Next to buying a house or getting married, doing an MBA is probably the most crucial decision that I will make in my life. So I should jolly well get it right," is how Varsha Sinha, an MBA aspirant puts it. So do it right the first time and Careers360 suggests a way.
Cut-offs is the beginning of our search for the Holy Grail of MBA. For those blessed with an IIT degree, and a 99.99 percentile in CAT, it's immaterial. For the rest, it determines our standing. But don't get carried away by the 'CAT schools versus others' debate.
A school having a 95 percentile cut-off in MAT is in no way inferior to a school accepting an 85 percentile CAT. So look at other parameters even when you form a consideration set of colleges to apply. Take a mock MAT/XAT along with a mock CAT to see how you fare.
From the list of schools you could positively get a call from, zero in on those that you would want to join based on a number of parameters, which include brand equity / average placements, peer advice, institutional first impressions, exposure, domain preference / subject expertise, faculty, residential campus, cost / ROI, location, facilities, etc.
Our discussions with a series of students across the 70-odd B-schools we visited, have enabled us to group them into core and non-core. The institutes so chosen should be divided into three categories -- 'Dream', 'Realistic' and 'Safe'. Each of these categories must have at least two options.
Brand Equity is a funny term. We all seem to understand it, but can't define it. Barring the Top 20 (which is also a sea-saw) the rest is actually up for grabs. Anna University has brand equity. Does it have adequate facilities? And as you move down the pecking order, it means very little. So move beyond brand equity.
Average salary at placement is a good indicator of the financial worth of your degree. So pay lots of attention to this figure. It is a top of the mind factor in most of our interactions. But remember the first rule about statistics, it hides more than it reveals. All IIMs give you average salary. Their top 10 per cent get such high salaries that the average would be very high. None of them give you median salary and God forbid lowest salary.
Colleges admit 1,100 students, claim 380 have opted for entrepreneurship and another 100 are not eligible. So it offers the remaining 620 for placement and claims 100 per cent placement. By the way, out of the 54 schools who met us not more than five were willing to show us student-wise placement record. Till the time schools come out with full disclosures, take it, not with a a pinch, but a kilo of salt.
Profile of jobs on offer too plays a role, especially for those of you who have a choice of colleges. Between Sydenham and JBIMS, ICICI has a differential profile. Students tell us HUL has nearly four bands of entry-level salary. Another trick is the DSA Route. You work as sales executive for ICICI Life Insurance, but you will be employed by Surjana Consultants. No survey (including ours) captures this data. Forums and peer advice is what will help you here.
Exposure is the third factor one has to consider. It is a strange animal and could mean different things to different people. Some colleges take you for foreign trip, but you pay for it. In some colleges it is actually an incentive to the faculty. They had tied up with a tour operator so that for every 10 students sent one faculty goes free. But in our survey we have captured international exposure, corporate exposure, B-school competitions and foreign faculty exposure. We even have special ranking in that category.
Fees/ROI. Your dad bothers about this more than you. But a ROI is an indicator and a good tie-breaker, when faced with a choice. But remember, an MBA has longer earning horizon, so the brand equity of the school comes into picture here as well. How far will the MBA take you in you career? Good alumni-based survey rankings like FT or Businessweek would make life easy. We have suggested it to schools. But until they come out in the open, make do with the conventional ROI we have calculated. Some government schools win hands down here.
Faculty is an almost an add-on factor when student talks to us. It is like "Oh yes, and good faculty". Probe further as to what is good faculty and the answer is, "It is like we know it." But if it is solid grounding that you seek, then pay much more attention to it. We have moved beyond the conventional PhD/ non-PhD ranking. There is a perfect stone wall here from most institutions. A college gave us a list of 125 faculty members. Of them 84 had less than five years of experience. Nine had all of 11 months. Some deemed universities have found a way to by pass the PhD requirement. They make their faculty register for their own PhD under their own colleagues.
Accreditation and recognition matter if you are interested in studying further or even applying for a job/ migrating abroad. Get the legal status of the degree you study for. If the school is not well known, make sure that the degree is recognised.
Peer group is another consideration. From the last year's placement brochures see where are the students are from, their experience etc. It will give you a fair idea of your peer group. This would form the core of your circle for the foreseeable future.
Impressions are factors that guide student choice. How smooth is the interview process, how much do seniors play a part in the same, how responsive is the school to our queries, how do they treat my parents? Impressions play a good role in our decision. But learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Location is tricky. If your ultimate goal is to settle down in a particular zone, look for a B-school in that zone only. If the school has predominantly local population then companies prefer people with local language proficiency.
Facilities must be the last of factor you consider. Other things being equal studying in a star hotel ambience does not hurt. So go ahead and choose the school with a pool and AC accommodation, but only after it has met all other concerns. Good luck.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier