Written by Kurt Ahlm, Sr. Director of Full-Time Admissions, Chicago Booth
You’ve already decided that you want your MBA; now it’s time to think about which program might be right for you. Your plan should include researching and choosing specific programs that meet your needs, satisfy your lifestyle preferences, and will help you to reach your career goals.
Take time to think about what is important to you in an MBA program. Many things might be obvious to you, such as the location or reputation of a school. But dig deeper and really think about your preferences for factors like the school’s teaching philosophy, how the core curriculum works, and what that will ultimately mean for your experience and the career support you’ll require.
Lifestyle preferences are also very important. Do you prefer a city or small town? Do you want to live in a campus environment or have a variety of housing options within a school community? Is cost a factor in your choice? If so, how much will price sway your decision one way or another? As you answer these questions, make sure to write them down and weigh your preferences against their overall importance in your decision.
Research, Learn, Observe
Once you have identified the fundamental attributes you must have in a program, you can now begin the next phase of school-specific research. It’s time to develop a targeted list of schools that meet your requirements and focus your research on how these programs can deliver on each of the attributes important to you.
The web is the easiest way to get basic program and admission information for each school: class stats, employment reports, the alumni network, and faculty news. You may also want to check out a number of online business school guides that compare top schools across various attributes. There are several MBA discussion boards and networking sites, as well, where applicants can share information and learn from each other.
Be sure to go beyond the web, however, and get to know schools through their communities (alumni and current students). Talk to your mentors and colleagues about their experiences or knowledge about b-schools within their industry and through their personal experiences.
Narrow Your List
Make sure your school exploration allows you to clearly see what makes each school different and helps you to better understand which schools may best fit your needs. This will help you write your essays in a way that clearly shows fit by linking your needs to the schools’ culture and value system.
Finally, once you have a strong interest in a particular program, it’s wise to plan on visiting campus as part of a daily visit program, or attending special on campus events catered to prospective students. There's no better way to get to know a community than by visiting the campus and experiencing it first-hand.