MBA, MBA Programs

How to Choose the Right MBA Programs for You

August 1 2023 By The MBA Exchange
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If you’re looking for a future among the ranks of today’s top consultants or financiers, the right Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is going to be a must. An MBA also provides a boost for entrepreneurs. Choosing an MBA program that’s a perfect fit for your background and goals gains you a valuable asset for many career paths. 

The question of where you choose to apply for b-school is weighty and multi-factored. You’ve got to consider ranking, curriculum, location, culture and more. 

What MBA should I get? How to choose an MBA program

As you get serious about applying for business school, figuring out the intricacies of GMAT scores and official transcript reports, you have a key question to decide that there’s really no getting around, and that’s the question of which schools and programs you’re going to target in your MBA application campaign.

You want to choose the right MBA program for you, not just the best program on paper. When considering how to choose an MBA program, or how to choose an online MBA program, consider these points.

Length of program

Different types of MBA programs take different amounts of time to complete. If you need to keep working while you study, a part-time MBA that takes longer to complete might be right for you. Or, if you’ve got time to spend and want to complete your degree in 1-2 years, a traditional full-time MBA program may better fit your needs.

Curriculum in an MBA program

You should choose an MBA program with curriculum, courses, and majors that match your vision of your future career. You can focus on quants, problem-solving, interpersonal communication, or management consulting through your curriculum and major selection over the course of your MBA.


Deciding where to get an MBA may be important if you want to launch into a specific geographic sector – finance in the UK or tech consulting in Silicon Valley, for example. Think about where you want to be, for the next few years and beyond. Selecting your MBA program location could impact where the next chapter of your story unfolds.

Culture and personality

You start networking as soon as you start your MBA program, getting to know experts in business fields as well as fellow students who make up the next generation of business success stories. So you want to choose an MBA program where you fit in, with the right culture for you to connect and thrive.

Spend some time talking to alumni and current students at your potential target schools and see if you make connections before you narrow down your list for sending out applications. Find the right MBA for your unique personality.

Online or in-person?

Today’s high-tech world offers opportunities like online MBA programs. You don’t need to decide where to get an MBA when you opt for an online program that can be completed from anywhere in the world. If you have questions about how to choose an online MBA program with the quality you need, talk to the team at The MBA Exchange about your plans.

The cost of your MBA matters, whether online or in-person, but pricing online MBA programs can get tricky. The question of cost could definitely factor into how to choose an online MBA program that’s right for you. Make sure you know the details before you sign on a digital dotted line!

Accreditation for MBA programs

Not all MBA programs provide the same degree of accreditation. Accreditation gives you important information about the legitimacy and seriousness of an MBA program. An unaccredited program is much less likely to ultimately help you achieve your career and business goals.


Different programs require different materials to be included in your applications, and b-school admissions can run on a variety of timelines, as well. Consider what you need to get ready in order to put together your application package, and take note of admissions deadlines at your target schools.

When you’re choosing an MBA program, make sure to check each item in this list.

How do you choose your target schools?

What are the most desirable MBB target schools for post-MBA success? What about McKinsey’s preferred target schools for MBA recruits? Or maybe you’re most interested in the best BCG MBA target schools. Once you know where your MBA fits into your larger career strategy and life plan, you can truly optimize your MBA target list.

Where does your gut say you should go? Don’t discount your own instincts when it comes to choosing your MBA target schools. But it also makes sense to seek insider advice and input when you’re building your list of MBA target schools and planning your b-school admissions campaign.

Can increasing your target school list help your odds?

You don’t want to aim too low when it comes to b-school targets, or risk stacking your list with too many so-called “safety” schools. You might come to regret not aiming for a loftier MBA later on in your career. And you’re not going to be able to go back and start again at that point!

But, it’s also not a surefire strategy to shoot for the stars by only targeting elite business schools. It’s you and everyone else competing for those same seats at top target MBA schools for investment banking and other high-profile professions. 

Acceptance rates for MBA applicants at top programs are low enough to give you cause for pause. Getting in is far from a sure thing. That’s why you want to strike the right balance when it comes to the length of your list of MBA target schools. Applying to more schools can, to a limited degree, increase your chances of getting a “yes.” But, as different application requirements start to stack up, you could easily come to regret taking on too many targets. You need to hone your strategy, not spread yourself too thin.

Which business schools to target? Easy as 1-2-3

With so many different MBA programs to consider, and acceptance criteria that are both objective and subjective, this question can cause high anxiety among even the strongest, most confident applicants.

So, if you’re facing this dilemma, and finding that it keeps you from launching your admissions campaign, here’s a proven approach for your consideration. With these three steps, divide your target list into three tiers, and target your application strategy accordingly!

1. Research

Create a long list of potential schools that offer a geographic location, academic curriculum, class size, campus culture, prestige, alumni network, and placement stats that satisfy you. At the top of your list should be the most selective school that you would regret – even 10 or 20 years from now – not having tried for admission. At the bottom of your list should be the least selective school where you would happily and proudly enroll if it was the only one to offer you admission.

2. Segment

Next it’s time to reduce your long list by segmenting the possibilities. A simple framework is to place the schools in three categories based on likelihood of admission for an applicant with your profile:

  • “Stretch” schools where your GPA and GMAT are below average but within the “middle 80%” for admits, with typical admission rates of 6-20%
  • “Likely” schools where your GPA and GMAT are above the average for admits, with typical admission rates of 20-30%
  • “High Probability” schools where your GPA and GMAT are near the top of “middle 80%” or higher, with typical admission rates of 30-50%

Dividing your list in this way gives you a clearer picture of your admissions campaign as a whole.

3. Prioritize

Finally comes the “risk management” step, where you determine which group of schools you’re going to prioritize. 

For instance, if your current job is going well and you’re in line for a big promotion within the next couple of years, then you may want to be aggressive in your targeting and emphasize “stretch” MBA programs, since only a top-tier MBA would justify stepping away from your present career trajectory. 

Or, if you’re feeling stuck in a job with little hope for advancement, and you’re not yet qualified for a bigger opportunity elsewhere, then you’re facing some immediacy. Maybe you want to spread your applications out across all three groups.

Targeting b-schools beyond H/S/W

Harvard. Stanford. Wharton. Most MBA applicants would rather attend one of these “elite” business schools than other options. Understandably so! 

The prestige of having an education from H/S/W is undeniable. Those are world-class brands that can enhance and elevate anyone’s resume.

However, as an applicant, a key question to ask yourself is: if you apply to Harvard, Stanford and Wharton only, and are denied admission, would you benefit significantly from earning an MBA degree at other schools such as MIT, Chicago, Columbia, Kellogg or Haas? 

For most individuals, the answer should be a resounding yes.

So, how will you compile your target list of schools? While the tendency is to work your way down the rankings, starting with H/S/W, another valid approach is to work your way up the rankings instead. 

Employers realize that the most valuable new hires don’t always come from the elite schools. Over the past 5 years, according to Poets and Quants, total compensation (salary + bonus) for new MBA grads has increased more rapidly at 23 schools other than Harvard and Stanford.

We encourage every MBA applicant to aim high, work hard and never settle. In doing so, however, create as many viable options for yourself as possible. For many individuals, this includes targeting b-schools in addition to H/S/W. 

Research your target programs before applying

It’s no secret that the MBA admissions process is fraught with time-consuming steps such as studying for the GMAT or GRE, crafting a resume and essays, organizing recommendations and honing interview skills.

Amidst all these tasks, it’s easy to overlook one of the most important aspects of the campaign – getting to know the schools to which you are applying. 

Here are four suggestions to help give your candidacy a true, competitive edge:

Identify your priorities for an MBA education

Unless you establish which aspects of the b-school experience are most important to you, it will be difficult to choose which programs are best for your needs and are the best fit for you. Think about program characteristics such as class size, campus location, academic focus and strengths, curriculum flexibility, teaching methodology, impact and reach of alumni network in markets you may wish to live post b-school, brand prestige, etc., in order to narrow down the list of programs that merit your consideration.

Research academic offerings, extra-curricular activities and school cultures

Spend time researching courses, clubs, conferences, campus culture, and travel opportunities. Taking this step will ensure that your essays and interviews distinguish your candidacy and make a compelling case for your fit with the specific program. For example, analyzing course descriptions will help you explain how the school’s academic offerings can help you achieve your unique career goals. Furthermore, learning about student-led organizations, initiatives and events will help you express your potential to contribute.

Engage directly with members of the MBA community

If you haven’t made the effort to attend a school’s info sessions, visit the campus, speak to students, professors and alumni, then you’re going to have a hard time convincing the adcom their school is your top choice. For example, sitting in on a class will enable you to convey your first-hand experience with classroom dynamics. 

MBA applicants who go the extra mile inherently have a “leg up” throughout the application process because adcoms are increasingly focused on wanting to admit only those individuals who they believe are most likely to actually enroll if admitted.

Evaluate the facts regarding post-MBA careers

Every top-tier business school claims that its students are pursued by leading companies across a wide range of industries and geographies. However, the reality is that the percentage of grads who follow a particular career path varies significantly among schools. 

Relying solely on published rankings and school websites is a logical starting point, but that alone won’t be enough to differentiate your candidacy and convince an admissions committee you’re an excellent fit for their program.

After all, you wouldn’t accept a new job without visiting the company, getting to know co-workers, understanding the duties and weighing how the career move can set you up for future success. The same holds true for applying to MBA programs. So, it’s essential that you invest the time and energy to fully understand each school you’re pursuing.

How important is “location” when choosing a business school?

You want an MBA education, brand and network that will serve you well for the next 30-40 years, regardless of where in the world you decide to live and work, right? Only a relative handful of schools are considered truly “global.” And, a school’s “location” means much more than the physical campus.

So, how can you determine before enrolling whether the location of your otherwise favorite MBA program is best for you?

From having advised applicants worldwide, The MBA Exchange understands the near-term and long-term significance of a school’s geographic footprint. Here are 8 steps you can take to help you make the best choices:

  • Identify the regions, countries and cities where you’re most likely to live and work following graduation
  • Talk with the heads of local b-school alumni chapters in the major cities in those regions to confirm the size and vitality of their local clubs
  • Engage with the school’s career services office to find out which companies in those regions recruit and hire MBA grads for the type of positions you envision
  • Use LinkedIn to identify and contact accomplished alumni in those regions who would be willing to chat with you about their post-MBA experience
  • Analyze how many students from those regions and countries attend the targeted school as an indication that the program has a presence in that area
  • Reach out to officers of relevant student clubs to get their perspective on the location of career opportunities available to MBA grads
  • Study the listing of elective courses to determine whether the prospective world region/countries are featured in the curriculum
  • Explore formal affiliations between business schools that allow students at one program to study at the other campus and access both alumni networks

Of course, the more selective and prestigious the business school, the more likely it is to be known, respected and valuable worldwide.

How do you decide whether a business school is the right fit?

There are at least 5 aspects to “fit” when deciding if a certain business school is the best choice for you:

1. Fit between school’s teaching method vs. your learning preferences

How do you absorb and process information best? Some programs emphasize the case-study method, while others rely on traditional lectures. Which is more appealing to you? You should also consider whether the amount of team-oriented work vs. individualized learning is compatible with your needs and expectations.

2. Fit between school’s academic emphasis vs. your priorities for knowledge

Are you a techie seeking to transition into finance or marketing? An operations specialist hoping to climb the ladder to a COO role? Do the disciplines in which the school ranks highest align with your needs and expectations? 

Check out course listings and descriptions to confirm the fit. During our Comprehensive Consultation, we help MBA applicants define the “gap” between their current strengths and their future goals to determine how well a given business school can help them fill in that gap.

3. Fit between school’s recruiting focus vs. your post-MBA career plans

Are you going to pursue a corporate job or join a startup? What are the dream companies that you see yourself at after b-school? Compare your priorities with the listing of companies that visit campus and those that hire the most grads from this school. The career services office is your best resource for this kind of info.

4. Fit between school’s geographic footprint vs. your anticipated location

Where the campus is located is important, but can be overemphasized. Most Wharton grads depart Philly right after commencement. Very few Tuck grads remain in Hanover. So, look at the listing of alumni chapters to see where grads settle. 

Check out the chapters’ respective websites to get a feel for how large and active the chapter is. Are these cities where you (and your family) would like to live following graduation?

5. Fit between school’s culture vs. your values and personality

Is this a “kinder, gentler” place or a highly competitive boot camp? Arguably the most difficult kind of “fit” to measure, making this subjective assessment is essential to your near- and long-term satisfaction. After all, classmates and other alumni will become friends and allies for life. And the school’s “brand” will help define you in future business and personal dealings.

The best way to assess the culture is to visit campus while classes are in-session. Introduce yourself to current students and get a feel for how well you relate. If you can’t travel to campus, then approach recent graduates in your area and ask them what they liked most and least about their b-school experience. 

As with most major decisions in life, once you’ve completed all the research, identified the pros and cons of your options, heard the opinions of those who know you best, then it’s time to trust your gut. 

The best thing an applicant can do is to provide himself or herself with choices. By gaining admission to more than one top b-school, you’ll face a wonderful “dilemma” in comparing and contrasting them before you decide which fit is truly best for you.

Are you ready to pursue an MBA?

Once you’ve sized up your potential target schools in terms of what they can offer you, it’s time to turn it around and take stock of what you’re ready to do, be and use, and add those factors to your decision on when and where to get an MBA.

Main factors to consider when determining your reaches

When choosing an MBA program, you have to have a sense of your reach. A candidacy by the numbers:


How good is your GPA, and what kind of test scores have you earned? A GPA of 3.2 or lower could hurt your chances at top MBA programs, while a good GMAT score of 730 or above would give your candidacy a boost. You might also find the question of the GMAT vs the GRE relevant to your application prep plans, as you may score better on one test than the other.

Work experience

Your number of years of full-time work experience and the highest job title you’ve held can open doors or leave them closed. More work experience might position you better for an executive MBA, or EMBA, than for a traditional full-time program. When choosing an MBA program, take your past resume into consideration.


A diverse MBA program offers a richness of varied experience. Find culture matches with a diverse student body and faculty that shares your ideals of globalism, inclusiveness and embracing our differences.

Other factors to consider

Your MBA sets the scene for the next stage of your life: who you’re going to be, where you’re going to work, how much money you’re going to make and many other questions about your career and future. Where to get your MBA definitely matters.

Take all factors needed into consideration, from your preference on where to get your MBA to questions of how you’re going to finance your graduate degree. When it comes to the question of how to choose an MBA program, each candidate ultimately has their own answers.

If you’re not going to be able to give an MBA your attention and priority, this might not be your moment. On the other hand, maybe you’re ready now. Feeling committed and ready to meet the challenge of a graduate business degree? Then this is your time.