NEWS | Planning Business School Research

Published On: Monday, 22nd May 2023


Once you have decided that you want to study for an MBA be prepared to start some major research work. Choosing the business school and programme that suits you best is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life and researching the variety of options at an early stage will help to determine your future career opportunities.

In order to weigh up your choices, it is crucial to put aside enough time to do your research. There are resources that can help speed things up but take into consideration that part of your planning will involve preparing a long and short list of target schools, school visits and all of the follow up questions you will have.

From a practical point of view, it may be best to allocate a couple of hours per day to break up your research which will give you thinking time between planning sessions. If you can, allow more time than you might actually need to give yourself the opportunity to properly think things through.

The process of choosing the right school and programme for you is a very personal one so you will need a degree of self-assessment and reflection on your career priorities and goals.

Although it may seem obvious to initially focus on business school rankings and prestige there are many other factors to think about to make sure you choose an education that fits you best. You can revisit school rankings at any time so first, it is best to focus on questions that will help you decide what you want from your degree.

How to finance your MBA is a big factor in your choice of business school. Are you paying for it yourself or do you have help? You can read our blog How to fund your MBA as a starting point. Look into any financial assistance you may qualify for and factor in any debt you will need to incur on top of any scholarships or family support you may receive.


From a career point of view, the questions you should be asking yourself are all related to how you see yourself in the future. You should be digging deep when you ask yourself these types of questions:

  • What are my career goals?
  • What type of work do I want to do after business school?
  • What sectors am I passionate about?
  • What type of organisational culture do I want to work in?
  • What profile or diversity of students do I wish to surround myself with?

Asking yourself questions about your future aspirations will help to define the criteria for your business school selection. For example, are you looking to diversify your career in a major corporation or do you have an aspiration to become an entrepreneur.

Learning Style

The academic-related part of your research is particularly important and will also help to determine the right business school for you. Think about how you perform best when learning so you can make sure that the schools that end up on your list match them.

Which type of environment do you thrive in? Do you prefer larger interactive classes, or do you tend to perform better in smaller groups? And what kind of academic support will you ideally need to succeed? By asking the right questions at this point you will begin to narrow down choices for your initial long list of possible business schools.


Once you have assessed funding, career, and academic issues, choosing the geography and environment of your school will help reduce your best options further. How far are you willing to be from your immediate family? Do you prefer a city or a rural setting? Is moving overseas to do your MBA an exciting prospect and is it practical for you? No doubt there will be many more questions, but once you have tackled these initial ones, you will be in a stronger position to start pinpointing schools and programmes and map out your MBA plan.

School Ratings/Rankings

There is a wealth of research available covering MBA rankings and ratings which are available online. Be a little cautious when looking at them as tables measure different things. However, you should be able to get a broad idea of schools with the best reputations for certain programmes. The rankings are particularly useful for researching programmes within industry subject areas.

Your Target List

When choosing an MBA programme, start by creating an initial long list of around a dozen preferred schools. As you delve deeper into your self-analysis and understand more about what you want to achieve, you will be able to shorten the list and concentrate on those for in-depth research until you get to your final choice.

Of course there are students who have their heart set on a particular school from the outset and they will have that school at the top of their list from the start – and it may be the one that outshines all others after all the research is done!

School Categories

It is often recommended that your long list contains a cross section of schools classified into three areas: Reach, Target, and Safety schools. This can be confusing if you have never applied to business school before so how do you know what each one is?

Reach schools are those schools that you are interested in but are unlikely to get into. There can be two reasons for this. Firstly, your academic credentials fall in the lower end, or even below, the school's average range for the cohort of students accepted the previous year. It is certainly not impossible to gain admission, but you should not count on it. Secondly, some schools such as Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Wharton and Berkely have a small acceptance rate of around 5% every year so no-one can be supremely confident about studying there but it is always worth trying.

Target schools are those schools that you have a better chance with as your educational qualifications are well within the school's average range for the most recently accepted class. You could still be refused for any number of reasons during the admissions process, but your academic achievements alone will put you in a 40% to 60% chance of acceptance.

Safety schools are those schools for which you have over an 80% chance of acceptance and where your qualifications exceed the school's range for the average student. A safety school should not be looked upon as a ‘last resort’ choice, but as a school you would like to attend and can be reasonably certain that you will be admitted to.

Always make sure there is at least one school that you know you and your family can afford on your list to ensure you are accepted somewhere. If you are both optimistic and realistic with your school choices you will not be disappointed and most importantly, left searching around at the last minute.

Review Date on Schools

When researching MBA programmes (much of which can be done online), you will need to check the application requirements to see if you are likely to be chosen for study. From an academic perspective scrutinise each school’s curriculum to ensure that they match with your career goals and check that the teaching style is compatible with your preferred way to learn.

Some sources will allow you to look at job placement data for business schools where you can work out average salaries achieved by graduates currently working to get a handle on post-MBA successes. If you can, ask the business schools if it is possible to speak with some alumni. If that proves difficult, use LinkedIn to find and connect with graduates from schools on your short list. Most post-MBA students are happy to network and share information about their experiences and they are your quickest route to understanding the academic environment, culture, and professional relevance of their business school.

Campus Visits

Once you narrow your list to, say four business schools, you can make campus visits. By visiting, you will get a real feel of the learning environment. If you visit during an open house day you will also get an opportunity to interact with students/faculty which will provide unparalleled insight into the school’s culture. If your shortlisted schools are overseas, visiting them all might be cost prohibitive. In this case your contact with alumni could prove to be more important in terms of gathering information.

You can call each school or visit their websites to find out how to arrange visits which will help you come to a final decision. If you do your research thoroughly beforehand, you will be able to make the right choice which will do wonders for your confidence on your exciting MBA journey.

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