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The 3 Es of Assessing Fit When Researching MBA Programs

By Lindsay, IvyWise MBA Admissions Counselor

MBA applications are on the rise, and while most business school applicants are well aware of how much time they will need to spend preparing their applications or studying for the GMAT/GRE, many don’t necessarily consider the amount of time they should be spending on program research. Pursuing an MBA is a huge investment of your time and money, so it’s really important to do your due diligence in choosing a program that will best fit your goals.

There is more to consider than just the prestige, rankings or “name brand” of an institution. Down the road, when you are crafting your business school applications, admissions committees will be looking for you to address the “Why [Insert School Here]” question specifically. Beyond explaining why you want an MBA, you’ll need to be able to speak specifically to what resonates with you about that particular school’s academics, faculty, culture, and community in an authentic way. It’s in your best interest to do the legwork upfront, not only so you can craft an impressive application, but also because an MBA is going to be a large investment of your time and money, so you want to be sure you choose a school that is truly the best fit for you!

To help streamline that process, here are my top three tips for how to assess which MBA programs will be the best fit for you.

Ensure the School’s Resources Align With Your Career Goals
It’s probably safe to assume you would not be considering an MBA if you were 100% satisfied with your career exactly as it stands today. Whether you are a career changer, looking to leave your current industry behind and pivot into something completely new, or a career advancer seeking to expand your business knowledge and network in order to move up the corporate ladder in your current field, it’s incredibly important to research the resources that will be available to help you achieve your career goals post b-school. Before you even begin your MBA journey, do some soul-searching about your short-term and long-term career goals to ensure that business school is the right step for you.

Once you have a solid grounding of the career path and opportunities you’ll be seeking, begin to research which curricula might best align with those goals. Does the school have a reputation for marketing, finance, entrepreneurship, or accounting? What academic concentrations or business tracks are offered, and how many can you pursue? Take a look at the number of courses each program offers in your area of interest, but also keep in mind that quantity does not always indicate quality. It’s especially important to research and consider the faculty – who are the professors teaching the courses you want to take? Top programs will have faculty who are publishing world-class research in prominent academic journals, and creating impact through their contributions to their fields. Begin to narrow your list based on your career interests and target schools whose curricula and faculty will best prepare you for your particular field.

Next, find out what career resources are offered by each school you’re considering. Are there opportunities for individualized coaching, comprehensive workshops for resume reviews and interview prep, and opportunities to network with alumni in your chosen industry? Dig into the employment reports and career data you can find online to learn more about what sorts of career paths the alumni are pursuing, salary ranges, as well as the strength of relationship each school has with specific companies who recruit their students. For example, if your dream is to work for one of the “Big Three” consulting firms, target b-schools that place students in internships there or have a good percentage of grads going on to work there full-time. If your goal is to own your own business, check out the resources for entrepreneurs – courses, incubator space, venture competitions, or alumni with whom you can connect. Applicants often overlook this step, but it’s crucial to ensure your b-school of choice will provide you with the career support you are seeking now and in the future.

Explore Academic Offerings
An MBA is a general management degree, designed to expose you to a breadth of courses that should enable you to speak the language of business, wherever your career might take you. While the curriculum at each school should, at minimum, provide you with foundational management skills in areas like leadership, accounting, and economics (to name a few), you’ll find differences in terms of the structure, flexibility to pursue tracks or concentration areas, and even exposure to faculty, depending on which program you are researching.

The school’s offerings should align with your learning style. Does the school require you to complete a lockstep core curriculum year one, followed by electives you can explore during your second year? Or is the curriculum more flexible, allowing you to tailor the education to your specific background and career goals? Also consider what sort of teaching philosophies might be employed. Is the primary teaching style lecture-based instruction, the case study method, or group work based approach? Are there opportunities for experiential learning? For many schools, this may differ from professor to professor, and plenty of faculty may provide a mixture of methods in order to accommodate the variety of learning styles within the classroom, but it’s something you’ll want to look into to ensure the approach aligns with your personal preference and learning style.

Engage With the Community
The number one way to assess fit for any MBA program you are considering is to visit, if possible, so that you can experience the community firsthand. It may sound cheesy, but searching for the right community/culture can often feel like shopping for a new apartment – sometimes you walk into a place, you get a feeling, and you just know. Either “Ahh, this place feels comfortable – like home to me.” or “This place just isn’t my vibe.” Of course that may be difficult now with COVID-19 restrictions, so take advantage of virtual options when available and research the visiting policy of each school to which you plan to apply.

When you are networking with students, ask them directly about their experience:

  • What is it like to be a student here?
  • Would you describe the community as competitive or collaborative?
  • What was your favorite class or who is your favorite professor so far?
  • Are your professors accessible?
  • What has been the most challenging aspect of the program for you?
  • As an alum, how did you leverage your MBA to advance your career?
  • Did you feel supported by the school during that transition?
  • What do you love most about your school?

Ask yourself if these are the types of folks you can envision yourself learning alongside for the next few years, who will be part of your “forever network” as an alum, and whether or not the culture feels like one in which you can thrive. It can be difficult to pinpoint that feeling without experiencing it in person, which is why visits are so important.

If you’re unable to travel to campus, try to attend admissions events in your area or participate in online webinars and live chats hosted by the school. Read blog posts written by students, or seek out student organizations and connect on social media. Reach out to the admissions team and ask if you can be connected to a student or alumni ambassador in a certain industry to learn more about their experience firsthand. There are many ways to engage, so be creative!

There are so many MBA programs and schools to consider, and it can be overwhelming when you first begin your research process. But if you have a strong sense of who you are, your professional goals, and what qualities you’re seeking in an MBA program, you have the tools to narrow your list until you feel confident that the schools you apply to are truly the best fits for you. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to fit, so do thorough research and it will pay off for you ten-fold when you find yourself thriving at your “perfect fit” b-school in the future.

At IvyWise we work with MBA applicants to help them find their best-fit programs and submit the most comprehensive and compelling applications to their top-choice programs. We can also assist with test prep for the GRE and GMAT. For more information on our MBA and graduate admissions counseling services, contact us today.


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