How to Choose Schools that Fit, Rank, and I can get into?

Among the initial evaluation students this is one of the first questions I get. You may not like my answer.

For starters, it is exactly THE WRONG WAY to think about Business School. You are trying to get into their programs as though they can magically fix something for you. You have given away your power.

Your success as an adult, even as an adult in Business is not dependent on the school you attend. You may know that in the back of your mind, but seriously, embrace it. If you need proof, look at HBS former students and Stanford former students. Are all of them successful? Do you know any who are right back to doing what they were doing before school? Do you know any who seem like abject failures?

You do. If you look, you absolutely do.

So you know it isn’t the school that determines your success. You do.

But it is so much easier to lump your future into some external factor. But that’s just bullshit. So stop. You have your success in your hands. Accept your responsibility to make it happen.

All of that said, HBS and GSB can be very nice springboards. So let’s talk about that.

You have two main types of students at these programs:

A. Students crystal clear about what the MBA program can do for them and what they need to do to get that out of the program – they won’t be 100% correct about any of it, but they will have a pretty clear path to get back to when things diverge from plan.

B. Students hoping to get the magic bop on the nose of inspiration.

Classes are 90% B, 10% A. If you’re already in a program and not the A-type, find them. Befriend them. Try to avoid seeming like an idiot to them. The A-types are the most valuable folks for the long haul. It has nothing to do with their grades. Clarity of Purpose.

If you are not yet attending business school, even better. Get to the point of being an A-type or postpone your MBA plans.

  1. Be clear what you want. First. Most of you will fail to do this. What do you want in your fully Integrated Life? Do not expect to separate the personal and professional. You are one mind, one body.
  2. Prepare by building your foundational skills. What will you need in that industry or functional area or ?? Few bother to do this. You may need a lot of *other* experiences before you start a program in order to capitalize on the program.
  3. Mitigate risks. Cover your downside. Cover not cure. Do you have a weak GPA, well, you know you need a much stronger GMAT. It is foolish and a waste of time to retake classes to change your GPA. (bad advice currently going around!!) It is bad to be seen as a poor student. But it is far worse to be seen as a poor student with idiot-level judgment.
  4. Amplify your strengths. When you move to an A-type mentality, you become clear on your strengths and weaknesses – physical, mental, intellectual, social, economic, etc. #3 has you cover your bases for the weaknesses – don’t let them sink you. But the real gains are had by focusing your energies into building your strengths.

But wait, you didn’t say anything about rankings, or “fit” with a program . . . correct. Because that stuff falls to the side when you are an A-type. If you have clarity of purpose, you will know where you need to go (it might be a specific 1-2 schools due to what’s/where’s next) and you will be strong enough to reject all other options (aka distractions). You either go to the 1-2 programs that matter specifically for you, or you don’t go at all, and you build your path forward without the MBA.

The MBA is NOT an academic degree. You do not go for an MBA to learn material. Everything taught officially in your program can be obtained from outside the program with much reduced expense. There are specific reasons to attend, but most of those reasons are social. If you can’t be in the right social circle for your plans, you don’t just join any social circle. If you can’t get into the Country Club you don’t use the Trailer Park as your backup plan.

If you just need a degree because you need the checkmark on your resume, go anywhere. Don’t spend too much. Online is fine. The same holds true for undergraduate degrees. Very few people understand the economic forces in this game. Most of you are willing to be suckered.

You don’t use a chainsaw to hang pictures.

Figure out what you want to do. THEN and only then should you choose your tools.

Degrees are tools. Remember that and you will be much happier, healthier students.

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Weekly Applicant Q&A with Tips