Well, the pleasure of being admitted to four schools has not yet worn off, but I have since found a new fixation to replace my obsession of wondering whether or not I will get in somewhere – trying to figure out where I should spend my next two years! I warned readers that there would be more to come on this and here it is!
So, what to do? You would think this would be an easy choice. I think one of the things that helped me gain admittance to these schools is now working against me – I found them all a very good fit for me for one reason or another. I was able to explain very clearly why I wanted to go there. None of the schools is truly a PERFECT fit, but most are pretty darn close except maybe one or two aspects. The question is – do I go with the school that will get me there via a direct path or do I want to take the scenic route? So, here are the parameters against which I consider each school (not necessarily in order of importance to me):
Achieving my Short Term Career Goals
I have two main things I would like to come away from my MBA with – ability to work internationally (difficult if you don’t have the international experience to begin with) and ability to move into the health care sector. For me, LBS is the clear winner on international, but it lacks the defined health care component. Wharton is the clear winner on health care… hell, they have a whole program devoted to it. Duke does as well, but I personally find Wharton the stronger of the two, mainly b/c the overall school seems to come off stronger. Both schools have some international programs, but it's not the same as actually studying internatinally. Michigan has a little of both, but nothing to outdo the others. In the end, I think I need to focus more on building my knowledge of health care and try to work in the international component where I can.
This is one of the hardest things to assess. From everything I’ve heard about LBS, I really think that it would be an excellent fit. The students are diverse in comparison to the US schools, the class is small (this could be a negative in terms of alumni network, but I think I would get to know more people on a more intimate level), and the students genuinely seem to have a good time. I do not think B-school is just about having a good time, but all other things equal, I’d rather have fun with my teammates while learning. Duke was great at reaching out to me as a female candidate and Wharton has been absolutely spectacular in the post-admit support (I think I've gotten no less than six or seven emails and calls from people offering to discuss Wharton and answer all my burning questions). I am interested to see the effect of the change in the Grade Non-Disclosure policy at Wharton, though.
Winner: Undecided (previously LBS but Wharton is winning me over as we go along)
Ah – yes, I am admittedly superficial when it comes to this... I like name brands. I chose a name brand undergrad over full ride scholarship offers from several other schools. When it came time to decide on job offers, I again went for name brand over a small and intimate firm where I would certainly be working on projects in my desired domain and making more money. But, I have seen the power of brand, which is why it’s hard to ignore. No, it’s not the be-all, end-all, but it doesn’t hurt. I think Wharton has a wonderful brand and people are starting to understand it is not just a Finance school. From what I can tell, LBS is considered to be on par with the top schools in the US over in the EU, but it is relatively unknown in the US. I would be happy to work in Europe for awhile, though, so this wouldn't inhibit in my short-term goals. It would be helpful if the brand were stronger over here, though, for when I want to come back. I think LBS will be able to grow its brand outside Europe, but it's going to take some time. I think Duke and Michigan are about equal...they're great schools, but not in the same tier as the H, S, W triumvirate.
Well, I don't have my aid package from Wharton yet, so I don't know how they will ultimately shake out. But, for now, let's assume zero from them. Duke's scholarship offer combined with the lower costs in general make it the most affordable by far. Following Duke is Michigan (again, a scholarship offer and lower overall costs). Next is LBS thanks to a scholarships (otherwise, it is by far the most expensive b/c of London's high cost of living and the horrid exchange rate), and Wharton brings up the rear. So, how much is the name brand really worth? An important question. I'm looking at a very considerable difference... so, how long do I want to be in debt?!
North Carolina definitely has the best weather. I did not particularly like how spread out the school and Durham is... I felt like a car would make life much easier there, and I don't really want to have to deal with a car while I'm at school. Everywhere else, I will have to deal with moderately crappy weather, but, hey, I can suck it up. Philly has great restaurants, although I'm not too keen of the city overall. London would be AWESOME for all the obvious reasons. Ann Arbor is small but, again, I would probably be better off with a car and it is wicked cold.
Now, along with location, I have to consider distance from my husband, who will probably stay here. His job is going extremely well and we both think it makes sense for him to stay to see what opportunities come to him. Plus, he'll only need to find a new job once rather than do that now and then again when I graduate. The only exception is LBS -- we felt that was just too far, so he would move w/ me if I were to go there. He is clearly pulling for Wharton b/c it closest. Duke is also within driving distance. Michigan is farther but still only a 1.5 hour plane ride away (and cheap air fare)!
Winner: Tie - LBS for fun, Wharton for distance, and Duke for weather
Of course, there is no way to know which decision is the "right" one since there is no way to look into the future. But, I don't really think I can go wrong... these are all excellent choices and I always said I would be happy if I got into any of them alone. I am leaning toward Wharton right now, but I decided not to make any final decisions until I had gone to the admit weekends and rec'd all my financial aid information (or as much as I can get prior to the due date for submitting my decisions to the schools). I looked back to my earlier posts talking about which schools I liked more than others and there were definitely changes from my initial list to my final application list. Likewise, I'm sure some things will be shuffled around with these factors too, and I will probably think of more parameters for comparison, so we shall see what happens in the end!