A few days ago, I noticed that a fellow blogger had included the 2004 BW rank of every business school you can link to from his blog. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. Rankings are extremely personal. How a publication ranks Carnegie Mellon, for example, should matter very little to you if the school has everything you're looking for in an MBA program. Rankings are a way to sell magazines and validate the insecure. They also frustrate rational discourse. (See the BW Forum for evidence of this.)
A quick read through the ever-increasing number of Class of 2008 blogs has given me hope. Many applicants have begun the process of defining their goals and have expanded their list of schools to include those that will help them achieve their objectives, regardless of where these schools show up in the rankings. Some, however, appear to have fallen into the rankings trap.
Applicants for the Class of 2008, I ask you to consider making your own rankings based upon your goals, who you are, and where you think you can spend the next two years of your life. I implore you to do your research. You'll end up saving a lot of time, hundreds of dollars in application fees, and a great deal of disappointment.
To that end, I have decided to publish the list of factors that I found helpful in narrowing my options. I have placed these factors in order of importance to me. If you decide to use this list, you may find that "Recruiters" trumps "Location", "Curriculum" outweighs "Alumni/Network", etc.Current Students
- Students and class size fall into this category. I may prefer to live in/near big cities, but I enjoy a more intimate learning environment. Using undergraduate classes as a reference, I realized that I am the sort of person who learns from his classmates as much as, if not more than, he does from his textbooks. I went to a large and very competitive undergraduate institution. I got the most out of classes where there were fewer students, where participation was encouraged, and where students collaborated with each other. Learning for me is about people. This is also why diversity became so important to me in my research. Of course, I anticipate sharing the classroom with Investment Bankers. But I wanted my classmates to come from a number of professions and from all around the world. That kind of diversity isn't very easy to find, especially when you want a small class size and have additional criteria to consider.Alumni/Network
- Alumni (as individuals in their own right) and strength of the alumni network fall into this category. I talked to alumni from a wide variety of schools. I was able to make some important decisions based upon my conversations with them. I was interested, first and foremost, in what they were doing now. Then: Why did they decide to pursue this line of work? What other jobs have they had since graduating? Was an MBA necessary in meeting their career goals? I listened to what they had to say, all the while asking myself, "Is this a person that I would want to work with? Spend two years learning with? See at alumni events for the rest of my life?" I was surprised by my answers. It really helped me to shorten my list of potential schools. Additionally, a vibrant alumni network was important to me. I wanted to feel as though I could pick up the phone and call anyone who had been to my school and receive a warm response - and professional assistance, if necessary. You'd be surprised at how many of the "highly ranked" schools do not have a strong alumni network. Generally, I found that only a handful of schools did.Location
- Very important to me. Tuck is a great school. And I would have applied there were it located somewhere else. I'm the sort of person who needs easy access to a major metropolitan area. I feel more comfortable in big cities. . . . But not just any big city. I love NY and SF, for example. LA, Chicago, Seattle, Houston, Washington D.C., I'm not so crazy about. I wouldn't be happy living "just anywhere." I know this about myself, and I made my decisions taking this into account.Chances
- This was a very real concern for me. I am no longer in my mid to late 20s and my GMAT and GPA are only average (at the 50% mark) for most schools. Some schools, e.g., Stanford and Harvard, are notorious for placing heavy emphasis on an applicant's age (the younger, the better). Still, regardless of what you think you're chances are from a stats perspective, you should apply to that school if you feel you are a "fit" from every other angle.Curriculum
- Everything from core courses, electives, teaching style, and faculty fall into this category. I am a marketer who is weak in many of the business basics: accounting, finance, economics, etc. What I need to learn is covered in most core courses at all good schools. Since finance is my weakness - and one of Yale's strengths - Yale makes sense for me. I am not going to Yale to learn marketing. I am going to Yale - to business school, in general - to learn what I do not already know.Side note: I hope to start my own business one day, so I made an effort to research entrepreneurship offerings at a number of schools and to speak to entrepreneurs with and without MBAs. Here's what I learned: Be wary of any school that claims to teach "entrepreneurship." Most entrepreneurs need to know how to write a business plan, how to access captial, and the basics of running a successful business. All good business schools teach these things. Additionally, my own perceptions have led me to believe that entrepreneurship requires passion and resiliency and that these are personality traits that can neither be taught nor learned.
- This was decidedly unimportant to me. I do not plan on a career in Investment Banking, nor do I wish to become a Management Consultant. Yale offers opportunities to meet with recruiters in these fields, so if I ever change my mind (mmm, not likely), I can rest assured that I have not locked myself out of anything.
I plan to go back into Marketing when I have finished my MBA. I am somewhat torn as to whether I want to do marketing for a technology/internet company or a CPG. Recruiters from both industries come to Yale; but I expect that I will have to do a lot of leg-work regardless. I will have to do this not because I am going to Yale, but because no matter what a school's Career Development Office tells you, you will have to work hard to land your internship and your first job after graduation. Going to business school is no "magic bullet." Read the blog of Future MBA Girl
. On-campus recruiting is rough. There is no guarantee of securing a position this way. Plan to work your tuckus off - just as you would in real life!
That said, certain professions are more difficult to get into, so if you're looking to transition into one of these, make sure that at least some
of your interviews will come from the CDO.ROI
- Ultimately, if you've done your homework and have narrowed your choices to a handful of schools, you will not have to worry about ROI. You will see a return on your investment even before you arrive on campus. ROI isn't all about how much money you will make 3 - 5 years out of business school (though this should be taken into consideration). It's about the return you'll receive on the intellectual, social, and professional investment you make. I haven't even started my program yet and I am already benefitting from it.
If you've been perusing the BW Forum, you may be asking yourself, "Where does "brand" fit in?" I have deliberately excluded brand. During my research, it occured to me that brand is only relevant for international students. Although, some U.S. students may wish to consider brand if they plan on working internationally.
Having done your research, you should now have a list of schools. My personal rankings had Yale in the number 1 spot. Harvard was number 10 on a list of 10. I applied there to pacify my partner, who preferred the thought of living in Boston to New Haven. (I'm not a fan of Boston. New Haven's not so great, either, but it's close to New York, which I like.) I put together a great application for Harvard (from a content perspective: amazing leadership examples, etc.), but couldn't really sell myself on going there. I suspect that came through in one - or maybe even all - of the six essays I wrote. An important tip: If you can't sell yourself on
a school, you'll have a difficult time selling yourself to
a school. This is why research is so important.
Another reason to do your homework: Schools have a sense of what they are looking for in their applicants. Note, for instance, that Yale has the School of Management
and Chicago the Graduate School of Business
. Both schools offer the MBA, but there is a fundamental difference in philosophies. Chicago trains people for business, Yale for careers in management regardless of sector (e.g., public, private, etc.). Do not underestimate the importance of how well you "fit" from the adcom's perspective. People are sometimes surprised when they get into Harvard, but not Wharton; Stanford but not NYU. They then try to pass off these "inconsistencies" with reasoning that strokes their egos, e.g., "Well, my stats were so good that USC knew I would get in somewhere else/better and it rejected me in an effort to increase its yield. USC is so insecure." Most likely, USC rejected you because you weren't what the school was looking for. Poweryogi
is an excellent example of how important "fit" can be. He applied to eight schools, but was only accepted at one. Why? In my humble opinion, because Poweryogi is a thought-leader. The man belongs
at Chicago. Many schools place more value in applicants who have managed people. Chicago seems a little different in this regard. Obviously, Chicago is not for everybody. Neither is Stanford, Harvard, UCLA, etc. Schools know this but still try to sell themselves as "all things to all people". Don't fall for it.
In conclusion, are you really going to let a publication tell you that Kellogg is number one, even if you're interest is in Venture Capital? That Harvard is number five, even if your interest is in Non-Profit? I have heard too many MBAs tell too many stories of years wasted in programs that some magazine ranked highly, but that didn't fit with their personalities and objectives. Figure out what your goals are, short-term and long-term. Think about who you are and what you value. Talk to current students. Talk to alums. (With students and alums, I would advise that you find your own. Be careful of who the admissions committee puts you into contact with. That person will most likely be a cheerleader as opposed to someone with whom you can have a frank conversation about strengths and weaknesses.) And don't fall for glossy marketing materials produced by the CDO that make the school look like it offers more than it really does.
Truth be told, if I had to do it all over again, I would have considered UW-Madison, too. The more people I meet who went there, the more impressed I am. In my opinion though, Yale SOMers are the best. That's just my opinion. But will anyone else's opinion really matter when I take stock of my life thirty, forty, or even fifty years from now? Permit me to answer my own rhetorical question, "Of course not!"***I apologize for the long post. If you made it this far, I hope you found it valuable. Good luck to the applicants for the Class of 2008!***