NOTE: This is #4 in a series of blog posts on the topic, “How to Select the Right MBA Programs.” To see previous segments, link to the following:
A little more work is needed on the needs and wants issue. It will be helpful to weight them – though not rigidly or in detail. Simply, understanding the basic level of importance of a given factor will save you time up front by not considering schools that don’t meet your core needs no matter how intriguing they seem. It will also help to uncover any contradictions that you might need to resolve (e.g., prefer to attend schools in the southeast, but also want to be near boyfriend in Boston).
For each of the wants/needs you’ve identified, assign one of the following categories:
Essential – This category applies to things that you must have no matter what. If you have a family member whom you care for on a regular basis, you have to be able to get to that person in two to three hours. Period. If you are making a career change into marketing, you need a program with strong marketing curriculum and recruiting. Period.
Very important – This category applies to the things that are highly important to you, but are not as absolute as those above. Things that you would consider compromising on if you really, really had to, but really, really don’t want to. For some people that might mean a geographic location (or avoiding a geographic location), for others a warm and fuzzy community, for others the chance to take courses in the university’s law or public policy program.
Important – Consider this the “nice to have” category – things that would definitely make a program more attractive to you but wouldn’t necessarily be a deciding factor. The same examples in “very important” above could apply here for a different set of people.
Neutral – This category means simply not a factor. Some people would just as readily have curriculum flexibility or structure; would just as readily live in Palo Alto or Fontainbleau.
The main purpose of this exercise is to help you see the factors in meaningful context. Some people may be comfortable keeping these rankings in their head as they go through the next steps; others will make a spreadsheet with them. Both approaches are fine.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Success, The Consultants’ Guide to MBA Admission, The EMBA Edge, and author of several articles and the free, email mini-course, “Ace the EMBA.”