Tough Decisions: Choosing Among MBA Programs

Photograph by Izabela Habur/Getty Images

It’s that time of the year again as MBA admissions decisions begin to be released. Applicants in the first round have either been admitted, denied, or been put on the waiting list. (I’ll cover the waiting list in a future post.) This often is a nerve-wracking time for MBA applicants; for some of you, this might be the first rejection you’ve ever received. Many people rationalize rejection, arguing that it merely affirms that a particular school was indeed not the right fit. Rationalization or not, rejection stings. There will be further decisions released in the coming weeks and months if you applied to multiple schools. Are you ready?

I recently chatted with a colleague who was counseling a newly admitted student who had been admitted to a number of very good MBA programs—and who was also fortunate enough to have received a sizeable merit scholarship from one of the lesser-known schools to which he was admitted. What should he do?

While in the past, I might have easily suggested that enrolling in a highly rated school was the best choice, it’s not so simple any more. Each person’s specific circumstances will likely lead to different choices. So how do you make these tough decisions if the answer isn’t obviously clear? If we’re talking about a small difference in the investment, perhaps it’s not a big deal. But what if we’re talking about a full ride or a 50 percent scholarship? Should you have the great fortune to face this kind of decision, here are a few things to consider:

• Will this decision affect only you, or do you have significant others to consider? Moving to attend business school may be the right move, but it could have negative effects on the people you love. Make sure you include them in the decision-making process.

• Do you have a sense for where you would like to live/work after you graduate? Which schools have a strong network of alumni and corporate partners in your preferred industry and can function in that location?

• What are the differences among schools in expected salary and additional compensation upon graduation? Does the increase in potential earnings over the next 20 years at one school offset its additional tuition costs?

• Scholarships are often given to encourage the best students to enroll at a particular school. Do you want to be the best at that school or do you want to be challenged by others better than you? There’s no right answer here, but the question deserves consideration. Big fish, small pond? Or little fish, big pond? Where will you be comfortable or challenged?

Regardless of your options, it’s important to go back to the beginning—when you first started thinking about applying for your MBA—to validate your original intentions against the noise of seeing all those admissions offers. There is no right MBA program for everyone, but a thoughtful assessment will lead you to your right answer. Good luck!

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