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Lakshya: MBA

Picking a good B school outside the top 10 can be a tough task. IIM Ahmedabad alumnus and JAM Editor, Rashmi Bansal tells you how…

So, you are preparing for CAT but aware that you have only a slim chance of making it to the IIMs-XLRI-MS-Bajaj league. Well, it’s not the end of the world. You do have options – some good, some ok and a large number totally avoidable. But you gotta be careful and realistic in selecting a ‘next best B school’.

1) Placement stats:
Forget curriculum, infrastructure, faculty – all that is blah as far if the placement scene on campus sucks. Look up the “Placement” scores provided in the B school rankings published by various magazines. Additionally, check for these signs of placement health on individual B school websites and through informal channels (seniors, friends, friends of friends… word of mouth rules here!)

List ke peeche kya hai:
Many institutes claim X, Y and Z companies recruit their students. The important thing to ask is: Do these companies come officially, for campus placement? Students at lowly ranked institutes often secure a summer or final placement at prestigious firms through their own efforts or contacts. So the B school claim may be technically correct but you won’t get a fair chance to try for the same job.

It’s not over till it’s over:
The best institutes rarely take more than 3-4 days to place their students. The good ones will at least specify a ‘placement week’ or fortnight. If, months after the 2004 class has graduated the institute cannot provide detailed placement statistics, you need to be aware that a job may come your way only through jugaad.

Open sesame:
Watch for vague statements like ‘the following companies have recruited our students in the past’. (Why in the past, why not this year??) Institutes which lack proper placements usually beat about the bush on details like % of students placed, average salary, and so on.

The job profile:
Even if X or Y company does officially visit a lesser known campus, you need to check on one important fact – it might actually be offering a lower designation/ package than on a premier campus. While an IIM graduate might join the organization as ‘management trainee’, you might be offered ‘executive trainee’.

Batch size:
Even brand name b schools find it hard to find great jobs for the tail end of the batch. Lower down, you can be sure the problem is worse! A batch size of 200+ is not a good sign, although at an individual level you can try and balance that out – aim to be in the top 10% of your class.

Students at lowly ranked institutes often secure a summer or final placement at prestigious firms through their own efforts or contacts. So you won’t get a fair chance to try for the same job.

2) Residential rules!:
An MBA is more than a course of study. It’s often described as a ‘life changing experience’ with a good deal of that learning and growth taking place outside the classroom. A fully residential program is preferable to the day-scholar route, unless cost is an issue. The bonding in residential schools is much higher – giving you a networking advantage in the future. Besides, it’s definitely a lot more fun!

3) Cost factor:
Look at the input (money spent) and output (job expected) when making a decision between two B schools. If there’s not much else which separates the two, how much you spend on your education could definitely be a deciding factor.

4) Location:
B schools in towns with hardly an industry are a no no. Companies from other cities are unlikely to take the trouble to visit a little known campus, and you’ll be handicapped by the distance if trying to look for a job on your own.

5) Leadership:
If an institute boasts a director who has earlier taught/ served as head of a top B school, it’s definitely a good sign. A well connected and well respected director can make all the difference when it comes to attracting good faculty and recruiters.

6) Beyond the hype:
Awareness and ‘brand equity’ are two completely different things. An institution’s reputation is silently and intangibly built over the years, not through weekly full page ads making tall claims. Several institutes which do not advertise (except for admission notices) are definitely worth considering over and above those that blow their trumpet loudly.

7) Brand extensions:
Some B schools are rapidly opening branches in multiple locations. If you decide to attend such an institute, join in the city where the B school was originally set up – it’s generally the best.

One last bit of advice: When the time comes to choose between 3-4 schools which have offered you admission, nothing can beat actually visiting these campuses to get the true picture. Spending a few thousand now is better than spending a few lakhs later at a B school which fails to meet basic expectations.

Happy B school hunting!!

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