The Method Behind the Madness: How I Selected Schools

Applying for schools is INSANELY expensive; at $250 an app, I’ve seen some of my peers, on average, pay over $1,000 on average JUST for applications (which is nothing compared to purchasing last second interview flights.

Selecting the right schools is EXTREMELY critical to the application process for several reasons:

  1. You will be making an investment of over $100K, so you should ensure that schools will deliver what you are expecting in terms of experience and career opportunities.
  2. You will be spending two years at this school, therefore you should ensure you find a school that creates the experience that matches/augments your attitudes and abilities.
  3. You will be answering the question “Why _____?” MANY times during essays and interviews. If you do the research and soul-searching beforehand, this portion of the process become much easier.

So enough jabbering, let’s get into the methodology of how I chose my schools!


School List I Started With

For the experience that I want (elite MBA, top employer recruiting, surrounded by global peers, average salary figures, ROI etc), I have decided to only look at the top 20 business schools.

I’m sure there are many schools outside of the top 20 that are great, however for the ROI that I want, I must go to a top 20. So here is the list of schools that I started with:

    • Harvard (MA)
    • Stanford
    • Chicago (Booth)
    • Penn (Wharton)
    • MIT (Sloan)
    • Northwestern (Kellogg)
    • Columbia
    • Dartmouth (Tuck)
    • Duke (Fuqua)
    • UC Berkeley (Haas)
    • Cornell (Johnson)
    • Michigan (Ross)
    • Virginia (Darden)
    • UCLA (Anderson)
    • NYU (Stern)
    • C. Mellon (Tepper)
    • Yale
    • UNC (Kenan-Flagler)
    • Texas (McCombs)
    • Indiana (Kelley)


Harvard (MA)
Stanford (CA)
Chicago (Booth) (IL)
Penn (Wharton) (PA)
MIT (Sloan) (MA)
Northwestern (Kellogg) (IL)
Dartmouth (Tuck) (NH)
Columbia (NY)
Duke (Fuqua) (NC)
UC Berkeley (Haas) (CA)
Cornell (Johnson) (NY)
Michigan (Ross) (MI)
Virginia (Darden) (VA)
UCLA (Anderson) (CA)
NYU (Stern) (NY)
C. Mellon (Tepper) (PA)
Yale (CT)
UNC (Kenan-Flagler) (NC)
Texas (McCombs) (TX)
Indiana (Kelley) (IN)

Originally from California, I have no problem going back to the West Coast for school, however I really wanted to get an East Coast network and education to complement my Bachelor’s. However, in regards to the East Coast, I have decided to not apply to any school in NYC based on costs and “distractions.”

As for the other areas of the US, there is not enough draw in regards to final placement networks (West or East Coast) and overall experience. Of course there are always exceptions, and Kellogg is attractive enough for me to overlook the location. This leads me to this new school list (eliminating 6 schools).

Industry Recruiting

Harvard (22%=200)
Stanford (19%=77)
Penn (Wharton) (29%=243)
MIT (Sloan) (32%=130)
Northwestern (Kellogg) (39%=181)
Dartmouth (Tuck) (27%=75)
Duke (Fuqua) (31%=135)
UC Berkeley (Haas) (24%=60)
Cornell (Johnson) (22%=61)
Virginia (Darden) (25%=79)
UCLA (Anderson) (14%=50)
C. Mellon (Tepper) (31%=62)
Yale (22%=64)
UNC (Kenan-Flagler) (21%=60)

Ultimately, I would like to transition from my current industry (manufacturing) to consulting (particularly focused on the MBB firms AKA McKinsey, BCG, Bain).

It is important to me that the schools I apply to send a good number of their graduates to these firms (%), and that they also have good representation at these firms in terms of relationships and networking (raw employee recruits). I was able to get the data I needed from Businessweek’s MBA Program Rankings.

Using the data from class profiles (I am currently making a tool that lists all the class profiles) and the data from career reports (and Businessweek), I found three schools (Johnson, UCLA, and UNC) that were below the rest. I gave passes to Haas because of a higher consulting % and to Yale because the school is growing in both size and rankings (hopefully leading to higher consulting numbers in the future).


Harvard (2)
Stanford (2)
Penn (Wharton) (2)
MIT (Sloan) (1)
Northwestern (Kellogg) (1)
Dartmouth (Tuck) (2)
Duke (Fuqua) (1)
UC Berkeley (Haas) (1)
Virginia (Darden) (0)
C. Mellon (Tepper) (0)
Yale (1)

Determining the quality of program can be tough. However, I made sure to exhaust every resource available to me. I interviewed current students and alumni, went on tours and visits, viewed school profiles online, and tried to get a general sense of their program. Do they have top professors in their fields (Harvard & Stanford)? Are they known for their teaching (Tuck & Haas)? Is their school known for delivering fantastic results in the real world (Kellogg & Wharton)?

At this point, I decided to assign a score of 0, 1 or 2 depending on the quality of their programming, and eliminating schools with a 0.

Ultimately, while all the schools on my list were fantastic, I was most impressed with Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and Tuck’s programs. I also felt that MIT, Kellogg, Fuqua, Haas and Yale’s programs were pretty good. However compared to the rest, I felt that Tepper and Darden didn’t deliver the program that was suited for me.


Harvard (2)
Stanford (2)
Penn (Wharton) (2)
MIT (Sloan) (1)
Northwestern (Kellogg) (1)
Dartmouth (Tuck) (2)
Duke (Fuqua) (1)
UC Berkeley (Haas) (1)
Yale (1)

Culture is HUGE for me. I want a COLLABORATIVE experience that showcases how diversity of thought and backgrounds delivers that best solution. EQ is VERY important to me, and the B-School that I want to attend should be making strong investments in this area for their students.

In addition to collaboration, I wanted to make sure that their is also a culture of innovation and challenging the norm. I want to make sure that the school I attend is at the forefront of business. This includes investment in entrepreneurship (even if I’m not wanting to go in that direction, I still enjoy interacting with great entrepreneurs.)

Again I wanted to rank the schools based on how I related to their culture, and whether I felt that I would be a good fit.

final School choices

My schools: Two reaches, two stretches, and two within my grasp!

    1. Harvard – Does it need an explanation? Phenomenal school with a culture of excellence, getting in here would definitely be amazing. Plus they really popularized the case method, of which I am a hug fan.
    2. Wharton – I love the fact that they focus on the bread and butter of business – quantitative analysis. They are well known for academic excellence, and I was pleasantly surprised when I visited this school that they also put a large focus on EQ as well. They also have the Wharton West connection
    3. MIT – I really loved the culture and attitude of the school. Their entrepreneurship lab was really phenomenal, and I really enjoyed the vibe.
    4. Tuck – You always remember your first! Tuck is a PHENOMENAL school with a great collaborative culture. There 70% giving rate alumni is a real testament for the quality of school.
    5. Duke – They are doing really fantastic things at Duke and have a great culture. I mean Tim Cook graduated from there, so they must be doing something right…right?
    6. Yale – They have a great brand and network, even though they are a young school. AND they are making all the right moves to move up in the rankings!


    • Stanford – Phenomenal school, however compared to the “top tier” (Wharton and Harvard), Stanford doesn’t fit me as well based on location and industry focus
    • Kellogg – Great school, however compared to MIT and Tuck, Kellogg’s location puts it lower on my scale.
    • Haas – This is a really great school, however the lower focus on the consulting industry bothered me in regards to my goals; I believe Duke and Yale will fit better.


*I’ve provided the table I used to assist with my decisions below.

Ranking: P&Q* Loc. Ind. Prog. Cul. Total
Harvard 1 2 2 2 2 8
Stanford 2 1 2 2 2 7
Chicago (Booth) 3
Penn (Wharton) 4 2 2 2 2 8
MIT (Sloan) 5 2 2 1 1 6
Northwestern (Kellogg) 6 1 2 1 1 5
Columbia 7
Dartmouth (Tuck) 8 2 2 2 8
Duke (Fuqua) 9 2 2 1 1 6
UC Berkeley (Haas) 10 1 1 1 2 5
Cornell (Johnson) 11 2
Michigan (Ross) 12
Virginia (Darden) 13 2 1
UCLA (Anderson) 14 1
NYU (Stern) 15
C. Mellon (Tepper) 16 2 1
Yale 17 2 1 1 1 5
UNC (Kenan-Flagler) 18 2
Texas (McCombs) 19
Indiana (Kelley) 20

*P&Q is a composite ranking

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21 Responses to “The Method Behind the Madness: How I Selected Schools”

  1. devils0508

    I really think you should reconsider adding Kellogg to your list if you want to do consulting, makes zero sense to include Yale and exclude the number 1 consulting school – especially when it has the culture you want. Yale might be “improving” but it currently does horrific in consulting recruiting. It’s still a school heavily populated by “social enterprise” type of kids.

    • GrantMeAdmission

      A very good point; I definitely agree that Kellogg is better than Yale and is in another “tier.” In regards to applying, I’m trying to apply to three different tiers, so my question to you is how do you think Kellogg compares to Tuck and MIT? Yale and Duke are more of a safety school (however I still think it will be challenging to get in).

      • Devils0508

        You’re starting super early, so id say just add a 6th school, and do 3 round 1 and 3 round 2. I think duke is a fine choice for safety school.

        Kellogg to Tuck: They are generally viewed as the number 1 and 2 two best cultures. Kellogg sends higher percentage to MBB tho (30% compared to 20%…although I assume tuck has more people recruiting for finance). Kellogg has easy access to Chicago, and is right on the beach; tuck is (marginally) warmer during the winter but is less accessible.

        Kellogg to MIT – Sloan does fine with MBB consulting, and a lot of self selection going on – so even if percentage is lower at Sloan, not necessarily harder. That said, it’s literally 50% STEM majors according to poets and quants, and the people I’ve met weren’t exactly my definition of fun (my good friend goes there).

  2. anonymous consultant

    I’d suggest adding back in UCLA if you like everything else about it. There is a common misconception that in order to get a job at MBB, you need to be coming from a bschool where everyone is doing consulting. That’s simply not the case — MBB and the others all recruit at UCLA. The lower percent of people doing consulting coming from UCLA is due to self-selection – it’s a more diverse school. MBB has a standard bar for the people they hire – once you get an interview, it doesn’t matter what school you’re coming from, you’re going to be judged on your case abilities / EQ. And you can get an interview from UCLA.

    Source: I worked as a consultant at MBB

    (I’d say the same goes for Cornell, but I’m assuming you’d eliminate it based on location, given your stance on Ross’/Kellogg’s locations)

      • anonymous consultant

        No problem. UCLA in particular is an easy ‘add-on’– this year there was only 1 essay (the traditional “why an mba/why our school).

  3. anonymous consultant

    🙂 Let me know if you want to talk offline. Like I said, I really think there’s a misconception that to go to MBB you have to be at a school where everyone goes to mbb. Once you’re at a top 15 school, your chances are the same no matter which of the schools it is (MBB recruits from just about all the top 15. Admittedly, it would be harder to get there from outside of that group, but those aren’t on your radar so that’s a moot point). My vote is for going to a school where you like the people, and feel like it’s a good fit. Every school on your original list is good. It just comes down to where will you be happy?

    • GrantMeAdmission

      Totally agree (which is one of the reasons why I shy away from UCLA). I really wanted to develop an east coast network, as my SoCal and NorCal networks are pretty strong (grew up there).

      • kellogg

        I disagree strongly. I got into UCLA with a major scholarship and declined after researching their consulting recruiting more. Only TWO people got BCG last year. I spoke to many people in the consulting club and left very unconvinced.

  4. anonymous consultant

    Ah I missed that piece of the puzzle! Good luck!!!

  5. anonymous consultant

    @Kellogg – like I said, in my experience at MBB, I personally know lots of people from Anderson (and Cornell…and every other school on this list, except for Kelley, McCombs, and Tepper). No school can guarantee you a job — not even Kellogg (where I assume you’re going, given your username). If you’re a quality person who would get an MBB offer from Kellogg , there’s no reason why you wouldn’t get an offer from another school from which MBB recruits. On the flipside, just because you’re at Kellogg, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get an MBB offer. They have their standards – you either meet them or you don’t. Obviously, more prestigious schools open more doors; but if a company recruits from two schools, your odds are probably the same from both schools. You’re the same person, no matter what school you attend.

    Also, when you say 2 people went to BCG, you’re making lots of assumptions (ie that hundreds of people wanted BCG, and that no one turned down an offer. Yes, lots of people turn down offers from MBB!).

  6. kschmidt1801

    At Tuck, you can actually guarantee yourself an interview with MBB. We have a special system for recruiting. Every on-campus interviewer agrees to the CDOs ground rules, including that if they want to interview 20 people then 10 of the interview slots have to be open for bidding. Each student applies to whichever jobs they would like. The companies then close-list the amount they’re allowed. If you don’t make the closed list, then you can bid for the remaining bid slots. Each student has 1000 points to spend. 40% of offers come from the bid interview slots. PS – the consulting firms are GMAT score snobs. If you don’t have a number worth massively bragging about, it can be harder to get them to give you an interview. This is one area where the bid system is key.

    This is where someone will claim that “well, the companies track the lists and don’t even look at you seriously if you’re a bid interview”. The truth is they don’t. An interviewer shows up (most likely a fellow Tuckie) and is handed a stack of resumes and interview times. It’s all one list for them.

    • anonymous consultant

      Ah yes forgot about the bidding system! I think most schools have this system. Totally agree that you can get a job if you get an interview via bidding – like you said, you’re already at the interview, they don’t necc know who is there from pre-screen and who is there from bidding. (which goes to my earlier point: once you get an interview, it’s you getting the job – not your school, and you’re the same person no matter what school you’re at).

      Though you’re still not “guaranteed” an interview – unless you use all your points for one company!

      But yes, this just goes to show that, as long as you’re at a school from which MBB recruits, you’ll be fine.

      (and ps – I know lots people at MBB who went to schools you’ve never heard of – just had to work a little harder to get an interview).

  7. I Am Changing My School Selection

    […] I know, I know, I know … I said I was done picking schools … In my school selection post, I settled on 6 schools, which I then revisited in another post where I contemplated adding Kellogg […]

  8. Jamie

    Why ins’t Olin (St. Louis) there in the top 20 list ?
    I always considered Olin be a top 20 program. I mean, they have a pretty good college and great faculty. Ecery year they give out a hell lot of scholarships, have very good placement statistics, affordable living expenses. I still dont understand why Olin never makes it to the top 20 list by anyone.


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