This is the fourth of five articles on how to begin your MBA application process. The articles were written by Brian Fobi, CEO of Gurufi, and they present the author's personal and professional experience on the topic.

At this point, you have hopefully done the exercises in the prior articles, and you have a good sense of what you want from an MBA program, where your life will be heading afterward, what you would bring to the table, and how you intend to position yourself within a competitive applicant pool. Now it’s time to select where you’re going to apply.

This step, often underestimated, involves more than just rankings and reputation; it’s about finding a program that aligns with your professional goals, personal values, and learning style. As you stand at the crossroads, ready to steer your future in a new direction, embarking on a thorough research journey is crucial. Reputation is important, but you can’t just lean on brand name. Instead, by taking a thoughtful approach, you can find a program that resonates with your aspirations but also strengthen your application by demonstrating a well-informed choice. In other words, when you’re clearly a good fit for a program, it will feel that way to the reader.

The starting point: how many?

The question of how many programs to apply to is ultimately a highly individual one. In addition to thinking about the costs of the applications (which can sometimes be offset by waivers), you should also recognize that, while you can repurpose certain elements of your application, each additional application will take a substantial amount of time. The average number of schools is about 4-7, but some people only apply to a single school if they feel that only that program will get them where they need to go (or if personal/geographic considerations make only that school feasible), and sometimes people who have decided that they intend to begin their MBA the next year no matter might apply to 15 or more so as to ensure they get in somewhere. There’s no single right answer, just what works for you.

Exploring beyond rankings

While MBA rankings offer a snapshot of a program’s reputation and standing, they don’t tell the whole story. A program’s rank should be a starting point, not the sole determinant of your choice. Dive deeper into what each program offers, including its curriculum, teaching methodology, faculty expertise, and specialization areas. Consider how these elements align with your learning preferences and career objectives. Many clients create a spreadsheet that has a list of all the things they care about in a particular school, and they rank each school as they research it, talk to alumni, and learn more about the school’s strengths and weaknesses. This “personalized ranking” can provide a useful way to think about which schools would be best for you.

Understanding the culture and community

The culture of an MBA program significantly influences your business school experience. Each program has its unique ethos, values, and community dynamics. Some might foster a highly competitive environment, while others emphasize collaboration and teamwork. Engage with current students and alumni through informational interviews, virtual events, or campus visits. These interactions can provide invaluable insights into the program’s culture and how it aligns with your personality and values.

Evaluating career support services

One of the primary reasons for pursuing an MBA is career advancement. Investigate the career support services offered by each program, including career counseling, internship opportunities, and employer connections. Look at the employment statistics of recent graduates, the industries they enter, and the roles they secure. This information can help you gauge how well the program can support your career aspirations.

Leveraging alumni networks

An MBA program’s alumni network is a treasure trove of resources, mentorship, and opportunities. Assess the strength and activity level of the alumni network. A vibrant, engaged alumni community can provide support during your MBA journey and beyond, offering career advice, industry insights, and networking opportunities.

Financial considerations and scholarships

An MBA is a significant financial investment. Beyond tuition fees, consider the cost of living, study materials, and any potential income loss during your studies. Research scholarship opportunities, financial aid, and loan options offered by the programs. Understanding the financial commitment and support available can help you make a more informed decision.

Making an informed decision

After thorough research, create a shortlist of programs that align with your goals and values. Reflect on how each program matches your criteria, from curriculum and culture to career support and financial considerations. This thoughtful selection process not only ensures that you choose a program that’s the right fit for you but also strengthens your application by demonstrating a well-informed, strategic decision.

You should also view this list – or any informal ranking – as dynamic. As you progress through your application, update it as you find out more. Everything from the questions they ask in their personal statement prompts, to the things that alumni talk about, to how responsive school representatives are can tell you something about the strength or weakness of a school as well as its culture.

Researching and choosing the right MBA program is a journey of discovery, both about the programs and yourself. It requires digging deeper than rankings and reputation to understand what each program truly offers and how it aligns with your aspirations. By approaching this process with thoroughness and introspection, you’ll not only find a program that resonates with your goals but also lay a strong foundation for your future success. Remember, the right MBA program is not just about the name on your diploma; it’s about finding a community and learning environment where you can thrive, grow, and achieve your fullest potential.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top MBA programs. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.