How to know if you ‘Fit’ an MBA program and Business School

Sudershan ‘Suds’ Tirumala (Regional Director, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth), sheds some light on the elusive term ‘Fit’ that most Admissions Officers use in their presentations but not many applicants really understand.
 


Survival Of The ‘Fit’test – Fittingly Enough, It’s All About Fit

 
Top 10 MBA Admissions Officer - SudsNow that you’ve had an opportunity to internalize the message in the earlier post (Differentiating your MBA Application), it’s time to take the next step, and talk about something that’s probably given the least importance by Indian applicants when taking that decision to apply to business school. Fit.

What does ‘fit’ mean??
Does it even matter?
It’s a bunch of balderdash!
I can fit anywhere – I’m a flexible guy…

These are not random statements – I’ve been involved in conversations where applicants have posed these rhetorical questions alongside some off-the-cuff remarks. But really, what is fit? What’s all the hoopla about?

Let’s take a sartorial example. Because you’re a very busy person normally, you don’t have too much time to spend in the departmental store. Let’s say you hop into the store, simply pick up clothes that you think might fit you without first trying them on.

Better yet, let’s say you just bought some clothes from an e-commerce site. Until the stuff is shipped home and you try them on, you’d have no idea whether the clothes you ordered pass the “wear-worthy” test.

In the event the clothes are either too tight fitting or too loose fitting, would you be comfortable going out in those clothes to a party?

Or will you do whatever it takes – move your schedule around, figure out other websites, etc. – to ensure you’re ultimately the owner of great fitting clothes and not the ones you had bought earlier in tremendous hurry?

My guess is you’d do the latter.

If you’re willing to do whatever it takes to wear clothes you will look good in, why are you ignoring the same question when it comes to business school – the cloak and the degree you’ll be wearing on you for the rest of your life?

Why aren’t you asking yourself and your near and dear ones, these questions:

Does this school fit me well?
Am I a good fit for this school?
If everything seems to be falling in place, how do I demonstrate my fit to the admissions committee?

The beauty of figuring out fit is, if you get the answers to the first two questions above, the last question automatically gets answered and you don’t even have to struggle to demonstrate fit!

That brings us back to the question: “What’s FIT and what’s the big deal?

At the risk of gross generalization, Indian applicants tend to think of business school rankings and career outcomes as proxies for fit.

As long as they have a decent GMAT score, they think they’ll be able to fit anywhere, and believe they just have to get through a couple of years of MBA studies, in order to be set up with a rewarding career.

But is it really that simple? Why that extraordinary focus on the destination to the extent that you’re conveniently forgetting the journey?

Isn’t it the journey that makes the destination so much more meaningful?

Shouldn’t you be looking for a business school experience that’s truly transformative for you – in whichever facet of life – something that enables the quantum leap you’re looking for?

Granted you’re looking for an MBA degree no matter which business school you’re targeting.

Granted the career outcomes you want are broadly categorized as
– Consulting,
– Banking/finance,
– General management,
– Non-profit,
– Entrepreneurship

If you’re looking at schools in the US, every region has its own uniqueness
– Pacific Northwest,
– West Coast,
– East Coast,
– Northeast,
– Midwest,
– Mid South,
– Mid Atlantic.

And if you’re looking at international schools, they’re culturally different from each other.
– Europe (and within Europe, the various countries and their schools),
– South East Asia,
– China,
– India.

And then there are the MBA flavors – accelerated one-year MBA and the two-year residential MBA.

Hark back to the idea of buying clothes online without being able to try them on.

Purely online research of business schools is nothing different. Everything looks great online, and the human brain is such a fantastic machine that it will lull you into thinking that you’re best fit for that school.

If you visited ten different business school sites, odds are you’ve already felt you’ll fit in all or most of them – especially when the only source of your information is pure, unadulterated online research!

Now, it’s your turn to separate the wheat from the ubiquitous chaff – figure out which are those elusive schools that really speak to you and where you really feel like you belong.

And those revelations happen when you talk to people from that school – faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni – and get a sense of the community.

No amount of online research will throw as much light on a school as will a half hour conversation with someone associated with that school.

More than anything else, you owe it to yourself to do that due diligence to figure out whether it’s a community you’d like to be associated with, for the rest of your life.

Make no mistake, every school is trying to sell its product – the MBA program – and attract the best talent from around the world, just as much as there are applicants trying to showcase themselves as the perfect candidate for that school.

If there’s a confluence of thoughts, then there’s no looking further!

Just one more point to clarify. I mentioned above that if the first two questions regarding fit are answered, the third is automatically answered. You may be wondering how that’s possible.

Here’s how:

When you have conversations with real people associated with the school of your choice, your “fit” will either get reinforced or stripped away.

Assuming it gets reinforced, your body language changes without your knowledge. You start speaking like a current student.

You’re already imagining yourself as part of the community. You can’t get enough of that conversation you just had.

You’re suddenly connecting with more people from that school than you ever imagined.

You’ve internalized that school’s culture so much, that the thoughts automatically flow into your essays and demonstrate the genuineness of your research.

Once you’re able to get through to the admissions committee with your compelling essays, the interview will follow in due course.

And what do you do in the interview? You simply channel all the research you’ve done, all those conversations that were so fundamental to your beliefs about the school, and you simply speak your heart during the interview. That’s it. Game. Set. Match.

I was giving a talk recently at one of the MBA Tour events, as were people from 30+ business schools from around the world.

At the end of the talk, one of the prospective applicants came up to me and said, “Suds, I’ve heard admissions officers from every school talk about their school, but this is the first time I’ve heard someone speak from the applicant’s perspective. Now, I understand the meaning of ‘fit,’ which I have chosen to ignore up until now. I was wrong, and I’m going to do a lot more research and figure out which school will make me truly happy.

That’s absolutely right. Figure out where you will be truly happy, in every sense of that word. That place is the right fit for you.
 
Read more posts from Suds on MBA admissions and careers.


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Sudershan Tirumala //
Sudershan Tirumala
Suds' association with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth (an Ivy League university) as Regional Director has given him rich & unique insights about international & Indian applicants that very few admissions officers have. In an exclusive series for MBA Crystal Ball, he writes on a wide range of topics from MBA admissions to careers.

5 Comments

  1. Sanjay says:

    Hello Sudarshan,

    I think you bring up great points about the whole thought process that goes behind MBA application process for an Indian applicant.(Me being one!). I can say few points you mentioned did go in my SOP’s during my MS applications!!.
    Now after working almost 5 years in US, I think I need a new dimension and a new challenge to my professional and personal career. I have decided to purse MBA (Dont know when, yet) in near future. Currently, I am trying to understand what that will entail in terms new opportunities, new outlook towards professional life, whole new experience etc.I guess I have a simple question for you, since I am in reach of few good schools, is it advisable to try to contact and meet any admissions committee members this early (if I can) or try to develop a communication with the school of my choice?
    Just a background: I came to pursue MS right after my Engineering degree from India and I have stated working in my current company right after I finished my MS in Mechanical Engineering and so per-say I dont have any educational “gaps” on my resume. Does that make a good difference on my application or it depends how I highlight the “no” gaps?

    I really enjoyed reading your post,I hope you write more on such interesting topics!
    Thank you
    Sanjay

    • Suds says:

      Sanjay,

      Thanks for your comment. Glad to hear you’re thinking of doing an MBA to further your career ambitions. I’ll say you absolutely should try and reach out to Admissions Committees of the schools you’re evaluating.

      Now, since this is typically a very busy time of the year, there might be a bit of a delay in their getting back to you, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing your research. At the very least, nothing stops you from getting in touch with current students and get a sense of their experiences.

      Regarding your question on there being no gaps in your education, that doesn’t by itself make for a better or worse application. I’d rather you focus on what you think really differentiates you as a candidate. I’ll address the question of gap in a future blog. Stay tuned.

      Best,
      Suds.

  2. Sanjay says:

    Hello Suds,

    Thank you for the feedback and sorry for the few typos in my question!

    Sanjay

  3. Anjum ahmed gilani says:

    Hello sudarshan
    I m an engineer working in oil and gas industry since last 13 years. Require ur suggestion that will doing a one year MBA help my career growth. I want to continue in same industry.

    Regards

    • Suds says:

      Hi Anjum,

      Thanks for your question. Typically, one-year MBA programs are geared towards people who have been in a specific industry and want to go back to the same industry (or even the same company, for that matter). Not sure if you want to be in the same company and whether the company is going to sponsor you, but a good number of one-year MBA programs (at least the ones in the US) end up having students who are being sponsored by their employers. The downside of the one-year MBA is the limited opportunity to do an internship, but that’s the whole point. If you already know you’re going to be in the same industry, do you really need to prove yourself in an internship all over again?

      I’d say go for it, if you’re sure this is the industry in which you see yourself continuing to grow professionally. Adding business credentials on top of it won’t hurt!

      Best,
      Suds.

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