So you want to go to business school?

So you want to go to business school? That's great, I highly recommend it. Although I'm obviously biased on this subject, let me throw out a few things to consider when trying to pick the school for you. 

Again, I am highly biased in much of what I'm about to write, but I hope my opinions prove to be helpful in that they force you to consider what matters to you when looking at various programs. Let me also point out that my thoughts pertain to daytime business school programs as I do not have experience with any executive or remote programs.

I'll walk through various criteria you might want to consider when looking. If you haven't guessed by now, let me go ahead and spoil the ending - there is no right or wrong answer, just variables to consider when deciding which program is best for you. I say this because potentially going to a less well known program may do more for you than going to Harvard or Stanford (yes seriously).

Although I refer to this section as "ranking", I think a better way to talk about this is to actually talk about "tiers". In my eyes, there are 3 tiers to most type of schools, including business schools. You may be familiar with the term of "top 10". In reality the programs that are consistently ranked in the actual top 15 should all be considered to be a "top 10" program due to the fact that most of these schools are ranked in the top 10 in one ranking report or another. I consider these 15 schools to be in the "Tier 1" category. After Tier 1 comes Tier 2 - these are the schools whose names might not consistently be Tier 1, but whose names and brands are nationally recognized. After Tier 2 of course is Tier 3 - schools that may have great programs but are only more locally recognized as being so. 

Many people may be drawn to only considering going after Tier 1 programs, but in my opinion this is not the most important factor to consider when conducting your search. People automatically associate Tier 1 being better than Tier 3, but this is not necessarily the case.

I think location is a huge factor when considering what program you want to go to, and this ties in well with the tier of school you are also looking at. Of course the type of industry that you want to eventually end up in may dictate this to some degree, but allow me to discuss the relationship between attending a school in a big city like New York City vs. attending a school in a smaller place like Durham, NC - and like most things in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

I found that attending school in a smaller city ended up being very beneficial for my growth as an individual as well as beneficial to the network (more thoughts on this in a moment) I created while at school. After speaking with friends who attended NYU Stern in New York City, it became apparent to me that although they spent time making connections in their program, that at the end of the day they returned to their apartment in the city and generally ended up continuing to spend a lot of time with the friends they had before entering into school. One of the many things I loved about my time at Duke was the fact that I, like more or less everyone else in my class, relocated to Durham knowing virtually no one in the surrounding area. This situation forced us to spend time with our classmates not only in the classroom and library, but back in Durham after the day was over and every weekend. We spent nearly every minute of every day within close proximity with one another and this gave us the opportunity to forge incredibly tight-bond with one another as a result. In a matter of months I had spent more one-on-one time getting to know those around me than I had with most of the people I considered to be close friends in 4 years of college. I feel like the difference in experiencing a larger city is that you are much more likely to already know someone around you which eventually eats time in your schedule that you would otherwise be spending with your fellow classmates. And yes, even if you're going to be heading to a large city that you may not know anyone in, you can probably count on classmates of yours knowing people there and otherwise somewhat unavailable in time spent getting to know one another.

A very real advantage of picking a program in a large city is literally the amount of opportunities in the form of jobs and networking in your backyard. This however has a lot to do with the industry in which you want to work and how difficult it may be to break into. Again, trade offs always exist, but my gut is that the school in which you attend, ergo the location in which the program you choose is located, will help you get your first job after graduating. Your second, third and fourth jobs are going to be because of the people you forged bonds with while at school. So with that...

I alluded to this in the prior point - your program is most likely designed to help you leverage the brand that they provide to get you your first job after school. Yes, this may be all you need, but I believe in a lot of cases it ends up being the network you develop with those around you at school that will help you get that second, third, or fourth job - and I think a lot of people miss this point since it's easy to get caught up in the short-term.

The network that you choose to become a part of also expands past the individuals that you'll meet while at school. I refer to the fact that the your network may help you down the road, but this includes the alums of your program as well. A quick example. I went to an extremely small school for college. My graduating class was only about 400 people. However, whenever I run into someone that went to my school, there is almost always a sense of pride, comradery and allegiance to help one another. Although I've never had to leverage any of these connections for a job, I've always felt that they would (as would I) go an extra mile to set me up for success. I've been incredibly fortunate in my life to meet some great people and acquire some amazing mentors along the way, a few of which were because of the network created through the program I was in.

So lets be honest, part of going to business school is that you're essentially buying a brand. The brand is made up of all the elements that are outlined above and below and then some. The then some are all of the intangibles that are nearly impossible to explain about a brand. It's the community, the personalities, the faculty and everything else in-between.

A sort of "trump card" when also considering the factor of location. Is it better to go to a better ranked program or to a better ranked program in regards to what you want to do after school? Honestly I don't want to touch this debate with a 10 ft pole, but I'll offer this up:

When I decided to go back to school to get my MBA it was because I wanted to gain a better understanding of sound business practices. A problem that I struggled with before the program started and during the first few months after getting started was determining what is it I wanted to do when I grew up. So for me, my decision was more heavily influenced by some of the other stated factors.

An important factor for anyone considering going back to business school. Graduate school, business school especially is a huge investment. I can't really comment much on this since everyone comes from a different background with different financial means. Whether you have a full scholarship, partial scholarship, or are paying for the entire thing on your own, it's a decision you have to make for yourself in regards to what you intend to get out of business school. A $100k investment may be the right choice for you (whether that's out of pocket or in the form of loans or something in-between), but it also may not - I can't really say much more since you know your situation better than anyone else.

I already spoiled the ending but to recap, there is no right or wrong answer. What ended up being right for me isn't going to necessarily be right for you as there are dozens of factors even beyond what I have talked about here - if you have a family, if you're an exchange student, etc, etc.