Magna Carta…Holy Grail

First, I’ll write the check now and pay homage to all those who’ve continually read and supported Applying While Black during the past two weeks. It feels like it’s been a month.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Of course we are all drawn to what has been engrained in our minds as the “trinity”.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s symbolic of excellence and who doesn’t want to be associated with such. And society has always reinforced that norm.  It’s something undeniably captivating about being in that upper echelon of 3. Maybe it’s because groups of 3 have always been able to distinguish themselves from the rest. McKinsey, Bain, BCG.  Wachtell, Cravath, Skadden. Beyoncé, Kelly, Michelle. You get the drift, which brings us to the MBA trinity. No need to name them. We know who they are.

But all the excellence in the world doesn’t keep anything exempt from shortcomings. For example, Bain doesn’t have that international footprint we want. Wachtell is a slaveship. And Michelle…….. (And I do feel I can shade Michelle because I understand she is the texture in a DC3 harmony.)

But, for the most part, the excellence surmounts the shortcomings. And thus, we pursue them full throttle. However, we need to remember if we are considering these schools, we are the top black talent. They need us more than we need them. And thus, we are our own holy grail. As such, we need to ensure the “trinity” schools are more than exceeding expectations in everything we individually prioritize in selecting a MBA program. And since they want to under deliver in scholarships, they need to blossom in every other respect. And if they don’t, we just need to have the courage to seek our MBA education elsewhere, especially if “elsewhere” knows how to write a check.

So let’s take back the power a bit, employ a more scrutinizing eye, and determine exactly how they measure up in various dimensions before we only submit 3 applications because remember, we’ve established that it us, not the schools, that are the holy grail. Also quick sidebar, if you are only submitting applications to the trinity, please ensure you have critically thought about what you’re seeking in the MBA experience beyond a ranking and convey that effectively, because for some people I do believe it makes sense. And for those who it don’t make sense for and still want to apply to only those 3, make sure you convey it’s sensibility effectively because an adcom can peep game—meaning that it becomes very clear where else you are applying if you do a poor job answering “why School X?”. But we got off route for a bit, so let’s get back to assessing the “trinity” against a few dimensions.


Yes GAWD! A Trinity school will give us an amazing network, but so will its peer schools. Let’s objectify a bit. So we can pose the argument that HBS and Wharton are much larger and consequentially have larger networks to draw upon? Ok cool.


Again, Yes GAWD! The academics are beastly. This is the crème de la crème of higher learning and boasts not only management’s best, but every disciplines’ best pioneers and professors in the game. Aside from different pedagogical approaches amongst the trinity and its peer schools, you are going to get a world-class business education.


Ok, now we’ll see some trinity esque distinguishing features. Based on your career interest, being at a trinity school can yield better opportunities. I don’t want to say better outcomes because I think that’s a big misconception and we often don’t differentiate between opportunities and outcomes. It’s the school/office of career development/strategy’s job to create opportunities, but definitely the students’ job to seize the opportunities and thus yield outcomes. Now, don’t get me wrong. Students are not solely responsible for narrowing the threshold between opportunities and outcomes because the career office should be appropriately assisting with that. So we have to ask the right questions up front.

And I’m going to expand on the career dimension because I do believe aside from pedigree, this is the driving reason people feel compelled to only apply/matriculate at top 3. “I gotta go to HBS because I want to do private equity.” Ok, that’s cute Daquan. But before we do, let’s dispel any false expectations. It’s all about unwrapping the statistics. I’ll explain “unwrapping” with a good old private equity (PE) example. But from now on “unwrapping” stats should be our “Magna Carta”.

Stanford GSB, HBS, Wharton, and or CBS, relative to other business schools, have historically done well in placing students in that field full time. According to a 2014 Stanford employment report, 12% of the graduating class will be joining PE/hedge fund ventures. Again, that’s cute, but what does that tell us? So we know if a Stanford graduating class has 100 people, 12 of them will be entering the PE field. What we don’t know is how many students were offered PE jobs vs. how many accepted them. And more importantly how many people pursued PE as a career option vs. how many people got offers to help us determine the success rate of the schools ability to place people in PE. If 50 people pursued PE and only 12 got jobs, that’s 24%. Not an attractive statistic right?

We also need to lay our scrutinizing eye on the former experience of those who were successful in landing jobs in a certain industry. Continuing with the PE example, it’s almost impossible to transition into buy-side roles without your transactional experience boot camp as I like to call it. Often, we go to school to transition careers and it seems that the industry/function we left is always trying to pull us back. It’s possible that these institutions are doing well in placing people in PE because the schools themselves attract bankers and others who have PE/transactional experience prior to b school. So students choose a school because PE placement numbers look strong. But the PE numbers look strong because the students have the experience necessary.  So institutionally, the school is just functioning as a vessel for the firms to access the talent they seek, and not necessarily enhancing applications for PE. And not saying there’s anything wrong with that, we’re just learning what numbers mean.

And if that is the case, and you want to pursue PE and have no transactional experience, should you redirect your scrutinizing eye toward the financial services statistics to see if you’re a viable candidate for an industry that will get you to where you want to be? And I hope we know that two industries all top business schools pumps people into are financial services and consulting, and thus not discerning enough of a reason to matriculate at one school over another. In addition, outcomes and opportunities can be influenced by demand. So should we go to a school where there are more financial services opportunities because a lot of the students want it or where there is less demand and ultimately less competition? So where’s our trinity distinguishing feature again?

Well it can be in the vibrant community, amazing entrepreneurial tech incubators along with the life-long cache and ultimate knock-out statement of “yo I went to Stanford GSB. Have several seats.”

Just make sure with the school you choose, it’s everything you want it to be and more in every dimension you value, even a trinity school.  U.S. News should be the beginning of your research, not the end. Ask yourself, “if you didn’t get the job offer you originally sought, would you still have been satisfied attending X?”

If you really bout that life, turn up on these schools and get the intel you need! Remember, we can do that because we’re the holy grail! Seek out that anecdotal evidence and find those recruiting horror stories. That’s valuable insight! Is it difficult to track and acquire this information formally? Yes very much so. Second-year students know exactly how to make sense of outcomes vs. opportunity. Ask about how students who seek to enter a new industry perform, especially in those specialized subfields. Find ways people enhanced their applications for various industries during the academic year. You already know I’m a big advocate of focusing on what we can change and less on what we can’t!


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