Sunday, September 02, 2007

How I chose which b-school

It's time of the year where I usually get a few emails and questions about MBA schools, especially about getting into one.

The most basic question is perhaps why get an MBA? A question that, thinking back, I probably didn't really have the answer until I graduated. I can probably share why and why not get an MBA now, but not exactly back then.

Also popular, is the question of why you chose this or that school. One that I know the answer is my thought process getting into that decision: How many schools to apply > Which schools to apply > Which one is the school.

Disclaimer: these are all personal experience - by no means the right and only way to making the choice.

How many schools to apply.

My goal at that time was clear: get into a top b-school. So I had 15-20 schools to play with. But how many to apply?

This is probably a question of expected outcome/value. All the stats are available out there, specifically (1) acceptance rate, (2) application fee, and (3) current students' background (e.g. GMAT, work experience, industry background). What's also important is the expected time to complete a good application for admission, and how much time is available to work on it. I also thought about my own learning curve, i.e. which nth school would I expect my application to be competitive. This includes interviews.

Collecting all the information, let's say I concluded that my average chance of admission was 25%, I had slightly less appealing background, the average application fee was $100, and it took three weeks to prepare a good application materials for each school. I also estimated that I would need the first two applications to learn the whole nine yards about MBA application.

Based on all these, I decided to apply to eight schools (I was willing to let go the first two, expecting I would get at least one from the remaining six), committing $800 for applications and half a year to prepare and go through the application process.

Which schools to apply.

This is where I put more personal details and criteria into the stats, such as school-specific chance of admission, concentration/strength, student background, location (weather, big/small city), and probably some other things. I crossed schools out based on this. I also decided that I would apply to two top 5, four from those ranked 6th to 15th, and two from 16th to 20th.

At this stage, some of my considerations were post-MBA career (I wanted to go back to Asia), family (adapting to a new place, moving in/out, family/spouse activities at the school), and the learning process (competitiveness among students, case/lecture type).

For example, I crossed out Columbia because it's in New York City, Stanford because I just didn't think I would get in, Dartmouth because it's located way too North.

Which one is the school.

There were many things happened getting to this stage. School visits, meeting with Admissions Committee and students, attending informational session, sitting in a class, and interviews. It helped make the whole picture clearer.

Seeing is believing. I saw how technology-advanced was one school compared to the others, how the canteen looked like, where to park, the classroom, the library, and school vicinity. I got the feeling how safety the school and the area surrounding it was. I got some ideas how serious and formal, or how easy going and informal, the students and professors were.

I visited five schools, attended four informational session in Detroit, and interviewed with seven out of the eight schools I applied. Some really got me excited, some others left me with a bit of goosebumps.

As expected, although hard to take, the first two results were a ding and a waitlist. A couple of admits and dings, and another waitlist followed. At the end, I got three admits, two waitlists, and three dings. Better than the previously calculated chance.

Again, the school visits helped. I easily got down to only two admits and one waitlist based on the visits, and further decided not to pursue the waitlist, despite the school was ranked higher than the other two.

At the end, I opted for Duke.

Not in order of importance, the final considerations were ranking, culture and students, program curriculum, family-friendliness, and location.

What others may also consider.

While I had my priorities, so did others. They may include things like specialization or specific courses, specific industry strength, financial assistance, time commitment (e.g. 1 year- or 2 year- program), school reputation/name, and perhaps some more.