I have likened choosing schools based on rankings to decision making after a lobotomy. You should base your choice of schools on self-reflection and careful research.
Furthermore, many of you (particularly MBA and med students) will need to justify your interest in a given program in your essays and interviews. In addition to providing a necessary foundation for an important and expensive decision, your research will allow you to answer the "Why this School?" question, whether posed in an interview, essay, or both.
I was surfing the blogosphere this evening and came across a post by MBA or Bust on Informational Interviews. MBA or Bust really gets it. He (or she?) is methodically using these months to prepare for and take the GMAT, research the programs, and visit the schools. I was most impressed, however, with his use of networking to obtain informational interviews and the inside scoop on the programs that he is applying to. Way to go! MBA or Bust can use these insights when answering the Why this School? question.
Informational interviews have other uses in the admissions process too. If you want to have a clearer sense of what you want to do with the degree — and many of you should want a clearer idea because you are really very foggy on what comes next — informational interviews can help you enormously. Just as MBA or Bust is networking with MBA students and alumni, you can network with those in the positions you aspire to and set up informational interviews. Ask them how they got there. How do they like their work? What is a typical day? What do they like and dislike about their job? What do they wish they would have done differently? What do they wish they would have studied?
In addition to providing you with valuable data and reasons for your critical career and educational choices, informational interviews and the networking that precedes them can lead to internships and jobs.
But such offers are a bonus. The information itself will add to the insights you acquire from Web sites, books, and school visits to enable you to make informed, intelligent educational and professional decisions.