations that uncover a school’s culture. Connect with faculty to get more depth than the ‘official view.’

At the end of the day, admissions officers have ample experience identifying the motivated application from the merely speculative. But careful research also ensures you’ve spent valuable time and effort on schools that are also the best fit for you. The more familiar you are with the MBA programs of your choice, the better your chances of admissions success.

This is the first in a 12-part series for Prodigy Finance by Fortuna Admissions on how to boost your chances of getting into a top business school. Stay tuned for more.

The Fortuna team are former admissions gatekeepers from top-tier institutions including Wharton, INSEAD, Harvard Business School, London Business School, Chicago Booth, NYU Stern, IE Business School, Cornell Johnson, Northwestern Kellogg, and UC Berkeley Haas. 

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