Written by Bill Sandefer, Director of Graduate Admissions and Financial Aid, Freeman School, Tulane University
This is one of the questions I get most frequently. Ideally, applying to an MBA program should be a process of discovery—about you, and about schools that can match your needs and ability.
The first part is considering your abilities and needs. Location always plays a big part in selecting a program. Schools can be very location-dependent with classes, faculty, and other students focused on opportunities in the region. Other schools offer national and international perspectives. Either can be valuable, depending on your needs. Program size and academic quality should also match your abilities and needs. Some people simply work better in small settings or thrive in large groups. Academic quality will determine much of the classroom experience. No one wants to be the outlier in the group, so finding a peer group where you can be part of the conversation and contribute to everyone’s experience is very important. Take the GMAT and take a hard look at your transcript to get a sense where you will succeed academically.
Every school has a character, style, and specializations that should be part of the consideration. Character is often a product of the history and faculty at the institution. Some schools, just like undergrad, will be laid back and easygoing—others, more staid and reserved. I like to think of a school’s style being the expression of that character. Glossy contemporary or old-world charm? Lots of faculty interactions, singing in the halls, debates, keg nights?
Finally, each school has faculty that have managed to create programs that may be of interest to you. These can be formal concentrations or informal but specialized programs.
That said, back to the question: How many? Using your GMAT and location information, come up with about five schools. Take a look at specializations and build a list of about five more (some may overlap). Look at your list, and then start the real research. Feel free to add and drop as you better define what you’re looking for. Look for the academic qualities, the right feel, and the right resources until your list is down to a final five schools. You can, of course, apply to all of these, or you may want to narrow the list further. Try to apply to at least three.
The application is your chance to validate your decision. You’ll have a chance to discuss your goals with professionals from each school and with faculty and alumni. With good preparation, you’ll know what you want from the school and be ready to go when you get your admit letter.