Tell me why I'm wrong for aiming below HSW

petergibbons's picture
Rank: King Kong | 1,407

It doesn't seem like a particularly controversial statement to say there are only a few reasons why someone from a top banking/consulting + private equity background would apply for an MBA:

  • You think you want to stay on the path you're on, but kind of burned out and want to have a good time while you still can
  • You think you want to stay on the path you're on, but you need to find a new fund via MBA recruiting
  • You don't think you want to stay on the path you're on, and want some low-risk time to figure it out

I think I fall into the 3rd bucket; I've already got my brass ring from consulting and PE, but I don't think I want to do either long term.

Academics
Noticeably absent was learning skills and facts; both the senior people I work with and my friends at HSW say there's not a ton of new content they're getting from the classroom they wouldn't get on the job. It seems like every school has an international component, some sort of entrepreneurial project, and a similar curriculum.

Classmates
There aren't huge differences in the metrics showing raw horsepower (grades, test scores) between HSW and the tier of schools just outside the M7. And while there are a bunch of people from top business backgrounds at HSW, there are also a lot of people from non-business backgrounds, who have horsepower, leadership, potential etc. Those people are going to exist at the Tuck/Darden/Haas type schools too, and I can't see them being all that different. I'm not sure how useful having 17 ex-MBB and 11 ex-PE in my first year classes will be when I've been around those people exclusively for the last five years.

Recruiting
I know I could get back into consulting with or without an MBA, regardless of whether I go to HBS or Haas. And if I knew I wanted to stay in PE but switch funds, then I'd be more committed to applying to HSW, but given my interest and background, I don't think there are many funds out there with a better mix of investing philosophy/focus and culture/fit than the one I'm at. I don't get the sense it would make a huge difference to them whether I went to HBS or Tuck, for example. But as I said before, I may want to get off this path, and go into industry in a corp strat/corp dev role. For those kinds of roles, I don't get the sense there's a huge difference between HBS and a top 10-15 school, especially given my background?

ROI
So it comes down to $$$. I'd prefer not to pay full price at HSW when there's a decent chance I'll end up taking a pay cut from my pre-MBA job. It seems like schools just outside the M7 should be throwing money at people with my background (MBB and PE, honors grad from a top school, 750+ GMAT) because they probably don't get nearly as many applications that look like this relative to HSW. Is this the case? I don't have the best sense for how "merit aid" is distributed, or what schools would be most likely to send some my way.

So, am I just being myopic and maximizing short-term returns over something with longer-term benefits that's hard to see? Something I'm missing? If you were in my shoes, and had my goals, what would you do?

Comments (16)

Apr 14, 2014

Good thoughts in general. I will say that a large part of one's success in life (on a personal, as well as professional level) is governed by how you are perceived by others. You never know what battles you already won before you even walked into the room, and consequently what battles you lost before you walked in the room. Say what you want about relative perception of the top 10 schools, but there's no denying the perception associated with the H/S/W tier, with a special focus on the H. Do you really want to not give yourself the maximum chance you can to make your life easier?

Apr 14, 2014

Interesting perspective and it's hard to disagree with any of the points you made. It's actually pretty rare that we see someone on this board coming from your background asking for perspective on their situation. There are a couple things that I think are important to point out.

Classmates: Agreed that the horsepower of your classmates will not be all that different from HSW to another top-10 school. However, the outcomes and results for your classmates may be. I think we can all agree that horsepower does not necessarily equal results, so you have to take into account where your classmates will end up and what your network will be. That's not necessarily a point for HBS, because maybe, given your perspective and high floor of being able to get back into MBB/PE, you want a bunch of classmates that will go into Tech (random example). That could be major points for Haas/Sloan, especially if they throw some $$ at you. Either way, you talk a lot about your potential immediate goals, but not your long term goals. Where do you want to be in ten years? How could this decision affect that?

On that same note, I don't think your class is any less diverse at HSW than it will be at other top schools. You'll still likely be around the same percentage of consultants/finance guys at another M7 or below school, they just might be from Deloitte S&O and a small PE firm instead of McKinsey and/or KKR. I think barring individual school differences, which exist, the class compositions are pretty similar.

Recruiting: You can get a Corporate Strategy/Development job from any of the schools you named. However, I think there is actually a difference between the top ~9 schools and the next tier in getting those jobs. I actually know a few people at Darden that struck out on Corp. Finance roles and complained that there just weren't enough to go around. At Tuck, which is only marginally higher ranked, I hear the exact opposite (F500 cannot fill all the spots they want and most people recruiting for it have multiple offers). Just something to think about as you set your floor for schools.

Overall, I think you make some really good points. If you can go to Tuck (to pull my school out) for free, and there isn't really any downside, that's a great tiebreaker. I would just make sure you think about all the factors in the decision, including fit, long-term goals, and other intangibles (network, location, etc.). You will likely be better than fine career-wise on an immediate basis, so I would think about what else you want out of school.

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Apr 14, 2014

Just apply to a bucket of schools, see where you get in, and how much scholarships you get offered. Maybe Wharton will offer you a full scholarship...Maybe Haas will only give you $20k...Maybe you don't even get into HSW.

It's a moot point right now.

Apr 14, 2014

Thanks all - very helpful perspective.

@"Model_Monkey" - One more top brand on my resume certainly wouldn't hurt, especially because my undergrad, while strong, doesn't have the same international brand recognition of an Ivy. And you make a very good point on the signaling and screening that happens before you ever meet someone.

@"BGP2587" Long term, I want to use corp strat/corp dev as a launching pad to run a P&L, and work my way up to a C-level role in either a F500 industry role, or a PE-backed company of slightly smaller size. The recruiting point is one thing I was really curious about, and great to know. I think fit-wise, I'm going off my time on a couple campuses, and where the people I've worked best with went to school. No decision is made in a bubble, 100% agree.

@"OpsDude" It's not quite a moot point because there's a finite number of places I think you can apply to and not put together a shitty application; agree that it's highly speculative now, but if I only can apply to ~4 schools, I just wanted to make sure I'm not completely missing something by applying to a school ranked ~#10 where I think I would fit in well, where I would want to live, where I'm more likely to get a scholarship, and that is historically strong in the vertical I think I'm most interested in, versus the school that's ranked #2 that most of my peers are targeting, where the brand is stronger, but would cost more, and require moving somewhere I'm not excited about to be part of a campus culture I'm not that excited about, and wouldn't be necessarily providing immediate career access beyond the #10 school in what I'm interested in.

Apr 15, 2014

You can get at least 5-6 quality applications in, 4 per round if you really want to give it all, so you really don't need to limit yourself at this early of a stage.

I went to the admit weekends/dinners for Duke, UCLA, and Kellogg. You're going to have almost as many former consultants and finance people at a school ranked #10-15 as a school ranked #2, the difference is they went to worst undergrad colleges, worked for worst companies (Accenture or boutique instead of MBB), and have lower test scores...You don't get more diversity from going to a lower tier school, you just get a less talented bucket of the same type of kids. There's really no advantage to go to a lower tier school, aside from scholarships.

Some of the top schools certainly have shitty cultures, but it's not because they are M7, it's because they are populated by too many people who want to go into finance...but there's plenty of M7 that aren't like that. The reason I chose Kellogg was because everyone was laid back and fun, but was also successful and talented. Also, even if your 2nd tier is strong in a field, in almost all cases, the companies would rather hire a M7 student if they can.

Since scholarships are much harder to predict than admissions, you need to apply to a bucket of schools, both the ~10 school you think you'll fit in, and ~2 school all your friends are competing against. This topic is all a moot point, since it'd be a VERY bad choice to not apply to both.

Before I got started, I thought "If UCLA gives me a big scholarship, I'll go there." They did, but I'm absolutely certain I'm making the right choice giving up that scholarship to attend Kellogg. Do not limit yourself at this stage. Once you get admitted to both and see the packages, you can make an informed decision.

Jun 27, 2014

This post comes off a little braggy to me. I'm not sure if it was intended as such or if it wasn't, but that is just how it seems.

Jul 3, 2014

Wasn't intended that way. Maybe a little presumptuous that I'll get in to any of the schools, but on the face of it, I don't think that's a stretch.

Matter of fact, guilty. Healthily skeptical (of the path you're taking?) Definitely. Most people don't get to BB IB/MBB/PE by going against the grain, and I recognize that this is a little unorthodox.

Jun 29, 2014

Disagree on the Classmates section. The caliber of the students at H/S, IMO, is substantially higher than at the rest of the M7 because A) basically everyone who's admitted to H/S goes, and B) there's a not-insignificant % of really, really smart people that *only* apply to those two schools.

I'd say it's the different between, say, McKinsey and Deloitte. Not everyone at McKinsey is brilliant. But there are much more brilliant people at McKinsey than Deloitte. And if I pulled two random consultants from those two respective firms and told you to have a 15 minute conversation with each of them, I bet the McKinsey consultant would come across to you as noticeably more intelligent and articulate than the Deloitte consultant.

Jul 3, 2014

That's fair - and I think maybe my experience is a little biased, because (I think) it's the brilliant people from Darden and Fuqua getting to McKinsey (and since I've interacted with the ones who made consulting, probably a biased sample), and both the mediocre and brilliant from HBS getting in (I have seen a lot of HBSers flame out quickly in consulting).

I heard something recently in line with this...if you find that you're often the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.

Jul 3, 2014

You wrote

I heard something recently in line with this...if you find that you're often the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.

I like this, and you've been around enough to know that's often true. I think there's a risk of shooting too low -- and my guess is that you have been around people who are either super-smart or super good at what they do that you will be frustrated if you really are one of just a few cool kids at your school.
Having said that, I get the sense that you are talking about programs that a not too far outside of the range of the top schools in the world.

I say only apply to the schools that you think will keep you on your toes. You want to feel like your two years made you really look at the world in a different way. You want to know that you were around people that made you feel smarter for having been around them. Most people are better when they are pushed. You want to make sure there's a hunger for excellence that pervades your learning environment. That sense of excellence will be different for everyone. And it doesn't necessarily mean the difference between a Deloitte and an MBB. You've already done the MBB, you're looking for something that you can feel about the quality of your future colleagues and friends for life.
That's the difference.

PS: so what's wrong with yr undergrad anyway? :-)

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/b-school-qa-... Ask away!

Jul 3, 2014

As an MBA grad and a foreign student, I don't recommend colleges outside the top 15

Jul 3, 2014

As an MBA grad and a foreign student, I don't recommend colleges outside the top 15

Jul 3, 2014

I don't think you're crazy at all. Money isn't everything. If you find a path that will get you 95% of the return with 25% of the cost (and money/work isn't the only thing that matters to you), it could definitely make sense to take the quickest path to a relaxed and debt-free life.

Jul 3, 2014
petergibbons:

It doesn't seem like a particularly controversial statement to say there are only a few reasons why someone from a top banking/consulting + private equity background would apply for an MBA:

  • You think you want to stay on the path you're on, but kind of burned out and want to have a good time while you still can
  • You think you want to stay on the path you're on, but you need to find a new fund via MBA recruiting
  • You don't think you want to stay on the path you're on, and want some low-risk time to figure it out

I think I fall into the 3rd bucket; I've already got my brass ring from consulting and PE, but I don't think I want to do either long term.

Academics

Noticeably absent was learning skills and facts; both the senior people I work with and my friends at HSW say there's not a ton of new content they're getting from the classroom they wouldn't get on the job. It seems like every school has an international component, some sort of entrepreneurial project, and a similar curriculum.

Classmates

There aren't huge differences in the metrics showing raw horsepower (grades, test scores) between HSW and the tier of schools just outside the M7. And while there are a bunch of people from top business backgrounds at HSW, there are also a lot of people from non-business backgrounds, who have horsepower, leadership, potential etc. Those people are going to exist at the Tuck/Darden/Haas type schools too, and I can't see them being all that different. I'm not sure how useful having 17 ex-MBB and 11 ex-PE in my first year classes will be when I've been around those people exclusively for the last five years.

Recruiting

I know I could get back into consulting with or without an MBA, regardless of whether I go to HBS or Haas. And if I knew I wanted to stay in PE but switch funds, then I'd be more committed to applying to HSW, but given my interest and background, I don't think there are many funds out there with a better mix of investing philosophy/focus and culture/fit than the one I'm at. I don't get the sense it would make a huge difference to them whether I went to HBS or Tuck, for example. But as I said before, I may want to get off this path, and go into industry in a corp strat/corp dev role. For those kinds of roles, I don't get the sense there's a huge difference between HBS and a top 10-15 school, especially given my background?

ROI

So it comes down to $$$. I'd prefer not to pay full price at HSW when there's a decent chance I'll end up taking a pay cut from my pre-MBA job. It seems like schools just outside the M7 should be throwing money at people with my background (MBB and PE, honors grad from a top school, 750+ GMAT) because they probably don't get nearly as many applications that look like this relative to HSW. Is this the case? I don't have the best sense for how "merit aid" is distributed, or what schools would be most likely to send some my way.

So, am I just being myopic and maximizing short-term returns over something with longer-term benefits that's hard to see? Something I'm missing? If you were in my shoes, and had my goals, what would you do?

I suggest you do some self reflection and at least shortlist a couple of career choices before making a commitment to spending $200K and using up your MBA bullet prematurely.

Also, depending on what you want to do, the school choice matters a lot. It may not matter for most careers if you pick between Tuck or Kellogg, but to assume that opportunities or caliber of students will be similar at HBS and Darden is a big mistake.

And are you a white male? If so, don't count on getting a significant scholarship at T15. Serious scholarship money is not that easy to come by, esp. for white males from finance/consulting. Outside T15 this becomes much more likely but then why would you want to do that.

Finally, HSW are incredibly competitive and difficult to get into no matter what your background, esp. H/S. So don't just count on H/S if you are serious about going to b-school. W is a more realistic possibility but I would still apply to a few others even if I had an 800 GMAT.

Jul 4, 2014

I'll be five years out of school with a traditional background, and a decent sense of what I want to do (it's choosing between 3 similar options, not 30 disparate ones at this point). So I don't think it's premature use of the MBA, in fact, if not next year, I don't think it happens. I agree that some finance recruiting would be materially impacted by Darden vs. HBS, but if that were what I thought I wanted to do longer-term, then I wouldn't be making that choice. At this point, I view this as keeping options open with a relatively low opportunity cost.

Virtually everyone from my classes / those above me over the last few years at both jobs have gone to H/S/W so I don't think it's a stretch to say I have a good shot to get into at least one. And following up on the fact that there are relatively few people from my background who actually want to go to schools outside those three, I don't think it's a stretch to think they'd offer $ to say they poached someone with an offer from one of those schools with my background, but I guess I will find out.

Jul 5, 2014
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