Beyond the Rankings: Get the Inside Track

Nov 11, 2011
Tags: Admissions, Applications, B-School Rankings, Business School, Choosing the Right School, School Selection

You’ve decided to get an MBA—but where?  For applicants who are just beginning to explore their options, rankings are a natural place to turn.  They’re authoritative and, at first glance, look pretty comprehensive.  They consider admission selectivity, post-MBA salary, recruiter input, student body diversity, international reach, faculty research … the list continues.

There’s one essential element of the school selection equation, however, that rankings fail to take into account: your personal career goals and preferences.  With this in mind, we’d like to discuss a few sources of valuable business school information that will be highly tailored to your own post-MBA path.

Assuming that you already have a few schools in mind, a great first step is to reach out to your friends and colleagues and ask them if they can connect you with any current students or alumni.  After all, nobody knows a school better than someone who’s been through the program.  By working your network, you can forge personal connections with people who have this insider perspective on the schools you’re considering, allowing you to get their candid impressions of each program’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Don’t limit yourself during this exploratory stage.  In addition to seeking contacts at the programs on your shortlist, ask your associates and friends to introduce you to alumni or students at other schools that they believe would be a good fit given your personality, learning style, and goals.  The people with whom you work and play have an insider perspective on you, after all, and might be in a position to recommend a perfect MBA program that wouldn’t have made it onto your radar otherwise.

For another perspective on the MBA landscape, consult your mentors and supervisors.  These seasoned professionals are likely to have crossed paths with graduates of a range of MBA programs, and will be able to share their impressions of the alumni they have worked with.  Getting a knowledgeable, third-party perspective on the people coming out of a given program will help you understand how a school’s alumni are perceived within your field, and may inform your decision about whether you want to join their ranks.  Ask how you compare to the graduates of the programs on your list, whether your mentor can see you at some schools more easily than others, and what his or her colleagues have had to say about each.  Of course, this assumes that you’re able to share your business school plans; if you’re unable to approach your own mentor with these questions, go back to your network and see whether you can borrow a friend’s.

Our final suggested source of “inside” information is the most outcome-oriented.  If you have a sense of where you’d like to work on the other side of business school, consider contacting the HR departments at a few of your target firms and asking what they look for in an MBA-level hire.  You may find that they’re especially fond of a certain school’s graduates, or learn that they place more emphasis on relevant work experience and demonstrated leadership than on the institution issuing your diploma.  Even in the latter scenario, you’ll get valuable insight into the kinds of skills and experience you’ll need to gain during your time in an MBA program, which in turn will help you identify the schools that provide the right opportunities and resources.