Deciding to get an MBA was only the first step in my MBA journey. There were so many questions to answer after my initial decision that the process quickly became overwhelming:
- When do I want to enroll?
- Where do I want to enroll?
- Should I plan to take the GRE or GMAT?
- Should I plan to study full-time or part-time?
- What concentrations should I be looking at?
- How am I going to finance my education?
- What is my MBA story?
- Who will be my recommender?
These were all important questions that needed answers before applying to schools. When I first started down this journey, I did not realize that these were interrelated questions, but once I started with one, I could answer others and that made this whole journey less overwhelming.
THE WHEEL HAS COME FULL CIRCLE
Even though I aspired to pursue an MBA throughout high school and undergrad, once I graduated with a Master’s degree in Engineering Management, I thought I was done with school. However, three years into my career as a Technology Consultant at a top-rated Consulting firm, I changed my mind.
I was assigned a project where I worked with CFO’s of several midsize businesses that were looking to upgrade their existing accounting systems, to enterprise resource systems. As I tried to understand the business needs of my clients, I realized that my shallow knowledge of business principles was not sufficient. It was then that I decided that I wanted to go back to school for a MBA.
This was the catalyst, but I soon discovered that selecting a business school involved more than just comparing the course work. Every decent business school has equally challenging classes, but what differentiates the schools is the culture, the people and the experiences I would have.
PLEASE ONE AND PLEASE ALL
The one question everyone asked me and the one question I thought would be easy to answer took me almost two and half years before I could provide an authentic response. The question was “What schools are you applying to?”
I found myself changing my answer each time I was asked, depending on the person asking me the question. I felt a need to please the individual asking me based on his/her background. I told my senior manager who graduated from Booth, that I was interested in Booth. I spoke with two former team leads and told each one that I was considering their respective alma maters. I even told my mentor I was considering his university.
Each time anyone asked me this question, my list of schools morphed because I had yet to figure out what I really wanted.
STRONG REASONS MAKE STRONG ACTIONS
I started with a list of “must have” criteria to help me narrow down my choices.
- Class Size – Small to midsize because I thrive in smaller settings, I want to know my entire class and I want my professors to know who I am
- Location – Urban area, with access to a large city (but not necessarily in a large city), so that it’s easily accessible for potential internships/initiatives with local businesses
- Global Initiatives – Schools that include global business as a part of their curriculum and not an optional after-thought
- Teaching Style – Experientially focused with limited case method or pure lecture courses, because I learn best by doing
- Rankings – A top 20 MBA program
LISTEN TO MANY, SPEAK TO A FEW
Initially, this list was helpful, but it did not eliminate enough programs because I only wanted to apply to a handful of schools that were right for me. Over the next two and half years, I sought out alumni and current students from fourteen different programs. I was lucky enough to have most of these people already in my network through work, college or family friends.
If I did not have a contact, I attended a webinar and researched the university website to get in touch with the speakers. These conversations helped me figure out if my personality and background would be a fit for the program.
In parallel, I met admissions directors at different events to learn more about current opportunities at these programs. All the time I invested in this process saved me a lot of money on visits because during the last six months, I visited only my top choices and decided to apply to all of them.
To be honest, until I started writing this blog post, I had not realized how much research I had conducted.
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
After all this effort, I was able to figure out more than just which schools I want to attend. I now know that a full time, two-year program is the best choice for me. I have selected MBA programs with a focus on Social Impact and have chosen to take the GMAT over the GRE.
While I will have to relocate somewhere new for at least two years, I feel confident that the schools I selected will meet all of my criteria and will be a good fit for me.
Getting an MBA is a major investment in myself, both in time and money, and I want to make sure that I attend the right program, with the right people. I still have few unanswered questions, but I should be able to resolve them before I submit my applications.
Ava Damri is a Senior Consultant at Deloitte Consulting, currently living in Dallas, TX and traveling across the United States. She helps clients implement large-scale system solutions for commercial firms and state governments. Her interests include globetrotting, gourmet food, and gobbling up podcasts.