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How to research business school and MBA programs

How to research business school and MBA programs

So many schools. So little time…

A giant step in the onerous process of MBA application is, in its most basic description, awareness.

Picking a list of business schools is like selecting your most desired dishes in a rather humongous buffet. You need the appetite to taste what you want.

And, it is you who has to sift through the array of delicacies for your serving. But how would you go about choosing what you want to eat?

One word…information. Knowing what you care for and what is in offer comprise the starting point.

In MBA application speak, it is the information gathered as part of the business school research conducted by you, the applicant.

A lot is insisted on the “best fit” for every candidate. A match comes after meticulous research into business schools and how this fit is established.

This is not just important from a labour effective point of view. MBA applications are also substantially expensive. On an average, applicants apply to 6 to 7 b-schools.

Each bear its costs of application fee (~$200) and GMAT/TOEFL score report fee. Even a conservative estimate can shoot the MBA application price tag to close to $2000.

If you are saving up to fund your MBA, this can put a serious, if not significant, dent in your financing.

A wise choice of schools, viz. the ones you obtain through thorough research, can help make the application more strategic and less about throwing blind darts. MBA Rankings are a good starting point.

However, the problem with this approach, if done without the accompanying research described below, is that it can hide the factors that could be important to you.

Ranking methodologies can tell us what are the parameters on which the rankings are based. A good advice would be to check out the different ranking methodologies to find the one that resonates with your requirement from an MBA program.

Meanwhile, do make sure you carry out your own investigation into the programs. It would be your job to separate the ranking glamour from the picture and look for the substance you need from an MBA program.

Global MBA Rankings
How important are MBA Rankings?

In this article, we will graze the methods you can adopt for an efficient and effective business school research.

How to research business schools and MBA programs?


What do you want from the business school?

Self-reflection and introspection are the key to understanding your goals. Why do you want to pursue an MBA is a rather common question that you will, no doubt, encounter more than a few times through your application.

Essays and interviews are ripe with related questions and you should have a solid story behind your motivation. But even before you get to those tests, a detailed thought on your part can really bring about a lot of clarity.

Read Why MBA?

Think about your past, your current situation, and your future plans. How does an MBA fit into these phases in your life? And what would you want a business school to offer to you, as part of your MBA experience?

What does the b-school want?

B-schools, too, have certain criteria surrounding the kind of candidate they seek. Often, these include soft or hard skills that are easy to discern. Previous or current student profiles are a window to adcom expectations.

GMAT/GRE score ranges, acceptable GPAs, work or education backgrounds, etc. provide a convenient layout to gauge what is your probability of becoming a part of that school’s community.

But don’t get too carried away with these numbers, of course. A lot, about the MBA application, is determined in a wholesome picture.

While it is good to have an objective scaling of where your credentials stand, you should also consider what kind of impact your candidature can bring about to the program. It is, after all, a give and take kind of curriculum.

Read What Admissions officers in top business schools look for in MBA candidates

What does the b-school offer?

Most business school webpages look like similar catalogues of bright, happy, and polished, faces. A drill down, however, can reveal their differences.

Though business schools may have an underlying motto of excellence in business training, there could be certain aspects different schools may focus upon.

For instance, say you are seeking an MBA to get formal training to establish your own company.

  • Does the school, you are clicking through, have ample resources for entrepreneurship training?
  • Does the school aid in providing seed money for startups?
  • How many students (usually evidenced in student testimonials and blogs) have been helped in their fresh enterprise?

You get the picture. You have to connect what you need from an MBA with what the school has to offer.

Read Student clubs in business schools and other articles on life on campus

What kind of alumni do they have?

Alumni performance is indicative of how a certain MBA program systematically helps its students achieve their career aspirations.

How have they, on an average, measured up against the investment made in their degree? Present vs past growth is a meter, for instance.

If you have the opportunity to do so, connect with current and past students who are, or have been, part of the program community.

A lot can be understood from their feedback as compared to direct, and obviously biased, testimonials presented by school authorities.

Online communities, forums, social media groups are a great place to meet such a student network. Also helpful are B-school events held for applications where you can directly ask the alumni, present, questions to help you in your research.

On a tangential note, don’t shy away from asking your professional, and even personal, network for their reviews.

Be careful to filter out the necessary information from the noise. People may not always be straight with the facts and may just be spouting opinions. Use your discretion on the matter and verify whatever your sources say.

How the top MBA alumni networks work
How to ask alumni for help with internships and jobs

Another angle is to look at how well the alumni rate their MBA programs. In this top MBA Ranking made by MBA Crystal Ball, we have evaluated the most consistently well performing b-schools based on a weighted average of the past Financial Times (FT) Rankings. And as we all know, FT ranks are based on alumni reviews and surveys.

What kind of employment window does it open?

Also related, on the above point, is the nature of employment of past students.

  • What kind of companies appear on the placement drives?
  • How many students have they recruited in the recent past?
  • Have the numbers stayed consistent, or better, grown?
  • Are there any independent employment reports that shed light on recruiter perceptions of the MBA program?
  • How do the employment trends reflect the services provided by the program?

Read MBA Programs with the best placement

B-School logistics

These are more practical aspects to be concerned about. Apart from the rather big elephant in the room, aka bearing the huge tuition cost of getting an MBA, look at the other factors too.

The program location, international exposure, student activities, cost of living, and networking opportunities may also play into your final decision in shortlisting it as a potential b-school to apply to.

For instance, a lot of students may want to choose USA for its history in pioneering MBA education, networking opportunities with scores of worthy employers from desirable companies, and the relative ease of securing a working permit, under OPT.

Applicants interested in an MBA in Finance may prefer locations near financial centres like New York and hence the Wall Street.

So, even here, it is extremely useful to have a clear vision about your goals so as to match them with the resources that your MBA program can provide.

Read Best business schools in different specialisations and countries

What are your chances of getting in?

This one is probably the trickiest part of doing business school research.

All the earlier effort will go down the drain if the business schools you ultimately select, are all in the super-ambitious range. You risk ending up with zero admits.

On the other extreme, with an over-conservative bschool selection approach, you may end up missig out on many excellent opportunities just because you assumed they were out of reach.

This is where a tool like the MBA MAP can be really helpful. It considers a wide range of dependent and independent factors to categorise bschools as Ambitious, Stretch, Practical, Safe and Backup.

Depending on your appetite for risk, you can choose and pick programs based on real statistical analysis, as opposed to relying purely on gut-feel or others’ speculative recommendations.
Armed with the tools for a strategic research into choosing MBA programs, it is important to keep in mind how wide you may want to cast your net.

A wise choice of schools should not only include your tier 1 desirable destinations that might be rather ambitious, but also a range of tier 2 schools that you think you may have a better chance at admission.

Also, to keep in mind are the spread of your applications over the various rounds. Does your research indicate any variation in the admission probability?

And remember, this process is lengthy. Relax in order to be thorough. Any haste and you may lose out on a whole lot of energy, money and time. May peace and luck be on your side!

At any point in time, if you find the process getting a bit out of hand, send us an email (info at mbacrystalball dot com). Our expert admission consultants should be able to get you back on track.

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7 thoughts on “How to research business school and MBA programs”

  1. Dear Sameer

    I am from Hyderabad, I am an ECE graduate passed out in 1993, initially i worked in some EC companies but the training was not good in those companies and expectations was high, so i was discouraged and switched over to IT field after doing Microsoft certified systems engineer certification, i got job in IT company in Nov 2000 and i worked there till date that is 2019. Now since i have turned 50 now i would like to switch carrier to ECE field as this my natural field and also my deep interest in the field. I want to go back to my native field i.e ECE before i retire. I am planning to do Embedded systems course to persue a carrier in Embedded systems field. I am also ready to do entry level job in EC field as ECE field is my passion. I am confident that i will get some job in ECE company but on few occassions some times i fear, at 50 who will give me job. Kindly guide me what kind of job i should look for as i already informed my current employer that i will be moving on in 2 months time.

    With Best Regards

  2. Hey I got 318 in GRE and CGPA 7.47 upto sixth sem and now i want to pursue MEM from top colleges with the consideration of ROI. Please suggest me some college which i should have apply.

  3. Hi Sameer! That was a much needed article for me. I have six years banking experience in a PSU bank,working as Manager(Scale 2).I tried for CAT earlier but could not get a good score.Can u please let me know from where I can do my MBA without working much on the entrance exams that can boost my career growth.

  4. I have done MBA in data analysis and i have been working as manager analyst since 9 years i want to upgrade my skills as well as my designation.
    Kindly help and suggest me some of the courses through which i can expand my skills.


  5. @Shyam: You’re right in being concerned about how employers will consider your application. Most would pay to hire skills that can be used immediately, rather than spend time training a new employee first. If you’ve made up your mind to try for another role, more than relying on courses try to get in touch with folks from your network who’d appreciate what you bring to the table beyond technical skills.

    @Ashish: Read this article:

    @Swechha: All good MBA programs will insist on a competitive test score, like GMAT or GRE. Having said that, read this:

    @Nidhi: We’ve shared some ideas here:

    @Keshav: Here you go:

  6. Respected Sir,
    I know that it’s weird asking this type of question on this platform, but I am very confused about the MBA specialisation which will suite my career goals.
    Sir I have always been interested towards Marketing field as working with people and knowing the Customer’s mindset and promoting something either product or service to people gives me immense pleasure.
    But the thing is I was recently going through your blog about the best Marketing B-schools where you have mentioned it that it is harder for an international student to get Marketing jobs in The US and I do agree with this.

    So could you please let me know about any other specialisation offered by the B-Schools ,which are more or less related to my preferences.

    Thank you


    Rohan Rawat


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