How to choose which university to apply to for your MBA

Many of the students I advise for their application to an MBA come to me because of the prestige that Harvard has, and I don’t blame them; I also took that into account and, without a doubt, it was the first reason why I thought of this university. However, there is no perfect college, and it’s good to make an informed decision about which colleges to apply to.

Many times, the prestige of universities such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford clouds us, preventing us from wanting to know other universities that are as good or even better in certain aspects. In this article, I will tell you what things you should look at to make a more informed choice that, at the end of the day, leaves you happier about your application and postgraduate degree.

Note: in general when talking about universities I will keep the most popular or prestigious universities in the respective place. I hope I don’t hurt sensitivities šŸ™‚

Teaching methodology

Not all universities teach the same. Harvard is particularly known for its case methodology (you can read more about what classes are like at HBS here), which works best with those who have no problems speaking in public and with those who are very fluent in the language.

While all business schools have some of the case methodology, there are other universities that have a strong component of lecture-based classes, which means that they are typical classes where the professor is the only source of knowledge and he teaches classes while showing slides and you take notes. It’s not my favorite style, but it has its advantages.

In addition to classroom experience, there are also other relevant aspects to how each school teaches. For example, some programs may require you to make an exchange.

One of the aspects that makes the most difference in schools, and that very few students value as they should, is the flexibility of the curriculum. HBS has a loose curriculum: its first year is fully compulsory. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Wolf of Wall Street himself; you’ll still have to take Finance I and II, along with everyone else who has never heard of the NPV.

On the other hand, there are universities, such as UChicago, that allow you to validate courses from the mandatory curriculum based on your undergraduate courses and/or your professional experience, allowing you to take more courses on topics you do not know.

City and atmosphere

If you like more dynamic cities, with lots of things to do and all the urban chaos, you should probably consider those inĀ New York. In the case of the MBA, the best schools are Columbia Business School and NYU Stern.

NYU Stern School of Business

Boston, San Francisco, and ChicagoĀ are also large cities, though not as dynamic as New York. Generally not many appreciate how beautiful Chicago is or simply do not know it, if this is your case I invite you to watch some videos on YouTube about the city and to research about UChicago and Kellogg.

If you’re looking for something in Europe in this same spirit, you won’t find it. The European lifestyle is different, but undoubtedly among the most dynamic cities areĀ Paris, London and Madrid,Ā so you should evaluate HEC Paris, London Business School, IESE and ESADE.

However, the cities named above also have disadvantages. Their cost of living is high, so renting, going out to eat, leaving your children in the garden, among others, will be much higher than what you normally pay.

Photo of a national park located in New Hampshire, the state where Tuck School of Business is located

If you want quieter cities and/or with a lower cost of living, there are other options. In the United States: Yale SOM, Fuqua (Duke University), Tuck (Dartmouth College), Johnson (Cornell University), Ross (UMich), among others are in quieter cities, generally more connected to nature. In Europe something similar would be INSEAD, Cambridge, and Oxford.

Many of those who leave with children, especially with more than one, tend to prefer these cities, as you can rent a house with several bedrooms with the same budget as in cities like New York you rent an apartment with only one bedroom and one bathroom.

Many of those who go with a partner, but this couple does not study or work, tend to prefer more dynamic cities, as there is much more to do in them.

Class size

Not all schools accept the same number of students. Harvard Business School accepts more than 900 students per year, being one of the most accepting. Wharton (University of Pennsylvania) also accepts a lot of people (~900). On the other hand, schools such as NYU Stern, UC Berkeley Haas, UT Austin, Yale, among others, accept between 250 and 350 students.

This leads to a VERY different experience. When the class size exceeds 300 people, it is very difficult to get to know everyone and it is easy for very selective groups to form. For example, at Harvard it was an open secret that there was “Section X”, which grouped together those who had a lot of money.

Colleges with large class sizes have ways to mitigate the effects of this. Generally, they group their students into different sections, assign work in randomly chosen groups, among other things.

Employment Reports

A great reason to do an MBA is to improve your employability, and for the same reason it is important to look at what the school you are applying to is good at.

Tuck, for example, is particularly known for her reputation forĀ Management Consulting. In its latest Employment Report on the Class of 2022, 47% of its graduates got a job in that industry. However, in that same report they reported that only 11% got a job in the technology industry, which is very different from UC Berkeley Haas where 32.9% got a job in that industry.

Alumni and reputation network in your country

The alumni network of each program can be very different in each country.

For example, in Chile, there are universities like UCLA that have a strong alumni network even though they are not as good in the rankings as others.

This is harder to assess without asking graduates from each university, but if you do a simple search among “UCLA School of Management” + who live in Chile on LinkedIn and compare it to “The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth,” you can see that Tuck’s almost 9 times less than UCLA’s. This is consistent with what I have seen when I asked people who studied at each of these universities.

It may also be that some of these universities have some social or political connotation in your country. For example, in Chile, during the government of SebastiĆ”n PiƱera, the main mentions of “Harvard” on social networks were related to the fact that he had studied at this university. Similarly, the University of Chicago has a greater reputation in some politicalĀ quarters for the Chicago Boys.

Beware of rankings

I hope that what we have talked about in this article has already given you an idea that rankings are not the only thing you should consider when choosing where to apply.

It is important to remember that rankings are published by web portals that want to draw attention to themselves, so it is not uncommon to see brutal changes from one year to the next. I remember in one year one of the main rankings left MIT Sloan in 14th position, which is ridiculous, but it undoubtedly derived a lot of attention and generated controversy that is something “positive” for the institution that published it.

Why did I choose Harvard?

HBS was my dream for many years and continued to be so after learning more about the variables I mentioned earlier. In particular, I wanted the following things that were compatible with the Harvard Business School program.

  • I wanted to live inĀ an interesting but not chaotic city. I’m not a fan of New York and Boston was for me a good balance between not living in the middle of nowhere and living in a modern city.
  • I love theĀ case methodology. In undergraduate I had the opportunity to do a course that was case-based and I was the Teaching Assistant of that course for a long time, so I already knew that I loved the methodology.
  • I wanted to train in aĀ more general profile. HBS forces you to take their mandatory resume and that’s exactly what I wanted. Although I had already taken several courses in Accounting and Finance, I had not done them recently. I knew well that I wanted to refresh that knowledge and have the opportunity to share with people who worked in those industries.

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