Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Top 15 MBA better than No MBA?
It's only June, but the application cycle will start soon as most schools will release their essay questions next month. As I contemplate my school list, I have been asking myself the question that a lot of applicants have asked (or should ask if they haven't done so already): how "low" down the rankings am I willing to go?
A few friends of mine have advised me to apply to schools in the 11-15ish range, in addition to my top choices. Their core argument is that those schools will still offer me access to jobs I may be interested in and that I will most likely increase my earning power. This may very well be true, but based on what I have gathered thus far, I'm still not sure this would be the best path for me.
The most important criteria when choosing a school is obviously career placement. Recently I have been poring through the employment reports of various top 15 b-schools. A disturbing reality began setting in as I went through the reports. For the companies/jobs I'm interested in, there is a very sharp drop in recruitment once you go below Tuck/Haas. This means that if I were to attend a 11-15 school I would need to hustle like a madman to get my foot in the door. I certainly don't mind working hard, but this does make me question whether certain schools will help me to achieve my post-mba career goal. The placement issue will also have implications in other areas of MBA life. The more time I spend trying to land interviews, the less time I have to spend on social pursuits and building relationships, which is far from being a trivial aspect of b-school.
Another dimension of the MBA experience is undoubtedly your classmates and the overall school culture. Unlike say top law or med schools, the top business schools are remarkably different from each other. In my campus visits, talking to students and alums, and research, I asked myself whether I could truly be happy here.
At Wharton and Booth, for example, the energy and buzz were so overwhelming that I could hardly contain my excitement. During classes I wanted to jump into the discussions. While talking to students, I found people who shared my interests across multiple areas, and their passion was matched only by their unique life experiences and accomplishments. "Yes!" I told myself. I could definitely see myself here for two years, constantly learning, growing, and pushing myself to the limits. And I know I would gladly pay $200K to attend without giving it a second thought. In sharp contrast, at a few of the other schools I visited, I felt underwhelmed, even bored. It's hard to explain or quantify, but as a Supreme Court justice said when asked how he knew whether something was pornography, "I know when I see it." At these schools (they shall remain nameless) I just did not sense that my time there would be transformational.
Therefore, given these considerations, along with the tremendous financial burden, I am still debating whether I should apply to a more wide variety of top 15 programs. Of course, I can always apply and if accepted, make a decision then. However, given the time commitment required to write a strong application, I also don't want to waste my time on schools that I am simply not at all excited about attending.
I will think more about this in the coming weeks as application season rapidly approaches.