Beyond the Rankings: How to Choose a B-school That’s Right for You

Published rankings have become the dominant way that most applicants think and discuss their school options, especially when it comes to pursuing an MBA. And yes, rankings are helpful in getting a broad sense of the business school landscape. But rankings aren’t the best way for prospective applicants to understand their options.

There is a lot of information out there: What’s the most accurate? Who do you trust? Which ranking is the “best”? And through all of that, how do you choose a business school that’s right for you?

Step 1: Start with the basics.
What do you hope to gain with a graduate degree? In what direction do you want to steer your career? What skills do you need to learn to achieve your career goals? Only by asking yourself more questions will you be able to answer the ultimate question of how to choose the right business school for you.

Kevin Hellman, who obtained an engineering undergraduate degree and an MBA several years later, says it best: “My advice to [prospective applicants] considering an MBA education is to reflect on what their long-term goals are for their career and how they would like to contribute to an organization.”

Finding your focus is crucial, because no school can deliver the best education for every possibility. Does it make sense to attend a school atop the rankings if it happens to churn out the best grads in manufacturing, for example, if your heart’s desire is to dominate real estate? You need to find a program that will provide the education and network you need to get where you want to go.

Step 2: Narrow it down.
Once you know the end result, get a little more specific. Consider the type of program, for example. Do you want to fully immerse yourself in a campus culture? If so, there are many full-time options available to you. Do you plan to continue working while you pursue your degree? Perhaps a part-time or executive MBA program is right for you.

There are so many programs available, even after you’ve narrowed your selection. So, refine the process by asking and answering more questions. For instance, consider location, cost and test scores. Are you willing to relocate in order to attend a more prestigious school?. When focusing on the cost, be sure you also consider the median compensation that awaits new grads. As for test scores, does your GMAT place you in the "middle 80%" of admits for a given school? If not, are you willing to re-test or would it make more sense to pursue a less selective school?

Step 3: Do the research.
You’ve done the soul-searching and number crunching, now it’s time to match your criteria with specific MBA programs. There are many ways to do that, but seeking and compiling all of the above on your own would take hours, and looking at all of that raw data would be headache inducing. BestMatch, a free, non-profit online information resource, has compiled and organized this information in a way that’s simple and easy to understand. You can find data on more than 600 MBA programs across the country.

Step 4: Apply.
Have you narrowed your list down to a few schools that align with your priorities? Congratulations! Now it’s time to apply. Need some expert guidance? That’s what The MBA Exchange is here for!