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Choosing the Right Graduate Management Program

Tami Campbell

You’ve spent hours poring over business school websites with your student, analyzing the pros and cons of each. You have a pretty good idea of which programs you think they should shoot for; you know your child and you’ve done your research, starting of course with the top schools.

To your surprise, they’ve set their sights on different schools, some of which you’ve never even heard of! As has been the case throughout this entire grad school decision-making process, questions arise:

  • Shouldn’t they go to the best-ranked school they can get into?
  • If they can’t get into a top-ranked school, should they still go?
  • Can a lesser-known school help them achieve their career goals?

It makes sense for your student to apply to and attend the best school they can get in to. However, there is a difference between “best school for them” and “best-ranked school.” A high score on the business school rankings doesn’t necessarily mean your student will be happy or successful in that program.

How does your student choose a graduate school program that’s right for them? Here are essential areas to consider:

Program Content

One key to your student finding a best-fit program is for them to have a solid understanding of what they expect to gain from their education. With a clear vision of the type of career they hope to pursue after earning a graduate business degree, they can create a list of criteria with which to evaluate programs. They may discover that, while a highly-ranked school ticks off many boxes on their list, it lacks a few components they consider central to their career goals.

Teaching Style

Just as each student has their own learning style, each school has its own teaching style. Graduate management programs use a variety of methods in the classroom, with some schools known for a particular pedagogical approach. For example, Harvard Business School is famed for its use of the case method, where students are given descriptions of actual business situations and expected to come to class prepared to present and debate potential solutions to the problem at hand. Other schools prioritize experiential learning and/or team-based approaches. While most schools employ the standard lecture format to some extent, some programs really lean on this teaching approach. If your student understands which style they tend to thrive with, they can target schools that most closely match their preferences.

Size and Culture

The culture and size of a school/program can have a significant impact on a student’s happiness and success. If your student would feel most comfortable in a small, more intimate environment with a close-knit cohort, it doesn’t make sense to focus on large schools where they may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of students around them.

Similarly, some students flourish in an intense, competitive environment while others will be drawn to programs that focus on a team approach to problem solving. If your student enters a program where the culture is a mismatch with their needs, it could make for a long and difficult experience no matter how well regarded the school.

The best way to assess the culture of a program is to visit in person and talk to current students.

The cost of graduate management education is high, so one thing prospective students should factor into their decision is the quality of support offered by a school's career services: help with the search process, job placement rates, starting salaries for new graduates, etc. Your student should assess how active the alumni network is, and weigh faculty experience and accessibility.

While evaluating all of these criteria, don’t lose sight of the big picture: your student will be most successful in their academic experiences and their future career when they are engaged in a program that fits their individual personality and goals.


It's a great idea for your college student or recent grad to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) as early as possible in the planning process.

Even if they decide not to apply to programs right away, the score is good for five years. Check out this exclusive discount of $100 off the test registration for undergrads only! Register on or before May 15, 2017 and take the exam no later than June 30, 2017.


Read all the articles in the series!
Tami Campbell is the owner of Level Up Career Services, a firm specializing in working with college students and recent graduates on their job search. With over a decade of experience in career services and campus recruiting, she now puts her background to work guiding students (and parents) through what can be a daunting and overwhelming process.
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