Choosing a b-school requires learning the distinct culture and personality which sets a school apart from its peers and which will strongly influence your experience there.

How to Choose a B-School

Far too many people choose a b-school solely based on rankings or perceived brand. Each school has a distinct culture or personality which sets it apart from other schools and which will strongly influence your experience there. While rankings and corresponding brands can be important, they should not be the sole criteria for deciding upon a school. Many schools, especially the top schools, may appear to have similar brand or reputation but upon closer inspection have significantly different areas of specialization (such as finance, marketing, general management, healthcare, real estate, entrepreneurship, or social responsibility).

Additionally, the high demand from companies and organizations for individuals with a multi-disciplinary approach to managing and leaders in today's marketplace has caused many schools to revamp their curriculum and these changes may significantly impact factors that are important to you. When selecting a school, "fit" is one of the most significant factors to weigh and determining the proper fit will require detailed analysis of the pros and cons of each school. If you can't fit in with the school's culture, you are likely to have an incomplete and unrewarding experience. We've complied some factors that our students and partners have found to be equally if not more important than rankings and brand recognition.

  • Average starting salary
    Most people considering business school are looking to increase their earnings post graduation. However, total compensation varies based on function, industry, past work experience, location, and prevailing market conditions.

    Go to Wall Street Journal for more information.

  • Salaries at the 5-year mark

    Many people anticipate achieving immediate career progression such as moving up the ladder along with obtaining a higher salary right after business school. However, that is not always the case. You should calibrate your expectations and review the total compensation packages of professionals five years out of business school to get a clearer picture of what to expect and what dues you will need to pay to get there!

  • Placement Rate

    Each school posts its placement rates annually to help attract prospective candidates. This is an important resource that you should thoroughly peruse to get a real snapshot of the companies recruiting at the schools and their results in prior years. This will also tell you whether the industry you're interested in recruits at that school.

  • Location

    Where you attend business school is equally important because you will be living and attending classes there for two years. Visit the campus and surrounding environment to see if this is where you can see yourself studying and making new friends long into the night and throughout the year.

  • Environment

    Each school has its own unique culture and norms just like the company you are planning to leave. If you are flexible, open to new ideas, and make friends easily, then you should be able to fit in almost anywhere. However, you should spend time walking the halls, listening to banter in the cafes, and touring the surrounding neighborhoods to get a true feel for the place that may be your new home for two years.

  • Class Profile

    All classes have a particular demographic distribution based on ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, languages spoken, career interests, work experiences, etc. This information can be readily obtained from the Admissions Office which typically shares these stats during their information sessions. These stats are usually posted on the school's web site. Evaluate the profile of your potential schools to assess whether you would be comfortable working with these kinds of people.

  • Cost

    Business school is an investment in your future. Tuition costs not including books and a laptop along with living/travel expenses plus incidentals need to be factored into your calculation. Tuition ranges from as low $12,000 to $80,000 per year depending on whether you are planning to attend part-time vs. full-time and a highly selective nationally recognized school vs a locally recognized school.

  • Integrated vs. General curriculum

    Most schools are re-vamping their curriculum to address the changing demands of students, faculty, and business partners and industry leaders. To differentiate itself from its peer schools, some programs have relaxed their first year core requirements to provide greater flexibility and also prepare their students with the opportunity to focus on areas of interest given the accelerated learning curve. Teaching methods vary from case method to lectures.

  • Class Size

    Size does matter (to most people). When choosing a school be sure to pay attention to the total size of the entering class and the average size of individual classes. Your experience in a class will greatly vary from being in a small environment than being in a large one. While most B-schools will group students in the same year into small clusters or segments, the overall size of the school will affect the level of personal attention and interaction you will have during your stay there. If you are uncomfortable in large lecture halls, then it is important to find a school that keeps lecture sizes that you can be comfortable in.

  • Grading Policy

    Grading policy is an issue that you should consider before you apply to a school as it has become a more controversial issue recently. Many leading school have held to a grade non-disclosure policy in an effort to foster a more cooperative environment, however of late there is a growing concern about the negative effects of the policy and some schools are changing their policies. The traditional non-disclosure policies stipulated that neither administration nor students disclose grades in job interviews or by other means. Those schools that do not have a non-disclosure policy use some facsimile of the letter grade system such High to Pass whereas others such as HBS uses Categories I through IV with I being the highest and IV, the lowest. At least 50% of first year students receive a Category III (or IV) in their required core classes. Grade disclosure has been a hot-button since HBS relaxed its non-disclosure policy in 2005 and other business schools reluctantly followed suit. The practice used by most business schools allows students the choice to disclose their grades during interviews with recruiters. Naturally, those who fare well in courses including campus recruiters and hiring managers view this with great relish.

  • Joint or Dual Degree Programs

    If getting two professional degrees is of interest to you, which B-school you apply to may be influenced by whether the school offers joint programs. Many MBA programs do offer joint degrees with other schools such as law, medicine, public health, public policy, government, human resources, and journalism. However, you are required to apply separately, take the LSAT, MCAT, or GRE, and admissions to one is not guaranteed acceptance the other. A clear advantage of getting a joint degree is that you will reduce the amount of time and costs associated with doing both programs consecutively. For some undergraduates who plan to get a JB/MBA this can be a double-edged sword because you still need to compete, in many cases, with your more experienced peers for positions requiring a bit more seasoning.

Since these criteria are not the same for each school, you should conduct a thorough review of each school on your list of potential schools to apply and then narrow that list to approximately three to five schools to which you ultimately apply. Unless you are extremely gifted and can forecast the future, you should not apply to just one school. Applying to only one school is a huge risk to take and limits your options. It's no different than applying to one job when there are others probably offering you an opportunity of a lifetime. So create a matrix listing some of the top elements from the above list. Then compare and contrast to see which schools meet your requirements.

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