Over the last few weeks, I have spoken to many prospective students for the class of 2015. These conversations often take me back a year when I was navigating the MBA admissions process.
When I realized that I wanted to return to school, I knew it was not going to be easy to choose a B-school. The world is full of great schools, each with unique strengths and culture. I gave myself about 6 weeks to come up with the criteria that were important to me in assessing different schools. I think a lot of people underappreciate the importance of this step. While the end goal of this journey is to successfully be admitted to one or more great schools, the process itself provides a great opportunity to become significantly more self-aware, and I think that is important in choosing the ‘right’ school.
At the end of my own introspection, I realized that I attribute a lot of importance to the following criteria:
Once I identified the criteria that resonated with me, it became very easy to identify a program that offered the best fit. Additionally, I think that in being honest with myself during this step, it was easy for me to tell a convincing story to the admissions team about my motivations to join the program.
A little bit more about my criteria:
If I was going to commit to spending two years at a school, I wanted to make sure I was in an environment where I got along with people incredibly well. I had my first conversation with a Fuqua student at an airport, long before I decided to come to business school — it was a random encounter with a complete stranger, and we ended up chatting for over 30 minutes. He was awesome! In retrospect, he probably made the first impression in my mind about Fuqua.
Flash-forward two years — during my admissions process, I met an admissions director, spoke to current students, and met some alumni. Incredibly, though they were all of different nationalities and professional backgrounds, they were very similar in that they were great people to know and to have conversations with. Everyone I met was friendly, helpful, and incredibly smart, and made me feel like I would be welcomed into the Fuqua community.
I worked in the business research industry before school, and really loved my job. So one of the things that drew me to Fuqua was the faculty — they work on really interesting research all the time, and I wanted to be a part of it. Whether it’s Professor Mohan Venkatachalam (affectionately known as “Dr. V”) and his research on the power of vocal cues in inferring company performance, or Professor Ken Wilbur’s unique perspective on TV advertising, I have not been disappointed. In addition to the case and lecture teaching methods, the professors add a lot more color and context to our learning by discussing their personal research. I am not sure if I would have had the same experience if I were at a less research-intense school.
While growing up, studying, and working, I had the opportunity to live in a lot of different places (India, Nigeria, and Chile), and I discovered that being around people from different places is important to me. When it came to business school, I wanted to make sure that I’d continue to be exposed to different cultures and ideas. Fuqua has an incredibly diverse community for a school its size, and I knew it would offer multiple opportunities for me to benefit from such interactions. My experience has far exceeded my expectations: my leadership team alone is very diverse both geographically (together we have experiences from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas) and functionally (finance, marketing, operations, public sector, consulting). In the short period of time I have been here, I’ve learned a lot from my teammates, and just learning how to work together has been a great experience.
The admissions process is not only rewarding in that it gets you into a business school, but it is also a tremendous opportunity to reflect on your choices, and think about your future path. One of the most crucial pieces of advice I received during my admission process was to be myself, and not be what I thought the school wanted me to be. So take the time to think about what’s really important to you, and who you are. Then, your story will tell itself. I know mine did.