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There is reputed to exist a rare sub-species within the overall MBA aspirant species. Members of sub-species apparently apply to just one B-school completely confident in their ability to get into that particular campus. If you are part of that breed, you can stop reading right now. This article is meant for the rest of the students - those who take multiple admission tests and apply to many different schools. And who, if they have worked hard enough, get invitations to join several different institutes.

The process of short-listing schools to apply to is relatively simple. Taking just a few tests - CAT, XAT, SNAP and MAT - makes you eligible to apply to at least two dozen different B-schools, provided you score well.

The difficult question often arises when you have cleared the initial big hurdles - the tests, the group discussions, the admission interviews. It is at this stage that a student is faced with making that crucial decision - which school to choose finally from the ones that have offered admission. For the best students, that often means making a choice from the premier schools like the top three IIMs, ISB, XLRI etc.

For many others, the choice becomes from a group of tier-2 schools which have sent them admission invites. The decision that needs to be made is which one to finally select and which ones to discard. A wrong decision can lead to one/two unhappy years at the very least, and long-term repercussions on your career at the very worst.
So, how do you go about choosing the school right for you? There are a few parameters you need to consider. They include infrastructure, area of specialisation, faculty, placement record, alumni networks and foreign affiliations, among others.

Among the schools in the elite list, you could be reasonably sure of getting excellent infrastructure. The top schools all boast of excellent campuses, great libraries, and other facilities like lecture halls, multimedia auditoria, hostels and other such things. But even among these, there are crucial differences.

The Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, in terms of infrastructure, leaves even the IIMs way behind. Part of that reason is that it is a new school and it built infrastructure that can compare well with the current world standards. IIM Ahmedabad or IIM Calcutta are schools set up in the early 1960s and despite their impressive facilities, lag just a wee bit behind if only infrastructure is to be considered.

In fact, the newer IIMs have more impressive campuses than the older ones. IIM-Shillong, for example, is designed so well that it could be mistaken for a resort at first glance. Similarly, IIM-Kozikode boasts of an elegant campus that is designed as much for comfort as for efficiency. "It is an incredibly well-designed campus, and that's not just from an aesthetic point of view but comfort as well," says Harshad Karandikar, a first-year student at IIM-K. "Everything has been designed with the end-user in mind." The top schools are always upgrading their infrastructure, so if you got admission invites from several of them, the infrastructure bit often gets mixed up with your choice of cities. For example, would you rather stay in Calcutta or Ahmedabad or Bangalore for the next two years?

Of course, colleges at the heart of a big city suffer from a slight disadvantage when compared to colleges that have built campuses in the outskirts. For example, FMS in Delhi and Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies (JBIMS) in Mumbai can hardly offer the sheer space that B-schools with sprawling campuses do. But here, the thing to check out is essential infrastructure - classrooms, wireless connections, auditoria, etc. In fact, the USP of JBIMS is the fact that it is located in Mumbai, the country's commercial hub. "Due to its prime location, JBIMS offers its students more and broader interface and interaction with the industry and the corporate world," says director of JBIMS, Dr. C. R. Chavan.

One of the current students of JBIMs, Richa Arora was spellbound with the institute's legacy and reputation. "Despite calls from IMT-Ghaziabad, SIBM-Pune and MDI-Gurgaon, I could not overlook the legacy this institute carries. JBIMS is one of the oldest B-Schools with enriching faculty and alumni base," says Arora. "The brand name says it all." Arora wants to specialise in finance in her second-year and is satisfied with the guidance and overall experience she is having at JBIMS.

In fact, Manipal's Tapmi is even coming up with a new campus to be able to offer a fully residential campus to its students. While the current campus has a built-up area of around 55,000 sft., the new one - coming up about five km away from the current premises -boasts of 2,36,000 sq. ft of built-up area, informs A.S. Vasudev Rao, Director-in-Charge, Tapmi. "The total infrastructure when completed would provide all the facilities for additional intake for our PGDM as well as other special management development programmes," he adds. The project is worth Rs 60 crore and will be ready by November this year.

And yet, infrastructure alone should not be the deciding factor in your choice. To give just an example, IIM-Shillong perhaps has a better infrastructure than IIM-Calcutta. But IIM-Calcutta's alumni network and placement record, quite apart from its reputation built up over the years, would make it a clear choice between the two for most students.

Quality of faculty, placement records, area of specialisation, and international linkages, in fact, are crucial things to check out before making your final choice. Quality of faculty - especially in the area you wish to specialise in - are things that will have long-term effects on your career. For years, IIM Ahmedabad was reputed to be the best in terms of marketing faculty while XLRI was the first choice for anyone who wanted to make a career in HR. While the top schools tend to teach all subjects competently, and the overall quality of faculty is always excellent, you could do a little research on both permanent faculty and visiting faculty on the subject of your choice while making the final decision.

"Due to its prime location, JBIMS offers its students more and broader interface and interaction with the industry and the corporate world," says director of JBIMS, Dr. C. R. Chavan.

In the case of specialised areas, decisions often become easier simply because there are only one or two schools which have built up a reputation in that area. For example, if you want to study rural management, your first choice should be the Institute of Rural Management at Anand. And even though the IITs are still known more for their engineering courses than their business schools, it makes sense to look at them closely if you wish to make a career in manufacturing management.

Placement records are of prime importance of course and nobody can disregard an institute's placement record while making a choice. To an extent, placement records can also give you valuable clues to an institute's reputation in various fields. If banks, for instance, pick up a lot of students from one particular IIM, you can be reasonably sure that it has an excellent finance faculty and a lot of good finance students. While all employers tend to go to several schools, the number of offers they are making at a particular school gives you an excellent indicator of that school's brand value.

No doubt IIM Ahmadabad tops the list when it comes to placements with students drawing more than Rs 1-crore pay cheques every placement season. Not far behind are IIM Bangalore and Calcutta with both the institutes bagging similar offers. ISB offers a one-year executive MBA unlike the two-year course offered by the IIMs. However, when it comes to placement very few B-schools can compete with ISB. "At IIMs only a handful become 'crorepatis', however, at ISB most of the students become crorepatis," said one of the ISB Deans at a recent press conference. Other Institutes such as Management Development Institute, Gurgaon; FMS, Delhi; XLRI, Jamshedpur and SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai, etc. also have a great placement record.

Alumni networks, industry linkages and international linkages are also factors that play an important role in overall development though they are often overlooked while choosing a B-school. A school with a strong alumni network tends to help your career long after you have passed out of school. Similarly, a school with very good international affiliations can provide you with more opportunities than another with equally good infrastructure and faculty, but no international linkages.

Sheeba D'Mello reviewed the institutes on her set criteria which included vital ingredients such as placements and infrastructure. D'Mello received final calls from three of the IIMs, Kozhikode, Lucknow and Indore. She chose Kozhikode. "My decision was driven by alumnis interaction, infrastructure, placements, academic programmes, location and weather.

Finally, if all other things are equal, choose a B-school that promises to make you a more rounded manager with overall development than one just excelling in academics. While a school's annual festivals and other such events are completely overlooked while making choices, they are immensely important in many respects. For example, while many schools today have entrepreneurship courses, only a few have strong entrepreneurship clubs and events. And these can make all the differences.

Of course, the all-important question here is: where will you get the information on all these parameters. A lot of it is in public domain of course. For example, the Businessworld annual B-school rankings - and those of other publications - often have sections on infrastructure and faculty. Similarly, B-school news, including placement news, are published regularly on all papers. Businessworld Online's B-school channel regularly carries news on happenings at various B-schools. Just spend some time on reading up, and you will find that making your decision is so much easier.

(BW Online Bureau)