The main takeaways are either headers or in bold.
If you get accepted to multiple top 10-15 schools, take "prestige" out of the equation.
I always tell the story of my good friend who passed up a full ride at Columbia to pay full freight at Wharton due to rankings. She ended up taking a corporate finance gig that she could have EASILY gotten out of Columbia. She was able to make peace w/ her decision, and loves telling people she went to Wharton, but those student loan payments are a painful thorn in her side.
At my current internship (huge global firm) there are people predominantly from Booth, Columbia, Wharton, McCombs, Kellogg, UNC, Ross, and Fuqua, as well as a smattering of other schools across the top 20. I got a chance to look at their resumes and there are two (!) 780 GMAT scorers, a handful on full rides, some ex BB and MBB, and even a former FBI agent. In fact, I'm probably one of the least accomplished folks here! Fortunately, it's hard to find any differences between us in work product. Recruiters will go after talented candidates at any top school. Your school choice will not help your chances if you are not already a top candidate. Huge lessons learned there.
I'm interning in Texas, and I can tell you that students from Texas schools are at a significant advantage here. If you know where you want to live post-MBA, and get into a school that you like in that area surrounded by firms for which you'd like to work, then you probably should go there over any higher ranked school much further away (all things being equal). One of my classmates wanted O&G but turned down McCombs, and he ended up spending crazy $$$ flying out there to network every week. He eventually got an offer at a top firm, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone go that hard at recruiting for anything.
Again, at the top level, candidates are very hard to distinguish. I will say, though, that at a self selecting school like Tuck (which I attend), you definitely notice more of a certain type of student: outgoing, outdoorsy, laid back, less rigid, hard partying -I like to describe them as next door neighbor types who just happen to be smart. Obviously, we have a small number of stereotypical finance people and assorted douchebags but overall, they're not really representative of the student body. That said, through mingling with other schools, I noticed more of certain other types: Competitive, elitist, super driven, distant, overachieving, prestige obsessed, etc.
Again, probably not entirely representative of any one program, but let's say you've got 2,000 students and only 10% are douches: that's still 200 douches running around out there! % might be the same but the aggregate # is higher. Schools, whether intentionally or not, attract or nurture certain cultures. Don't try to force yourself into one you'll hate for sure. I know a couple of people who have cabin fever out here every weekend, and conversely I have an old army buddy at HSW who wishes he were having as much fun as I am whenever we compare notes. He just hasn't taken well to big city living, and misses the camaraderie you get with smaller groups. If it doesn't feel right after 2 visits, don't force it. Chances are the school tugging at your gut is the right one, and always go with your gut.
Don't worship "Dream Schools"
If you go in with the mentality of "School XYZ or bust", there's a good chance you'll end up disappointed. Give yourself options! Obviously certain paths require you to ONLY look at HSW but for 95% of MBA jobs that isn't the case. If you don't get into your top choice but manage to make it into another top program, count your blessings! Look at the placement stats, professors, alumni, etc of these schools: you could potentially pass up the right school for you over an obsession with your "dream school". My mindset going in was: my stats are decent, my work experience is decent, GMAT pretty good, so I'm getting in SOMEWHERE. I could care less whether it was #2 or #12. Get me in and I'll take care of the rest!
In many cases your resume, and NOT your school will determine your recruiting experience
Banking and consulting jobs won't care too much about your prior experience, but for anything else: Tech, CorpFin, Corp Dev, etc your resume and skills will be more important than your school. Going to a top school simply checks the box, but if you have no quantitative background whatsoever chances are you won't get any interviews for Senior Analyst or Finance Manager slots. If you've never touched a computer or done anything in the online space, Google, Apple, or Amazon may not come calling. Even if you're at one of their "target" schools. Your mileage may vary but those have been some of the complaints I've heard from my friends up and down the top 10.
Now good luck and happy hunting. Find the right program for you and the rest will take care of itself.
Note: For anyone interested in Leadership/Rotational programs, any school in the top 40 or so will serve you well, including strong regional programs, though some companies may be more prestige conscious than others depending on how popular they are. I've found the guide that WSO offers (Overview of Acclerated Corporate Finance Careers (FLDPs)) to be pretty effective at detailing the best course of action for this type of career. Almost 2 yrs in and my experience thus far has mirrored exactly what's in there (I'm on my 2nd rotation).
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