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MBA Admissions Edge step 11: Choosing between offers

Heidi  Hillis - February 16, 2018

Choosing MBA offers

Maybe you’re in the enviable and rare position of receiving offers from two of your dream schools. Or, you’ve received a great scholarship, but not from your top choice. Deciding whether to take an offer from your safety school or apply again in the next round is another shade of nerve-wracking.

Given that business school is designed to advance your loftiest professional aspirations and change your life in the process, none of these scenarios are to be taken lightly. As admissions coaches and former MBA admissions professionals, my Fortuna Admissions colleagues and I are experienced with supporting applicants facing an array of momentous decisions. I asked my colleagues for their best advice on three of the most common scenarios we encounter in the wake of Round 2 decisions.

Choosing between offers: three common MBA decision scenarios

Scenario 1: Competing offers from two of your dream schools – how to choose? 

“This, of course, is the best kind of problem to have, although the decision can be agonizing,” says Fortuna’s Malvina Miller Complainville, former Assistant Director of Career Services at Harvard Business School.

If you’re facing offers from two (or more) dream schools, Malvina’s advice is to put aside the rankings and get personal about the details. 

Here are five key factors for creating your own decision-making filter:

  • Consider your fit with each school in terms of its culture and community: Visit the campus, sit in on a class to get a vibe for the student body, classroom dynamics and faculty teaching style. Most importantly, speak to alumni, students and professors about their experience. It’s the best way to really experience the culture and identity nuances of each programme. HBS and GSB may vie for rankings domination, but their cultures and personalities are distinctly unique.
  • Weight the financial implications: Is one school offering greater financial aid or scholarship opportunities that will lessen the economic burden?
  • Factor brand recognition: How might a school’s strengths and reputation, as well as the networks and experiences it provides, position you to achieve your career goals? For international careers, research the strength of the school’s brand abroad.
  • Get a nuanced perspective of each school’s career offerings: Learn which companies are recruiting on campus and speak to career clubs about events and opportunities. Examine career statistics from the latest employment reports and consider the opportunities that may be on offer for you post-MBA.
  • Assess the alumni network: Is the alumni community active and well-developed? This is particularly important if you’re pursuing a network job search abroad.

Scenario 2: Scholarship offer, but not from your dream school – should you take it? 

“An MBA is a huge investment, so receiving a scholarship, even when it’s not from your first-choice school, is obviously something to take seriously,” says Fortuna’s Catherine Tuttle, former Associate Program Director at Duke Fuqua.

While it doesn’t guarantee a counter-offer, Catherine advises that you tell your top choice school you have money on the table elsewhere when this happens.

Here’s her advice on optimizing your chances:

  • Devise a strategy for reaching out and practice your approach to coherently articulating why you want to be at your top choice school. Make it clear you’re open to a conversation.
  • Follow the school’s protocol and provide all the necessary information to the right people.
  • Be humble. This is a human process; people are more inclined to advocate for others they believe are taking their needs into consideration. So if you come across as demanding or arrogant, your request is more likely to be denied.

“And if your top choice programme can’t offer additional funds, at this point, allow school culture to enter your decision,” adds Catherine. “Whether you go with the scholarship opportunity or not, you want to feel confident your chosen school is the right fit from a career, cultural and academic standpoint.”

Scenario 3: Accepted to your safety school – take the offer, or reapply again next year?

“It matters what you consider a safety school,” says Fortuna’s Judith Silverman Hodara, former head of Admissions at Wharton. “I had client who got into Booth, and his bosses told him he should hold out for HBS and GSB. Given his profile, I advised him to take Booth’s offer. Why? In all honesty, he would never really know what had kept him out of GSB and HBS, and, as they say, a bird in hand in this case was well worth it.”

“It’s different, of course, if you didn’t give it your best effort or suspect your application wasn’t good enough,” says Judith. “Maybe you can concede that an additional year of work or leadership experience could make a difference. Or you might feel you got into your safety school too easily, and that it’s not as worthy because you didn’t have to struggle.”

While each situation is distinct, Judith advises reflection on the following key questions:

  • Will your second-choice programme give you what you need and want in terms of career progressions, network and community?
  • Will you always be thinking you should be somewhere else?
  • Do you think what you communicated or wrote was found lacking, as opposed to the more quant-driven factors in admission?
  • Is the ROI of taking the offer you currently have better or worse than the ROI of a possibly unknown better offer, with no guarantee?
  • What are the pros and cons of taking on another year of the MBA application process – another year delaying your career track progression and another year with more experience? (Note: delaying isn’t always strategic for schools favouring candidates earlier in their careers)
  • While re-applicants are certainly encouraged and welcomed, how will you meaningfully enhance your story in the coming year? What will have changed since you last applied?
  • Are you willing to re-examine everything?

“At the end of the day, I like to tell candidates to flip a coin on the answer – not to do what the coin says, but gut-check how you feel about the outcome,” Judith says. “This can tell you a lot about how to proceed.”

Lucky enough to be accepted into two MBA programmes?

Now that you're in, Prodigy Finance can help you fund your studies... once you decide which offer to accept.

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