Looking Beyond School Reputation When Choosing Your Target MBA Programs

Guest Post from Nicole, consultant for The Art of Applying

With hundreds of business schools in the US alone, it can be a challenge to prioritize your top choices. A school’s reputation as a “top” program for certain industries (e.g., Wharton for finance, Kellogg for marketing, Stanford for tech, etc.) can lay an extra layer of confusion. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a business school, with an emphasis on ways to consider a school’s reputation:

Your career path

Do you really know which career path you want to pursue and therefore, which concentration you want to pursue for your MBA?  You might change your mind as you’re exposed to new possibilities by your classes, extracurricular activities, and classmates.  And, who knows where life might take you?  

For example, when I headed to Wharton, I knew I didn’t want to be a finance major. I ended up splitting my focus between management (strategy) and marketing. In my first post-MBA job, I by happenstance ended up working in corporate M&A, a very finance-heavy function. I was glad to have the rigorous finance training required by Wharton’s core classes even though I wasn’t a finance major.

Other ways to factor in a program’s reputation:

  • Overall university brand, including the reputation of non-MBA programs, can often bestow halo effects on the business school, like Yale University’s School of Management, which benefits from the overall university’s history and prestige.
  • The business school brand might be stronger than the university brand. In my opinion, Wharton’s brand is stronger than the University of Pennsylvania. Keep this in mind when choosing your business school 
  • Regional reputation where you plan to live can also be equally if not more important. For example, attending a University of California school if you plan to stay on the West Coast can be more beneficial than going to a more highly ranked school on the East Coast.
  • A school’s reputation in majors outside its most acknowledged ones may not be well known outside the industry. Sure, you know Kellogg has a good marketing program, but did you know Wharton is actually ranked #2 in marketing by U.S. News and World Report? Remember to dig deeper to learn more about the industries, sectors, and geographies in which a school excels.

Factors to consider other than reputation:

  • Alumni network: A more robust way to assess reputation is to look at the school’s alumni network by industry and/or function in the region in which you want to live. This will be the network you inherit upon graduation and could help support your career.
  • Courses offered: Check out the core classes and electives of your intended major. Do the courses sound rigorous, especially the core classes? If so, even the people outside your major will have a strong training and help build the alumni reputation for that function. Also be sure to assess whether the courses you find actually interest you.
  • The Professors: How actively do professors in your concentration publish?  Professor research and expertise can help raise the pedigree of your major. Beware that a rockstar professor is not the same thing as a good teacher. Rockstar professors can often be too busy with their external projects to pay much attention to or establish deep relationship with their students. You want to find a good mix between “great teachers” and “great scholar-practitioners” in the professors available within your school and/or major. A fairly reliable sign of “rockstar status” is if their textbooks or case studies are used across business schools.
  • Practical experience: How much field experience does the school offer in your major? For example, Wharton helped arrange FAPs (Field Application Projects), basically mini-consulting projects with real companies, to solve real problems.  Hands-on engagements can provide real-world experience that translate well into cover letters, resumes, and interviews during the recruiting process, which is especially helpful and important if you are a career switcher.
  • Extracurricular activities: Research the student clubs and conferences related to your major. Student-run clubs and conferences are another way to get immersed in your function and network with top companies in your industry. Make sure your target schools have a healthy presence in your area of interest—and if not, consider starting the student club yourself!

In summary, a school’s reputation in your intended major is only one factor in helping you in your future career path. Be sure to consider the other factors mentioned above as you choose a school!


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