Against the Odds: Indian MBA Applicants Should Take a Look at Fit, then Brand

Which brand is the best fit for me?

Which brand is the best fit for me?

This is the second post in our new blog series Against the Odds: MBA Admissions for Indian Applicants.

Close your eyes and name the top two MBA programs that come to mind.

Bet I can guess which ones you picked. Harvard and Stanford right?

Harvard boasts former US presidents, CEOs of JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs and business tycoons like Ratan Tata who cut their teeth on its famed case study curriculum. Stanford has produced tech giants like Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla, and these days, a bounteous crop of start ups nurtured by Silicon Valley investors with money to burn. They both enjoy a world-famous brand and attract recruiters in droves.

Family pressure and internal ambition may mean limiting your choice to only a handful of the world’s most famous MBA brands. But what you really need to ask yourself is – what brand is the best fit for me?

Return on investment

First, you need to think about the return on investment for your time – both pre- and post-MBA.

You’ll have limited hours to put together a stellar application – time shaved off from sleep, leisure, and away from family and friends – so put it to optimal use, not into a pipe dream. Beyond studying for the GMAT, you need to reserve time for researching programs, networking with current students or alumni and writing essays tailored to each school. Don’t apply to a dream school just give it a shot. Apply to the right schools to get in.

You’ll also be taking 2 years off from the work force and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on tuition. Carefully weigh whether your MBA path will lead you to make up these lost earnings quickly – that doesn’t always mean one of the top two or three ranked schools, according to this excerpt from AOL Jobs:

At Notre Dame’s Mendoza School, last year’s MBA graduates landed average salaries that exceeded their pre-MBA pay by 149 percent. At the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School, the increase was 132.2 percent, and at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, it was 122.2 percent, and these numbers exclude starting bonuses and other bennies that are often handed out to MBAs when hired.

Bottom line – take the time to look beyond the brand to the stats. You may uncover some pleasant surprises.

Know how you fit the stats

With a nosebleed GMAT score (740 or above), solid GPA, work experience at a known feeder firm or entrepreneurial venture, and a robust extracurricular leadership role you may beat the 7 percent acceptance rate at Stanford or the cut of 1 of 10 to become Harvard bound. But if you lack in one of the above criteria, especially if you belong to the overrepresented pool of Indian applicants, you’ll need to realistically expand your options.

Bottom line –  you should place above the average GMAT and GPA scores to consider an MBA program a good fit. Otherwise it’s a reach school, and other factors from your background will need to compensate.

Career interest

Carefully review your target schools’ career placement data. You may be surprised that the company you’re interested in working for recruits elsewhere besides Harvard and Stanford. With a little extra effort or travel on your part you can land an internship or job in a top market.

This MIT student gained a spot at top consulting firm BCG in Chicago – the heartland of US manufacturing. This Cornell Johnson student won a place at Accenture consulting.

This Darden student says he’d have no problem landing a position at a top consulting firm outside Virginia. This Duke student landed an i-banking job in New York, and she said the one-hour flight worked to her advantage.

Bottom line – do your research now for where you’d like to work when you graduate. The recruiting season starts almost immediately when you arrive on campus. The specific niches and location of an MBA program may appeal to you more once you scratch below the surface.

Location and Size

Are you a bright lights, big city kind of gal? Are you the type of guy who wants personal attention, after attending a big university where you were just a number?

It’s essential that you evaluate the fit and feel of your MBA picks before plunging in. New York, London or Boston may seem exciting, but as this Darden student shares, sometimes smaller class sizes in smaller cities mean better bonds between batchmates, professors and alumni.

You may already have an established network or family ties to a specific city. Perhaps there’s a strong religious or immigrant community that you or your spouse can tap into to help feel more at home as you transition into your new life. Maybe this city is the hub of your preferred industry.

Bottom line – if you can visit campus before applying, do so. Just because it looks good on a website or on a business card, doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for you. You’ll be spending two years of your life at this school, and it’s the launch pad for your future. Make sure it’s a great fit.

Get the rest of the series: Download Against the Odds: MBA Admissions for Indian Applicants now!

Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant.