Deciding Which MBA Program is Right for You

Are you gearing up to apply for an MBA program this fall? I can’t stress enough how important it is to put significant thought into which programs you’re going to dedicate dozens of hours to over the coming months, so here are just a few of the things you should be thinking about.

First and foremost, you should look beyond the MBA rankings and give serious consideration to your own preferences regarding teaching methods, curriculum flexibility, rural or urban setting, large or small program, general management approach or concentration-focused, as programs vary widely and the MBA is not a one-size-fits-all degree.

Many people wonder whether  they should pursue a general or specialized MBA. Personally, I feel that a general MBA prepares you better to be a business leader, because running a business involves an understanding of all aspects of the business. It also allows networking and an exchange of ideas with all different types of people with different backgrounds and goals.

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Next, do your research to come up with a shortlist of business schools that meet those requirements, and then focus on how these programs can deliver on each of those attributes. Speak to alumni and current students at each school, and don’t forget to pick the brains of your mentors and colleagues who have MBAs to learn about their personal experiences.

Much of your list can be determined as you progress through the process. As you become more invested in going to business school, and your story solidifies, you may decide to add additional schools. As you clarify your goals, you may consider schools that you had never looked at in the past. Similarly, this process may cause you to drop schools.

Once you clearly see what makes each school different, you’ll 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.

But fit goes both ways. Schools are also seeking candidates that fit their unique culture. You can better understand the school’s culture by attending events this summer and fall. Also, don’t forget to keep up with those school-hosted online chats that provide admissions advice as well as insider knowledge about specific career paths or concentrations on offer.

Part of preparing a strong application includes knowing yourself well by doing a self-assessment. Know what you want to get out of your MBA experience and why a particular program fits your educational and personal needs.

Finally, I suggest creating a timeline of the deadlines of when you plan to apply. Working backward from this timeline will help you set goals in terms of GMAT preparation, essay writing, planning to attend events, etc. The sooner you hash out these details, the better prepared you’ll be to fine-tune your application and polish those essays.

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