Beyond the Rankings: Go to the Source

Nov 18, 2011
Tags: Admissions, Applications, B-School Rankings, Business School, Choosing the Right School, School Selection

In the first entry of our series on ways to go beyond the rankings as you decide which MBA programs to target, we focused largely on sources of information within your own network. For the second installment, we’ll focus on the next steps of the research process that involve connecting with the business school community.

MBA programs differ in a number of very meaningful ways.Do students bid for popular elective classes using an auction model, or does registration operate on a random lottery system? Are there dedicated breaks for recruiting built into the academic calendar, or do company presentations and interviews run parallel to academic work?More importantly, are students generally able to get into the courses they want and balance the job hunt with class assignments? School websites and brochures will give you a sense of the big picture, but to get a handle on the finer points of the student experience, you’ll need to conduct some outreach. 

The good news is that schools make it fairly easy to connect with students and staff who can answer such questions. A school’s admissions staff tends to be on the frontline when it comes to fielding questions from applicants; look for school-hosted message boards, scheduled Q&A chats, and the good old-fashioned “contact us” link. Many schools also maintain a roster of Student Ambassadors who are on hand to address more nuanced questions, while other programs retain student bloggers who write in detail about their business school experiences.Don't be shy about reaching out to such students or admissions staff with your lingering questions; getting a clear picture of the processes and policies that shape students’ lives is a key way to differentiate among programs as you decide where to apply. Just try to avoid asking questions with answers that can be found on the school’s website. Check the FAQ and the registrar pages beforehand, and consider asking questions that focus on the students personal experience and perspective.

You will also have occasion to get in touch with members of the school community as you begin to think about how you will spend your time outside of class. Extracurricular activities are a major component of MBA student life, and a great source of the leadership experience that many recruiters prize. Reach out to the leaders of clubs you might like to join to get a sense of their plans for the coming year and the various ways that students are involved in planning events and activities. Don't see an existing outlet for one of your current hobbies?  Consider contacting a student government representative to learn about the process of starting new clubs.Meanwhile, if you’re of an investigative bent, you might also contact a faculty member whose work you find particularly interesting to ask whether you might be able to help with his or her research. As you learn more about the available extracurricular opportunities, you may find that you can envision yourself on some campuses more easily than on others, or see the potential to make a particularly meaningful impact at one of your target schools.