How To Choose The Right School When You Have Multiple Offers
Maria |
May 1, 2024

In the latest episode of Business Casual, the hosts explore the complexities of choosing the right MBA program from multiple offers. They emphasize focusing on long-term career benefits over short-term financial incentives like scholarships. Caroline and Maria advise that applicants should deeply explore the career outcomes and student club activities of potential programs to ensure alignment with their long-term goals.

The conversation also touches on the psychological aspects of making such a significant decision, encouraging applicants to commit fully to their chosen path without regrets. They highlight the importance of campus visits and community engagement as pivotal in making an informed choice. This episode is a valuable guide for prospective MBA students navigating the complexities of multiple admissions offers, urging them to consider the broader impact of their educational choices.






Episode Transcript

[00:00:04.370] – John

Well, hello, everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to business Casual, our weekly podcast. We, meaning Caroline Diarte Edwards and Maria Wich-Vila, my two co-hosts, are in that period of time where you may be the envy of all your friends because you have multiple offers. The hard part about being so wanted by business schools is choosing which one to go to. We want to talk a little bit about how do you choose among several offers? What framework should you be using? What additional due diligence might you undertake to make the right decision for you? We’ll start with Caroline because one of her colleagues, Judith Silverman-Hodera, has just written an article on this, which I think all of you will find helpful, and it’s called Seven Tips on How to Choose Between MBA Offers. Caroline, what’s your general advice?

[00:01:12.650] – Caroline

Well, so I think that It’s important to think about the long term benefits of where you’re going to go. And often when people are applying, they have an idea in their mind of what their ranking of the various schools is. So they may be applying to five or six schools, and perhaps they get into three or four, and they may have a sense of which is their preferred choice during the application process. But then sometimes people’s minds get swayed when the decisions come rolling in and they get scholarship offers from some of those schools and not others. It’s often the case, or it can often be the case, that people get into their top choice school, but without any scholarship, and then they get into other schools. Often it’s because those schools know that the candidate is a really strong candidate, so they may get offers, scholarship offers from schools that are further down their list, and so might start to second guess their priorities. In most cases, I think it still makes sense for the candidate to go for the school that was their first choice originally. It’s important to think about really the long term benefits of the program and not just the short term cost and to weigh up the return on investment in the long term.

[00:02:31.690] – Caroline

Presumably, someone who’s gone through this process has done quite a bit of reflection and research, hopefully, before they get to the point of getting decisions. If they had a school in mind as their top choice, it’s likely that that school is therefore the best fit for their career aspirations. It’s likely the best fit in terms of the community and the network that they’re building. And those are all things that pay off not just in the short term, but in the long term. And so usually I encourage candidates not to be too heavily swayed by scholarship offers and to stick with their original plan unless they’re really from peer schools. So that sometimes happens where candidates get offers from two or three schools in the M7, and one has given them a scholarship offer and one hasn’t. And there may not be much to choose between those options. So I had a candidate recently who was choosing between Wharton and Kellogg and had a very nice scholarship offer from Kellogg and plans to go into consulting. Kellogg is a great school if you wanted to go into consulting. And if you get a substantial scholarship, then that is quite hard to turn down.

[00:03:50.600] – Caroline

I think if the career outcome and the long term benefit is pretty much the same, then it’s fine to be swayed by those scholarship offers, but otherwise, try to focus on the long term benefits.

[00:04:03.070] – John

Yeah, true. And that’s a good example of a choice in a way, because while Wharton may historically be always better ranked, Kellogg as a school that funnels tremendous numbers of students to the consulting field, and I mean MBV, is a great bet. If they’re willing to pay part of your tuition or all of your tuition, that’s a no-brainer. Also, I will say that Kellogg tends to be a school with a very friendly, welcoming, embracing culture. Wharton has the reputation, given its finance bent, to attract a lot of more people with sharper elbows. I think culturally, that could play a role as well. Maria, I’m sure you’ve counseled some of your folks in this cycle over this school or that school. Bring us into some of those decisions.

[00:05:04.600] – Maria

Absolutely. I think one of the most important things is to, as Caroline said, keep your eyes on the long term prize and think about the whole reason you’re doing this is to benefit your career in some way, whether it’s to advance in your existing career or pivot to a new career, you’re getting an MBA at the end of the day to help your career. So all else being equal, the first thing you should do is really look at the career outcomes of the different schools. This could be looking at, well, hopefully you would have done this already, but sometimes life gets in the way. But hopefully, you will have access to the career reports for the schools, and you will see what percentage of people immediately after go into certain fields. Perhaps almost more importantly, look at the clubs. Reach out to the clubs for whatever your longer term career interest is. Because in the short term, a lot of people end up funneling themselves into either banking or consulting, but they don’t stay there in the long term. After three, five years in, say, consulting, that’s when they’re like, Okay, now it’s time for me to do what I really want to do.

[00:06:04.770] – Maria

I’m going to go back into industry in health care or real estate or whatever it is that they want to do. If they have gone to a school that has a very strong pocket of students who are very interested in one given industry, then the likelihood of that network being useful for you in the future is that much greater. If you haven’t already, do some research into the student club. Let’s say it’s real estate. Go to the real estate club website. Is it abandoned or is it updated all the time? Do they have weekly lunch and learns? Do they have a conference? Or is it just three people? This site last updated five years ago. That’s an exaggerated example, of course. But Try to get a sense, try to talk to students in the different career clubs. I think that’s one of the first things that you should pay attention to, because at the end of the day, that is why you’re doing this. Then if, in fact, some schools are essentially the same in terms of what those outcomes could be, then that’s when other things such as culture, even location, I think, could play a role.

[00:07:08.030] – Maria

I mean, it’s true that every top business school does send its alumni out to the four corners of the globe, but they do also tend to settle in certain areas. Inertion is a powerful thing, and so people do sometimes tend to settle closer to where the school is based. Or, for example, if they were doing a project during the school year with a given company, it’s a lot easier if you’re based in Chicago and you want to do some external project during your MBA in a given industry, it’s going to be a lot easier for you to do a project with another Chicago-based company, and then that might lead to a job offer in Chicago. Then the next thing you know, maybe you weren’t planning on living in Chicago, but three years go by and now you’re in Chicago. I would also think about location. Then in terms of culture, if you haven’t already visited, try to go to the visit for the visit weekends. Because I have found I have recently had some folks who have had… It’s funny when your inbox, you’ve got the visit weekends and you’ve got one person coming in and saying, I went to two different schools’ visit weekends this past weekend, and it totally swayed me in the direction of School A.

[00:08:13.240] – Maria

Then another person went to the exact same two visit weekends, and they’re like, Oh, my gosh, School B is the one for me. I’m just the diplomatic person in the middle. I’m like, Sounds great. They’re both wonderful. You can’t go wrong. But it really is eye-opening, I for some folks to, once you go beyond the brochure and the website, when you’re the one actually in the consumer’s seat making the choice, it does behoove you to dig a little bit deeper and try to get that feel for who are your classmates going to be.

[00:08:47.010] – John

Yeah, so true. I wonder, I’d love to hear what you two think of asking ChatGPT. The prompt might be something like, I’m a student who values friendships and relationships. I enjoy running and acting in theater. I ultimately want to pursue a career in blank, in sustainability, let’s say. I’ve been accepted to these three schools for their full-time MBA programs, which one would be the best fit for me? What do you think of that? Caroline?

[00:09:29.420] – Caroline

Well, it might give you some interesting points, but I wouldn’t outsource my decision to ChatGPT. I think ChatGPT can be useful for coming up with checklists of what are the things to take into account because it’s drawing on such extensive resources. I don’t think it can necessarily tailor the decision to your individual case as well as you can because it doesn’t know you and everything that’s behind those few points that you’ve mentioned. But it can give you some really good bullet points of, well, here’s why this could be good. And may have some points in there that you might otherwise have forgotten about or overlooked. So I think it can be a useful resource when you’re doing, especially when you’re doing research and perhaps during this reflection process, when you’re choosing between offers, it’s good to dig into that research again. But I think I think the problem with those tools is that it can’t peer into your soul and really doesn’t know you very well as an individual yet. It can’t read what’s going on in your mind yet. Maybe it will.

[00:10:44.860] – Maria

I was going to say, not yet. It will soon. Six months from now, check back.

[00:10:49.380] – Caroline

For the time being, I don’t think it necessarily tailors that thing particularly well to an individual, but it can be a useful resource for research.

[00:10:58.190] – John

Now, Maria, do you share Caroline’s skepticism?

[00:11:01.450] – Maria

Of course. I’m less diplomatic about things. I will say, look, I think ChatGPT, to Caroline’s point, I do think that for some students who are applying, let’s say, from overseas, who might not be able to easily get to the US for these welcome weekends that we mentioned previously, or perhaps you’ve not been able to travel to visit the various campuses, I do think that maybe something ChatGPT could at least point out things that you had never thought of. For example, I live in Los Angeles, and people always tend to put UCLA and USA together in the same breath. They lump them together. But they’re pretty different schools, and they’re in very different locations. Usc is very urban, near downtown LA, which has its pros and its cons, versus UCLA is a beautiful, more suburban feel, lush campus. I think somebody said, what have you said? Something like jogging. If you said something like jogging, if I like to jog is one of my hobbies. Interestingly enough, I think UCLA would be a much, much stronger school. If that’s really something that matters to you, there’s going to be a lot more jogging along Sunset Boulevards than there is in downtown Los Angeles.

[00:12:14.850] – Maria

That’s something that you might not ever pick up on unless you’re asking an artificial intelligence, these sorts of questions.

[00:12:25.080] – John

But how about in that case, a school that’s going to have a commencement? Because USA just announced that they will not have a commencement this year.

[00:12:32.430] – Caroline

Yeah, that’s pretty crazy.

[00:12:34.470] – John

It is pretty crazy and sad. But I have, and I’m sure both of you have, encountered candidates who’ve actually built elaborate spreadsheets. While it’s incredibly subjective, they’ve put a bunch of attributes on one side and then scored them based on what they think, what they’ve read, what conversations they’ve had. It can be anything from the student experience, the quality of the teaching, the quality of the faculty in a specific discipline, job prospects, career outcomes, and basically then added up the scores that they gave for each of the schools to which they were accepted and had some insights there. I’m sure both of you have seen that, right, Maria? You’ve seen people bring out the spreadsheet and try to make a calculation on this?

[00:13:30.890] – Maria

Sure. In fact, I usually have people make a list of the electives for a given part of business that they’re interested in, because while the schools are all very similar in the core courses that they offer, they can vary wildly in terms of the specific electives that they offer. For example, if you want to work in distressed debt investing, that’s a pretty niche thing. One school might cover it as part of a larger finance class. One school might have it as It’s its own separate class. Then another school like Columbia, where we actually know someone who runs a distressed debt investing firm during the day and then teaches at Columbia at night how to do that work. If you know what you really want to do, really now this is the time to dig into those electives and make them and put them in a spreadsheet and line them up side by side. Maybe even, I know this is extra work and I don’t like giving out homework, but I promise this isn’t busy work for its own sake. Maybe even dig into the syllabi for some of these classes in particular, because it’s one thing to say, Well, it’s a class in investing, or it’s a class in healthcare.

[00:14:37.920] – Maria

Healthcare is one that’s fuzzy. Sometimes healthcare as a class might delve into things like the US payer and insurance system, which might not be useful, or how to run a hospital versus another health care class might be more about how to invest in a new bionic knee. Lots of schools will have health care courses, but once you dig into the nitty-gritty, you see Oh, actually, there’s a slightly different flavor to each of these. I think that’s one of the things where you could definitely… A spreadsheet will definitely go a long way for you.

[00:15:08.750] – John

Yeah, that’s a good point. Caroline, are there certain attributes that you would suggest someone plug into a spreadsheet if they want to go that route?

[00:15:21.070] – Caroline

Well, so just in relation to what Maria was saying, there may be specific faculty that really excite you as well. One class, one school by an entrepreneurship professor may be very, very different from another class, another school, because the person teaching that class has very different experience and has a very different style in the classroom. And so it’s worth talking to some current students to get a sense for who are the best faculty and whether the courses that you’re looking to take are taught by a really strong faculty because there is some variation at every school. And so you might might be interested to find out who are the most highly rated faculty and whether those are professors that will be teaching the courses that you are interested in. So, yeah, I think it’s great to have to do all of that research. Hopefully, candidates have done some of that before they start the application process. And for anyone who’s actually thinking about applying in the upcoming season, we would encourage you to do all of that now because the more you dig into the details of the programs and what it is that makes the score stand out for you, the better prepared candidate you are.

[00:16:38.520] – Caroline

And that often comes across in applications, and that can make the difference between acceptance or rejection sometimes. Times because schools get a sense for whether you’re really motivated and whether you’ve actually done your due diligence or not. So great if you can put together your spreadsheet before you apply rather than afterwards. But it may be for some candidates also that they did the research several months ago and they’ve been knee deep in the application process and just busy with everything else that’s going on in their lives. They may have forgotten some of the points that they had in that originally. So it may be worth revisiting that and updating it and digging a bit deeper into some of the points. Also, some candidates just change their minds and get a different impression of the school during the application process. As Maria said, sometimes people go to admit days and come away with a different impression of the school than they had before that. And that can also happen at different points in the application process as well. That can happen during the interview process that a candidate may get very excited and much more excited about a school, or conversely, they might get turned off.

[00:17:51.800] – Caroline

So opinions can change during the process. So I think it’s good to revisit the original research that you did and and potentially dig in a bit more. And I think it’s also a great point that you made about the importance of visiting the campus if you possibly can. There’s so much information online, which is fantastic and very different from when I applied to business school a few years ago. And that’s such a great resource. But there is still no substitute for actually getting on campus and soaking up the atmosphere and chatting with people and just getting that gut feel for whether that’s the right environment for you. And yes, it may be pain to fly across the country or even fly internationally to go and visit a school, but it’s a big commitment, right? You’re going to be putting up a lot of money. You’re dedicating probably two years of your life to this experience, and it’s going to stay with you for the rest of your life. So it’s worth putting yourself out and making a big effort now to kick the tires and actually get onto the campus if you have not done so already.

[00:18:56.980] – John

Yeah, all great advice. I want to come back to what I would think is the biggest complication in making this decision. It goes back to what Caroline said about, think about the long term as opposed to any scholarship offer. But I’m also thinking that if a school offers you a very generous scholarship and the school you really want to go to doesn’t, above and beyond the financial consideration, what does it say about the school’s desire to have you in that class? It’s like if I’m going to draw an analogy to dating. There may be someone who you really have your eye on, but that person is standoffish. Then there’s another person who’s warm and welcoming and lovely. Aren’t you better off with warm, welcoming, and lovely than standoffish? Is money, in this sense, something of the equivalent of warm, welcoming, and lovely. Maria?

[00:20:05.250] – Maria

Is money ever a replacement for genuine warmth in any other facet of life? I don’t think so. I think schools are very pragmatic with offering scholarship money. I think they usually use it to attract a better candidate. They use it to punch above their own weight class, as it were. They tend to use scholarship money to say, Look, honestly, we have a pretty good sense that you’re probably going to get into a better school, and that on that basis alone, we probably can’t compete, but let’s sweeten the deal by covering a lot of the expenses. I sometimes get people asking me questions about how you negotiate. Should I negotiate my scholarships? The truth is, if you have a scholarship offer, look, the genuine blunt truth is that the lower-ranked schools are more likely to give someone a scholarship because they want to attract that higher level of talent to their program. Understandably, makes perfect sense. It’s capitalism in action. If that lower-ranked school is giving you money, ask yourself to Caroline’s point, Okay, but what am I giving up? Am I giving up a long-term, something in a long-term, in exchange for short-term investment? I wish scholarship money was the equivalence of a warm, loving embrace, but I think it’s a much more calculated offer, whether we’re talking business schools or we’re talking 80-year-old oil tycoons and their 18-year-old girlfriends.

[00:21:29.520] – Maria

We’re Whatever the context is, I do think that I would not necessarily use it as a deciding factor. The only case is where I have ever said to someone, You know what? Just take the money, is if they are, for example, a person who is supporting the other members of their family financially during those two years, let’s say perhaps their parents are retired or unemployed and they’re like, Look, I pay for my parents and I need this money, or if they know that they are going into a very non high paying field afterwards, if they’re like, I really just want to be in social enterprise and I want to run a charter school system, and I know that’s what I’m going to do, then I say, Okay, well, assuming that both schools are going to give you an adequate education in that, maybe it does make sense for you to take the scholarship money. But those are very rare occasions. I would say 90% of the time you should go with the school that you like more because the finances will work themselves out. The student loan payments will work themselves out. If you’re smart enough to get into business school, you’re smart to build a post-graduation budget that will allow you to pay back your loads.

[00:22:34.450] – John

Sure enough. And Caroline, I want to come back to the article that we mentioned early on from one of your colleagues, because the clincher, the last item on this article is, Have no regrets, whatever you choose. Now, imagine how you will feel on the day you first step foot on campus to start your MBA program. Imagine what that might feel like. And Look, whatever you choose, if you’re getting offers from places that you apply to, you obviously want to go there. You shouldn’t be applying to schools you do not want to go to. Whatever you decide, don’t be going and having remorse and asking yourself, Hey, if only I made this choice or that choice, right?

[00:23:22.990] – Caroline

Yeah, that’s right. By definition, if you have multiple offers, you have to turn down some fantastic opportunities. And there may be wonderful things that you will not get to experience, but that is a great position to be in, and that is life as well. We have to make choices every day, and you can’t do everything in life. And I think even if you go to a school and there’s some things that aren’t quite what you expected or perhaps you’re disappointed about some aspect of it, I think it’s all about attitude and the MBA is all about what you put into it. So So if you invest yourself and you make a big effort to learn as much as you can and to build those relationships and get involved in the life of the school outside of the classroom, then you will get a huge benefit from it. But if you go there and think, oh, damn, I’m disappointed about this class and that class, and I could have gone to X school instead, then you’re looking over your shoulder, then you won’t make the best out of it. So definitely it’s important to to make that decision and to move on and to embrace that.

[00:24:33.950] – John

All right, there you have it. Hey, if you’re in the MVL position, choosing among multiple offers, good luck to you. We hope we offered a little advice to guide your decision. Make sure it’s the right one. Again, I’ll just amplify what Caroline just mentioned. Have no regrets. You’re going to have an incredible experience, a life-changing experience when you remember for the rest of your life. If if you’re lucky enough to go into a highly selective two-year residential MBA program or even a one-year MBA, which obviously is more common in Europe. So just go, enjoy it, love it, take advantage of it, and congratulations on getting those offers in the first place. Hey, thanks for listening. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants.

How To Choose The Right School When You Have Multiple Offers
Maria |
May 1, 2024


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