One of the most agonizing decisions an MBA applicant must ponder is which school is best. You're looking for the perfect fit--a balance between good curriculum and ambience. So where should you begin?
Try a virtual tour. Like thousands of enterprises trying to sell their goods, business schools have gone online, making it easier than ever for prospective students to glean the information they need from a computer screen. Say you live in Seattle and want to take a look at Duke University's B-school in North Carolina. Just log on to the World Wide Web and call up the Fuqua School of Business Web site. There you'll find everything from the nitty-gritty on the MBA curriculum to detailed biographies of faculty members.
Even with a 14.4 modem or better, you can easily spend two to three hours exploring a single site. Not surprisingly, all the top-tier B-schools boast Web pages, although the quality varies widely. Some are easy to navigate and pleasant to look at; others seem as if they were quickly thrown together by a few hackers.
One thing to keep in mind: Many B-school sites are little more than slick electronic marketing brochures. You'll discover no comparative information on how a school stacks up against its competitors, nor will you find even the smallest hint of negative news. One way around that is to browse the Web with a search engine like Yahoo! for a student alternative to the official university site. By checking into http://journal.wharton.upenn.edu, you can peruse the archives of the Wharton Journal, the B-school's student newspaper, where MBAs are grousing about the paucity of modem lines for off-campus access to the intranet.
Still, official B-school Web locations can give you a good sense of a school's mission, curriculum, and lifestyle. The Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley easily tops the list of well-composed sites. Full of colorful art, it tells you everything you need to know about the academic community, the Bay Area, and the school. You can even check on the performance of the student investment club's portfolio. (Oops! So far this year, it significantly trails the Wilshire 5000, a broad-based stock market index.)
New York University's Stern School offers a comprehensive site with interesting page links, including one to a game, Guess the Dow. The University of Wisconsin at Madison provides an overview of the MBA classes offered, complete with syllabus, daily assignments, required readings, and information about the professor teaching the class.
Of course, a virtual B-school tour can be bumpy at times. To learn about Washington University's Olin School curriculum, you have to search through three separate screens before finding a link to details about the program. The University of Michigan's B-school site is set up like a maze that leads to nowhere but hard-core data about academic programs.
BULLETIN BOARDS. For America Online subscribers, an easy way to tap into B-school Web sites is to enter AOL's BUSINESS WEEK area, which features direct links to nearly 75 of the best institutions, including more than a dozen international management schools. It also gives access to 50 bulletin boards that allow you to exchange information with students and other applicants at specific schools.
Another worthwhile resource is the Marr/Kirkwood Official Guide to Business School Webs, a Web site put up by a former Clemson University professor and a State University of New York college librarian. You can peek at its rankings at http://www.bschool.com.
These Web sites can't take the place of a campus visit. But before you decide to book a flight to a school or fork over $100 to apply, Web surfing can help you do your homework.