It’s a little late in the business school applications season, but given that I have a lot of prospective students writing to me asking for general advice about applications, etc., I feel compelled to write a blogpost that can summarise my advice which stems from a combination of being an MBA aspirant once upon a time and an MBA student now, which probably makes this post stronger than if I were to write this two years ago! So, here are my two cents on how you should go about it.
A business school is a means to an end and not an end in itself
Deciding which school you want to apply to can be super daunting as the choice is enormous and the rankings, fees and reviews make it no easier. But, what most people don’t realise during applications is that you could get into the best business schools in the world and it would mean nothing if it doesn’t lead you to where you’d like to go afterwords. For instance, if you have always admired Steve Jobs and have dreamt of working in the Apple headquarters, you’d be less likely to get there after the MBA if you went to a business school in Milan instead of going to one in California. Here’s a quick cheat I recommend – Make a list of organisations you’d like to see yourself working in and just find them on LinkedIn, look for the top schools that these organisations recruit from and then start talking to people from these schools to understand how the school supports you in getting these dream jobs.
Rankings are a good anchor/ starting point but by no means an end point
When I applied to my MBA program, my school stood 5th and 7th in the Economist and Financial times rankings (which are pretty reputable ranking agencies in the business), but today 2 years down, we are at No.16. While these rankings are highly volatile, they do offer some vague insight into markets (through placement success rates and average salaries) and brand value of the school (Among alumni, recruiters, academia). In general, rankings don’t matter to me but one of my peers mentioned something that got me thinking. If the school does not have any brand value in a certain job market, the best a recruiter can do is google your school and find out that it is a Top 10 school and be pleasantly more considerate. But if it’s not, then no harm done since you were anyway not going to be top choice for this recruiter.
Start asking yourself if the school is good enough for you and not the other way around
One of the first questions people always ask current students is about their GMAT scores as if it is a way for them to validate if their score would be good enough for this school. I’ve done that too, so I’m not judging. Most schools publish average/ median/ lowest acceptance scores on their website so asking this question provides no additional insight. Try to learn about the school’s culture, approach to academics, recruitment, general facilities and other things that really matter to you as an individual to understand if that’s the environment you’d like to spend 2 years of your life in. The best way to get an unbiased opinion is to ask very specific personal experiences of a diverse set of students. Most B-schoolers are more than happy to introduce you to people once you’ve shown a genuine interest in their experience. If you make an ill-informed choice just because you were good enough for the school, you’ll end up with two miserable years that will never come back in your life!
Essays are not just for the school to understand you and your aspirations, it is a tool for you to reflect on your own life and see how any school would help further it
The most dangerous place to be in is not having a clue of what you want to do with your MBA at the time of application. Having 3-4 different options is still fine, but make sure you envision a complete future (atleast as far as you can see) for each of those options in order to assess which schools will help best in achieving any of the several paths. Recently, someone asked me if it was okay for them to state in the goals essay that they want to become an entrepreneur or if they should just say they would like to get into management consulting. First of all, if you already know you want to “become” an entrepreneur, don’t even bother going to a business school as it’s a huge opportunity cost and you’re probably better off learning some real business skills through your own business. Secondly, you miss the opportunity for some real feedback by gaming the inputs. A lot of European schools provide a pre-application feedback to your candidacy, free of cost and it is worth exploring!
Do you really need another degree?
MBAs are not the most sought after today. In fact, through recruiting especially for tech, you’ll realise that degrees are less important today than they were a decade ago. If you think this degree will be your passport to success, I’m sorry to break your bubble unless of course we are talking about traditional industries like consulting and investment banking that still heavily recruit MBAs. For all else, there’s no set path to get anywhere and you’re on your own without your degrees or pedigree to prove your worth and build a career. When I was asking one of my managers for a recommendation before applying to B-school, he asked me why I was applying for an MBA, I responded swiftly saying I wanted to advice companies on how to design and run their operations and that a business school would provide me with the platform to do this quickly. His response remains with me forever – He asked me if I’d ever thought about creating an alternate means to the same end since that would give me the power to create my own journey to this destination I was clear about. But I hadn’t. I didn’t manage to either. May be I should have.