March 24, 2009

Do your research??? (or - How to choose b-School)

I'm sorry for not being consistent with my posting frequency, but let me assure you that I've been pondering about this one for a long time. I want to dedicate this post to discuss the way I chose where to apply and provide some personal philosophy for making this VERY important decision. I think I've heard the somewhat annoying phrase 'Do your research' too many times when deciding on where to apply. Here's a typical transcript of a talk I had with an expert (alumnus/admission officer/...):

I: "I really cannot decide which school is better for me: X or Y. All the top 10 business schools, even all the top 20 look very attractive. It's like choosing between 'great' and 'excellent'."

Expert: "Well.... you know... you should do your research."

I: "Oh... I see..." (nod nod nod)

As you can see... the situation here is difficult. Let me try to translate the expert's advice for you: "Look... I really don't know.... this is like asking which color do you like". I admit that I've never liked the term 'Do your research' because it is very confusing and unclear- maybe because I come from the technical world where research is a very structured process of experiments and analyses. I think that what they really mean to say is: "Once you have enough information and really deep understanding of what the school has to offer for you, combined with deep understanding of your future career path and your chances to get admitted - you'll know". I really believe that all the top 20 schools are TERRIFIC schools and you cannot go wrong with any of these. On my visit to the US two years ago I've been to 5 top-notch schools and they all looked to me like heaven. I remember thinking to myself: "How do 'they' want me to choose between all these???". However there is, I believe, a method to choose the schools you should apply to. It looks a bit like choosing a career (something I learned on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People course - which is very recommended BTW). Here's the diagram of career choice translated to the MBA world:
I'll explain:
  • Business schools that can take you to wherever you want - are those schools that have the profile that is highly correlated with your future goals. You'll hear many times that every school can take you anywhere - this is absolutely TRUE, but some of them can make it easier for you. For example, if you are into technology, and you have no previous experience in this area, you should choose schools that have more technology oriented profile. Like in every other aspect of life - the key to success is the correct balance.
  • Business schools that you you are passionate about - are those schools that you would be proud to carry its name on your CV. The psychology has a very important role here, and I definitely suggest listening to your inner voice / your gut feeling. Making decisions with high confidence, I think, makes these decisions smarter ones - because you'll be more dedicated to what you've decided, thus achieving higher satisfactory. For me, schools that I'm passionate about are those schools that even if I could get the post MBA job without an MBA, I would still choose to invest two years of my life in the MBA experience that these schools offer to their students.
  • Business schools that you have good chances to be accepted to - what I'm saying here is - acknowledge the reality. Make sure you know at least approximately what is your 'market value'. Choosing the schools for applying to is all about risk management, because you have limited resources (time/money/energy/patience/...) and high level of competence. This is probably the hardest part, because most us don't know how the business schools see them, and how they evaluate our leadership experience against our GMAT (for example). My advice here is: LISTEN to the responses of people you bump into on MBA fairs, schools' receptions, school visits and other MBA related gatherings when they hear your story. On one of the MBA fairs I decided to observe how admissions reps of the different schools responded when I showed them my CV - these responses gave me some sense on how the same people that will evaluate my application see me. In addition, talk with as much as possible candidates from the same background to hear their story, so that you have some kind of reference. Try not to over-estimate yourself but definitely avoid underestimating.
After you've shortlisted the schools where you want to apply, you'll have to be more methodical in making the final list. You should 'spread your risk' and not put 'all the eggs in one basket'. In my case, for example, I applied to 5 schools (and got accepted to 4). My guideline was that: 'I must have high confidence that I get into at least one of the schools'. So I chose schools with 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% of being able to get accepted to, according to my own estimation.

Managing your application process, is one of the most important lessons you'll learn on your way to the future leadership opportunities. It is a hard process, and it takes a lot of passion and endurance.


Sridhar said...

Your venn diagram says it all. I love it. "Do your research" is a vague term. There are lots of things covered under it. Plan to use your picture to write a blog post. Thanks

sridhar said...

Hi Alex, I've used your diagram in a blog post. Use this Venn Diagram to choose BSchools. Thanks!

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nisha said...

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