After making up your mind to go for an MBA program, the next task is school selection. A lot of introspection goes into selecting the program that will make a best fit for you. You also need to consider if you will fit nicely into the school. It probably took me almost one year to make up my mind. I had to do a lot of research into the different schools that popped up on my radar before making up my mind. It sounds like a lot of hard work, but it was really quite enjoyable; that would probably the only enjoyable part of applying to a business school.
I mentioned in my earlier post that Harvard Business School and INSEAD were a slam dunk for me. Well, I mean it was easy to make up my mind to apply to both of them for several reasons. INSEAD’s main campus in France and I want to steep myself in the French culture. Anyone who speaks English and French can do business in at least 90% of African countries, which is my destination after business school. The fact that INSEAD has a reputation for breeding entrepreneurs, especially through their flexible curriculum, also appealed to me. The school also hammers a lot on international motivation; I might have stayed 99% of my life in my country but boy! am I internationally motivated. Why is my cable TV perpetually tuned to Bloomberg TV and CNBC Africa? I need not say more.
Harvard Business School (HBS) was also quite easy to lock down as a target school. In my country, HBS is highly regarded and it opens tightly locked doors easily. To put it more succinctly, the HBS tag breaks down doors. If I am to fulfill my dreams, I need to be able to take doors off their hinges. That is definitely not the pitch I intend to throw at the Adcoms, but that is the real motivation. With my CFA Charter, a school that is not well known may just end up giving me a marginal edge from where I am, and it might just be best to continue on this trajectory without hitting on a business school. Did I just say that? Oh well, approaching business school applications is like approaching the woman of your dreams. There are different stages of hurdles to cross. In Africa, you not only woo the woman, you also woo the parents.
HBS and INSEAD. Tick. But then I need more schools to apply to. At least, I need to cast my net wide enough.
Stanford was on and off my list over the research period. At a time it was my top school, and at another time, I dropped it off my list. After going through their website, some MBA oriented blogs and forums, I made up my mind to add it to my very short list of prospective programs. The fact that the school is located in the Silicon Valley, right in the midst of entrepreneurs pretty much clinched it for me. I also like the flexible curriculum that the school offers.
The last school that got into my list was Chicago Booth. I was fortunate to meet with some of the Admission guys in Singapore when I went for the CFA annual conference earlier this year. I was able to have a feel of what the school was all about. Although the school is known for its strength in finance, which I must confess is not really my forte, I just felt good about the school. A little stroll up and down the schools website and also helped me make up my mind. I also like the fact that they are trying to carve a niche for themselves in the social enterprise space, which is my final destination.
Other schools I considered were Wharton and Columbia. I had to yank them off my list for two big reasons. They seem to be quite big in finance and all my research shows that they tend to prefer candidates with high scores in GMAT quant. While I was able to score 49 – 50 in my practice tests, I just couldn’t go beyond the 47 mark in the real test. I like quantitative stuff but I just need to convert it into something a little bit more logical to retain all those hard formula. I wonder how I passed the CFA exams, which are quantitative intense. Well, those are just excuses. I actually like those schools. Warren Buffet, one of my mentors, even graduated from Columbia. I just felt something off about them. I have not been able to put my finger it, though.
Anyway, here was the acid test. I asked myself if I would gladly go to any school if I get dinged in all the others. My answer was Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes for HBS, INSEAD, Stanford and Booth, but the was answer was No! and No! for Wharton and Columbia. Sorry, we are not just compatible.
And I hope that my four chosen schools will all feel for me what I feel for them. I want one of them to be my kitchen.