How do you “fit” into an MBA program? Whether the issue is you liking a school or a school liking you (to the point that it accepts you), the question of fit is one that should always be top of mind for any applicant. Do you like a program’s teaching style? The focus of the curriculum? The environment? Are the students and other community members “your people”? To learn more about finding your perfect-fit program, see “How to Find the Best Business Schools for You.”
Creating a list of “reach” schools that meet your fit criteria is easy. What is frequently more difficult is generating a list of “target” and “likely” schools that give you that same warm, fuzzy feeling when you engage with their students or—when the situation allows—visit campus.
To help you identify these schools, here are some examples of “doppelgänger” MBA programs—two programs that are alike in many ways, except that one is easier to get into than the other.
If you believe that the case method style of learning is right for you, then consider UVA Darden, which is the only US school other than Harvard Business School that uses the case method exclusively. Also, it works if your uniform of choice is khakis and oxfords.
Fun Facts: At Darden, first-year students are put into learning teams with classmates who are in different sections. For each case, you prepare on your own, discuss the case with your learning team, and THEN go to class to discuss it with another 90 or so students. For unfamiliar topics, Darden provides “technical notes” that allow you and your learning team to master new material that is essential to understanding a case. Some professors offer a 10- to 15-minute introduction for technical material to allow students to begin the discussion on a level playing field.
Looking for a West Coast school with great ties to the tech industry and a long history of entrepreneurship? Although Stanford GSB is the obvious choice, UW Foster in Seattle is a natural alternative. With ties to Amazon, Microsoft, and dozens of startups, UW Foster has the same Silicon Valley buzz but with less traffic and a lower cost of living.
Fun Facts: Foster puts a lot of focus on career prep, strategy, and global experience, as indicated by the required two practical experience activities, MBA core case competition, and two international perspective activities. 48% of the UW Foster Class of 2022 went into tech, with an average starting salary of $140,354. Foster’s core value of mentoring is supported by its portfolio of mentor programs. There are typically around 60 mentors in the traditional program, with classes comprising roughly 100 students. Foster also offers the MBA Mentoring Circles for MBAs of Color program, with approximately 12 mentors.
These are two great Ivy League schools with strong banking and marketing programs. At both schools, future portfolio managers can help run a student investment fund, racking up real returns and industry connections. The big choice between these two schools is, do you want gritty Philadelphia or bucolic Ithaca?
Fun Facts: Johnson offers three unique immersion offerings in finance: Investment Banking, Corporate Finance, and Investment Research and Asset Management. Candidates interested in marketing can pursue the Strategic Product and Marketing immersion. And if you are concerned about being too far from a big city, you can participate in Johnson’s innovative NYC intensives in either finance technology or digital marketing. Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island campus is an oasis in New York City, complete with dorms that eliminate the dreaded commute.
Did You Know? Wharton’s Class of 2023 was the first among top MBA programs to break 50% women, and the school maintained this percentage for the Class of 2024 and Class of 2025. On the other hand, Cornell Johnson is often behind peer schools in terms of percentage of women, with just 31% women in the Class of 2022; it made a strong recovery to 39% in the Class of 2024 and 43% in the Class of 2025. This means opportunity for women! Interestingly, Wharton was wondering where the domestic male applicants were for the Class of 2024.
Ready to geek out in a great city at a school that produces more startups than almost any other? Make it Sloan or Tepper! With the addition of Amazon, Google, Uber, Apple, and Facebook, Pittsburgh is starting to feel a heck of a lot like Cambridge—only with better food and shorter lines.
Fun Facts: In September 2018, CMU celebrated the grand opening of the Tepper Quad, which sits in the center of campus and serves as the intersection of business, technology, and data analytics. Tepper’s initiative, “The Intelligent Future,” captures the school’s commitment to prepare graduates for a future fueled by data, powered by technology, and unleashed by human intelligence. Over the past few years, Tepper has lagged peer schools in representation of women and underrepresented minorities. Tepper’s Class of 2024 has only 31% women and 17% underrepresented minorities, but the Class of 2025 improved to 36% and 26%, respectively.
These are two business schools that historically have had a wider purview than just business. Yale has a long history in nonprofit management, while the location of Georgetown in Washington, DC, naturally brings a public policy and international component to it. The schools even look alike in their Gothic architecture!
Fun Facts: Georgetown’s Jesuit roots are captured in the concept of cura personalis or “care for the whole person.” McDonough’s collaborative community embraces this value and extends it by offering access to global leaders through local resources such as the World Bank and changemakers on Capitol Hill, setting students up to make a positive impact in society. At Yale SOM, there is no limit to how many electives you can take outside of the business school. MBA candidates are students of Yale, not just the Yale School of Management.
When it comes to marketing, these two big Midwest schools are the kings. And Kellogg isn’t in Chicago; it’s really in Evanston—not quite the little college town that Madison is.
Fun Facts: Wisconsin School of Business’s most recent career placement data indicates that 30% of graduates went into marketing or sales positions. Financial services, consumer packaged goods, and technology topped the industry placements, with 20%, 17%, and 17%, respectively. Wisconsin School of Business is consistently ranked in the top ten MBA programs for marketing, in which it offers a specialization. In August 2021, the school announced a new specialization in Technology Strategy and Product Management.
Other Doppelgänger Schools
By no means is this the end of this game of twins, or even triplets. Consider Duke Fuqua, WashU Olin, and Vanderbilt Owen for health care; Columbia Business School and NYU Stern for finance; NYU Stern, UCLA Anderson, and USC Marshall for media and entertainment; and Dartmouth Tuck and Minnesota Carlson for being happy, far away, and cold but well positioned for consulting placement.
Fun Facts: UCLA Anderson pioneered experiential learning through its capstone projects, which have been offered for more than 50 years. Depending on your career goals, you can support a client organization through Applied Management Research, start a business or join a classmate in doing so through the Business Creation Program, manage the Student Investment Fund, or take advantage of many other opportunities!
Did You Know? The Carlson Consulting Enterprise offers student teams the opportunity to work directly with a client over two-and-a-half semesters, with a weekly class on technical consulting and project management skills. 25% of the program’s Class of 2022 went into consulting roles.
So, as you make a school list that ideally includes some reaches, targets, and likelies, try to get a handle on why you like each one. You might just be accepted to one of your perfect schools—or maybe to its twin!
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