A few months ago I said that if I found myself in this predicament that I would choose based on fit and money. Oh, how naive I was. When you're about to spend over $100,000 all of a sudden an extra $10,000 doesn't seem to make that much of a difference one way or another. After three admitted students weekends the idea of fit seems nebulous at best. It's like trying to compare my Asics DS Trainers to my Doc Martin combat boots to my Steve Madden flats. They all fit me, just in different ways. So with the criteria that I thought would help me make this decision obliterated now what do I do?
Go with my gut. That's what people keep saying. My gut told me to choose Booth, but then twisted into a knot over the thought of turning down Wharton. My gut said cross Kellogg off the list, but my heartstrings tugged it right back on. Make a list of pros and cons or make a decision matrix. That's what my friends suggest. I'm not a list person but I am desperate. I got an associate on my team at work to make me a decision matrix. Eight points for Kellogg and Booth on the prestige factor, nine for Wharton. Nine points for Kellogg on "fit," seven for Booth and Wharton. I assign numbers to each school based on the alumni network, career services, location, and every other measure that I can think would matter to me. I adjust the weights and try to determine if fit matters more than money or more than career prospects. I let the data decide. My results: Kellogg 7.75, Booth 7.7, Wharton 7.4. Not quite as definitive as people said it would be.
All of this over thinking hasn't been for naught. I have figured out that one of the most important things to me is my overall MBA experience. I want to enjoy these next two years. I want to grow as a leader and develop my people management skills. I want to be stretched and challenged, but still feel safe and comfortable in being me. I want to be an alum who loved the MBA experience so much that I host welcome events for new admits and offer up my contact information to the admissions office as a resource for prospective students. I want to feel inclined to give my alma mater some of my hard earned cash. The things that go into giving me that amazing experience are my connections with the people, the leadership programs, the quality of the education, and the opportunities to just have memorable moments. In this regard I think that Wharton is the best school for me. During Welcome Weekend I felt uncomfortable at times, but I didn't feel bad about it. I felt like that bit of discomfort would work well for me over my two years there because it was balanced by a lot of awesome people who I genuinely enjoyed being around. Wharton also has great leadership programs like the Leadership Fellows Program, free executive coaching and 360 feedback, Leadership Ventures, and the team dynamics that come from 1st year learning teams. Follies cracked me up and Spring Soiree was a damn good party (until somebody stole a bottle of rum and we got kicked out of the hotel, but that's besides the point). I often have the feeling that if I didn't go to Wharton, I might regret it.
The problem is that if I go to Wharton I'm scared I might wind up regretting that choice too. Just as important to me as the overall MBA experience is the support I will receive to achieve my career goals. I want to create and manage partnerships between private and social sector organizations. That's it. I don't want to do a stop gap job in consulting or brand management or a management training program or whatever. I want to do what I wrote in my essays. While I think Wharton will prepare academically to do this just as well as Booth and Kellogg, I'm unsure of whether I will receive the support from career services to facilitate my internship and job searches. During a Career Services panel focused on social impact careers I asked about social impact jobs within the corporate sector. The answer was less than impressive and gave me the impression that I would likely be on my own if that's what I choose to pursue. From the beginning I knew that because my career goals are untraditional and very niche I would have to do the majority of my job search through "off campus recruiting." I am definitely okay with this. However, I don't want to feel totally alone either. I look at my job search as a half marathon course. I could get to the finish line in several different ways. I could hitch a ride and make the 13.1 miles an easy drive. This is what lots of b-school students do with on-campus recruiting. Everything is laid out and defined. Just take a ride on the career services express and find yourself at McKinsey, Goldman, Nike, or P&G. For those of us who want to work for firms or in roles that don't lend themselves to massive MBA recruiting, we've got to get to the finish line on our own. To get through 13.1 a runner needs water, electrolytes, and nutrition along the way. While I could strap on a hydration belt with bottles of water and Gatorade, shove some gu in my socks and do it on my own, it would be nice to not have to do so because there are aid stations every 1.5 miles to provide the resources I'll need to get through my race. I have the distinct feeling that Wharton's career services will fill up my water bottles and send me on my way. When my gu is gone and my water is running out at mile 10 I know that I will regret not going to one of the schools that I knew would be more supportive in helping me achieve my career goals. Kellogg is the school that will drive me to the finish line. They do social impact career services better than anyone. From the SEEK major, to the best Net Impact chapter in the nation, to connections with companies who are looking for people who want to do what I want to do, Kellogg has everything I need to make me 100% confident that I will be doing exactly what I want to do after graduation. Meanwhile, Booth is the school that will shove cups of Gatorade into my hands, offer me Vaseline to prevent chafing, set up a sprinkler system to cool me off at the middle mileage, and feed me oranges to keep my energy up. Social impact may not be Booth's thing yet, but the career services support is incredible and personalized and that means a lot to me.
So how do I reconcile these seemingly competing needs? Do I assure myself the best shot at the career I want post MBA and let Wharton go by the wayside in favor of Kellogg or Booth? Do I suck it up and strap on the hydration belt and let an incredible two years at Wharton make up for a potentially hellish job search where I still may not end up with what I want? As the good folks at Stanford put it, what matters most to me and why? Right now I honestly don't know, but I'm praying that between all of the decision matrices, talking it out, and blogging I will figure it out in the next six days.