One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I’m gearing up for application season is my school list. I remember when I first started my MBA journey, I came up with the perfect list, or so I thought. While I was waiting for my Manhattan GMAT books to arrive, I decided that when I got my 800 on the GMAT I’d apply to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and maybe Kellogg. Talk about a reach. I came to this list through two decision points. First, I knew that for two years of lost wages and a hundred thousand dollars or more I didn’t want to go to a regional-no-name school only to enter the work force in the same place only two years later and a lot less wealthy. Next, I followed The Rankings and selected the top schools figuring that they would allow me the best chance at Kohlberg Pacific Management, McKBainGroup, or JP Sachs. Never mind that I wasn’t really gunning for those jobs.
A few months later, when I hadn’t quite got to the 800 range, I decided I needed to reassess my school selection. I figured applying to 4 top schools was a bit risky, so I would add one or two more. Or eight. I did my research, thought about it, talked to people, and came up with the following additions: I’d add Tuck, Booth, Fuqua, Haas, Ross, Johnson, Tepper, and McCombs. Now armed with 12 schools, there was no way I’d join the zero admit club. Never mind the fact that I’d be clinically insane after an application season with that many schools.
After that, some people that are way smarter than I talked some sense into me. They challenged me to think critically about my list, and to really try to see the differences in these schools. Someone who is happy at Haas probably won’t enjoy life at Wharton too much. I also started to realize, that for my target industry, a lot of the jobs recruited the same out of HBS as they did Fuqua (as an example). Of course this rule has limitations, but for the sake of discussion, I’m just going to leave it at this: There is a bit of a diminishing return for going to a higher rated school, as long as the two schools in question have a decent chance at placing you in your desired industry/job.
Now I am down to 5 or 6 schools that I’d be more than thrilled to attend. My schools have a decent array of reaches, good fits, and one or two safer schools, even though I totally disagree with the idea of having a safety school – more on that in future posts. I have spent hours on the phone with current students, read school websites extensively rooting through placement data, classes offered, student blogs, etc., and am starting to think all the research is paying off. I highly recommend to anyone who is still in the initial phases of making a school list to realize that its a process, and not a one-time-populate-the-list-and-be-done-with-it situation. Try to enjoy the journey. This is your chance to pick amongst the schools, before they get to pick amongst us!