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MBA Programs - Location Isn't Everything

Location, location, location! Right? Well…

When seeking an MBA program, many applicants look at it as a golden opportunity to travel or live in their dream location. They think, “I have to be happy where I’m living for those 2 years, right?” Or, “I’m not much of a country person, so…” or “I want to live in a mild climate, so…”

I propose you set all that aside when making your decision.

Recently, I spoke with an applicant who literally crossed any program in a cold climate off his list, which is basically all of the ones in the Northeast. Many do the same for programs not based in a city.

It’s Not a Vacation, or a Permanent Move. It’s a Long Conference.

Here’s my message: don’t arbitrarily put location on the top of your list of criteria. This is not a vacation, nor is it a permanent move. And I say this as a city-dweller who then did an MBA in a college town in the Midwest. I tell people I could have done my MBA on Jupiter because I was at the business school day and night, meeting with my learning team, organizing panel discussions for Women in Business, writing the school newsletter to go out alumni, attending speaker events, interviewing, club meetings, you name it.

Think of this as a long conference with a 3-month break called the internship, where you are likely to be in a city (I did mine at Bank of America in Cleveland, boring days - but I lived at International House on the Case Western campus so that was nonstop fun). If you choose to study abroad, location becomes even less of a factor (I spent a semester in France to gain fluency and study marketing from a different perspective.)

Like a conference, you are going for the purpose of getting information and networking. The content – and the people – are what’s most important, so to get those things you put up with the location. You are there for a specific purpose.

Prioritize Your Post-MBA Goal

Think first about what you want to get out of your MBA and work backwards from there. What are your criteria for success? For most, it’s achieving a specific career goal. If you don’t know what you want to do, at least narrow it down to a specific function. For example, if you want a career in marketing, you will want to apply to Kellogg – even if you don't enjoy Chicago wind and snow.

The one concession to this stance is that you will want to have a good alumni network in your target location. If you are hell-bent on living in NYC post-graduation, applying to CBS makes sense. If you want to work in Europe, a regional US program without much international presence might not be the best.

However, if you want to work in Silicon Valley, you aren't limited to Haas and GSB. A high percentage of MIT grads relocate out west. Same for Ross - the Amazon recruitment factor means there are lots of Ross alums on the West Coast.

Duke (Fuqua) is located in Durham-Raleigh but very few stay there. There are lots of Duke alumni in NYC and across the Eastern Seaboard. Same for Tuck. And Yale SOM. And Darden.

Rank and Fit Open Doors – Not Program Location

If you want to take a great vacation, do it! Before starting the program. If you want to move to a new city, do it! After you graduate.

Going to a top-ranked program that fits with your goals will increase your value and open doors, so make that your priority. Attend the best school you can for what you want to do. Become an industry or subject matter expert. This will give you the pull to be recruited by your dream company in your dream city.

As an example - one client was saddened not to be admitted to Haas but was admitted to Wharton. He did the Semester in San Francisco program and snagged a very exciting Silicon Valley internship - and built his career in the Bay Area as he originally hoped for.

In conclusion, each location has pros and cons. My hope is that you have a nuanced approach when selecting schools, considering your goals first rather than your favorite place to vacation or even live long-term.


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