Friday, May 10, 2013

Why a b-school's prestige matters so much

When I got rejected from the top programs this year, a bunch of people told me that I should apply to lower ranked schools as well and expand my target list.  Although they certainly mean well, this is something I thought about extensively and decided against doing.  This upcoming year I will probably add 2 schools that are slightly lower, but aside from that I am committed to my core target programs.  Why am I doing this?  Some think I'm being downright stubborn or that my ego won't let me go anywhere else.  That is certainly not the case.  In this post, I want to outline the reasons why a b-school's prestige matters so much to me.  Although certain specifics of my reasons may not apply to others, I do think the general principles outlined here could apply to all MBA applicants.

1. On-campus recruitment and career placement.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  The PRIMARY purpose of a MBA is to get you access to companies and ultimately place you into jobs that you otherwise cannot get.  Everything else, including the academics and social aspects, are secondary and a means to an end.  Therefore, when I look at b-schools I am asking myself the following key questions.  Do the firms I'm interested in recruit on-campus?  If so, how many do they usually hire from the school?  Furthermore, are they recruiting for the roles that I'm interested in?  Since my short-term professional goals are in a niche area of finance and I have no interest in consulting or general management, my options are rather limited.  There are a lot of great schools such as fuqua, ross, and darden, that would be excellent choices if I were interested in consulting, but for the area of my interest, they would do little for me.  Quite frankly, I wish I were interested in consulting because that would make my life easier in terms of school selection.  However, I am very sure of what I want, and for the types of roles I'm looking at, there is a handful of core target schools. 

2. Intellectual and personal growth and challenge.  This aspect is secondary to job placement, but it is nonetheless quite important to me.  The best part of having attended a top college was being surrounded by very smart talented classmates and learning more from them than the professors.  My undergrad experience was filled with late night debates on pressing political, economic, social, and philosophical topics as well as countless conferences, events, seminars, where I was constantly amazed by the caliber of my classmates.  There is no way to quantify the intellectual dynamism and energy of a school; there's no formula, and it does not show up on US News rankings.  It is however a critical component of an educational experience.  Of course, I don't expect the MBA to be identical to undergrad, but I very much hope to join a community where I can learn from my classmates and contribute in return.  Aside from career placement, b-school for me is about interacting with highly intelligent talented people who will push me to challenge myself, question my assumptions, and rethink how I see the world.  In short, it is a transformational experience.  I strongly believe that the chance of such a transformation taking place is higher at an elite b-school, and it is one reason why I am so insistent on trying to get into a "core" program.  

Final thoughts.  Not everyone will agree with my points; I actually expect some to strongly disagree. Since this is a personal blog, I just wanted to be honest and put my cards on the table.


  1. I think your first point about why prestige matters is valid. The second point is a very idealized notion of business school. I can count the number of times I've stayed up until the wee hours debating politics and economics with my classmates. We stay up late all the time but the activities are much more fun. I'm not saying that intellectual vitality doesn't exist, but MBA programs are hardly recognized as bastions of academia. The stuff you learn from classmates is often just how to do a proper operations process flow.

  2. LastChanceMBA,

    Although I do agree that prestige matters, let's not confuse terms or have errors in logic. The bottom line for business schools is that they be target schools for recruitment by the top terms. So in this top firms determine business school "prestige." It is important to focus more on the top firms you want to work for than business school prestige. Not all top firms hire from the most prestigious programs for instance. I agree with Cheetarah1980 about the second point. Perhaps you should seek out personal fulfillment and personal growth and challenge now, before business school as well as during. You may have to reach out to other parts of campus for intellectual stimulation (perhaps you can meet brilliant medical students for example).