Why I Chose Fit Over Rankings

Several people have asked when I’m going to reveal the identity of Dream School, or any of my other schools for that matter. I’ve resisted it thus far for a number of reasons:

  • The schools I chose, and my reasons for ranking them, required a little bit of explanation.
  • I didn’t want outside opinions to sway my ultimate decision.
  • I wanted to control the number of people who knew about my MBA plans until they were finalized.

Since two of these point are no longer at issue, I think it’s OK to lift the Iron Curtain at last. I know you’ve been eagerly awaiting this moment for many months, but please restrain yourselves from screaming, rioting, or throwing Barbie dolls onto the stage.

Without any further ado, here are my schools in order of preference:

  1. USC Marshall
  2. UCLA Anderson
  3. UC Irvine Paul Merage
  4. UC Davis GSB

You might notice something funny about this list, something which West Coasters will recognize right away. “Hey, why wasn’t Anderson your first choice, bschoolgirl? It’s more highly ranked than Marshall. What gives?”

Why, thank you for asking, imaginary reader. Sit right there and I’ll spin you a yarn.

Long, long ago, when I first decided to apply to business school, I set my sights on the top West Coast schools: Stanford GSB, Haas, Anderson, and Marshall. My stats were pretty good, and although I was on the younger side with only a little management experience, I thought I could tell a compelling story. Why shouldn’t I go to Stanford, the most selective MBA program in the country? Oh younger me, I look back at you now and smile at your naivete.

Well, I think you can imagine how this went: Stanford, ding. Haas, ding. Anderson, ding.


After three straight rejections that interview invitation was like a blood transfusion that brought me back to life. I visited Marshall and fell in love. The campus was gorgeous. The students were interesting and lively. And best of all, the adcoms really seemed to value non-traditional applicants (35% of the class of 2014 hold undergraduate degrees in the Humanities). Needless to say, I was pretty devastated when I got waitlisted. But it was an important distinction – had I been rejected outright, I might have given up on business school. Being waitlisted gave me hope and courage enough to try again.

So that summer, I did all the things I should have done before. I went to MBA fairs, networked with admissions officers, and interviewed current students. I talked to a Marshall adcom about weaknesses in my application, did a whole lot of introspection, and suddenly the process started to make more sense. “Cultural fit,” I realized, isn’t just a mysterious phrase bandied about by admissions panels. I had picked my schools based on their rankings and then packaged myself as the sort of candidate I thought they wanted, instead of taking the time to understand myself, my goals, and which school would best help me reach them.

Once I understood the process, I realized that GSB and Haas weren’t great fits for me. Instead, I decided to focus my energies on UCLA and USC, both schools that would value my media background, and add two safety schools – Davis, for its proximity to the Bay Area, and Irvine, for its up-and-coming program. My decision to target USC as my first choice may have been unorthodox, but I felt that it was right for me. UCLA is certainly in a better part of town, but I always got a rigid, unwelcoming feeling from the Anderson students and staff. USC, on the other hand, felt like family.

In the end, I think I was right about the fit: I was admitted to USC, Davis, and Irvine. UCLA waitlisted me, which upset me at first. But in the end it was probably for the best, because I might have been tempted to follow the rankings and would have ended up in a larger, less personal, less innovative environment than I think I will find at Marshall.

So that, folks, is my two-year MBA application saga. Like all good sagas, it’s got everything: trials, tribulations, heartbreak, and redemption. Unlike most sagas, it ends with forking over $2500 in deposit money. But that is a story for another blog.


One thought on “Why I Chose Fit Over Rankings

  1. lorddouchebaag says:

    Well, its your life, your MBA and only you can decide the right place for you. Well done on not falling blindly for rankings. I am sure you will have a lot of fun at USC Marshall.

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