Updated: Sep 11, 2022
To be honest, I thought about this question for just about a couple of months. However, I get this question a lot in my AMAs, so here is my attempt to answer that.
The factors that dictate the final shortlists are location preferences, career goals and your personality type.
Choosing B-schools is a very individualistic decision. An east-coast person might want to stay in the east-coast because all of their family is in the region. Or they might want to get away from their family for a couple of years, and switch coasts or may even cross the small pond called Atlantic ocean and get their MBA in Europe. I was targeting a US MBA because we had been living in the USA and we liked it. After spending 6 years in mid-west, I was very comfortable with cold and I wasn't trying to chase the sun. So, the entire US was an option for me.
Career goals can be characterized by the industries, the functions and the locations you want to work at. While I am not a big fan of stereotypes when it comes to schools, there is some truth to it. For example, Columbia is known as a Finance school (proximity to NYC helps), while Kellogg is a marketing school, Darden and Ross send a lot of students to consulting and so on. When I was applying for my MBA, I was very happy with my job and my salary. I wanted to go to a school which enhances my career trajectory in long term, and not just looking for an industry pivot. I wanted my MBA degree to continuously open doors for me, and give me an edge at every career advancement opportunity that lies in the future. Additionally, I wanted to live and work in Europe at some point of my life. That only can be achieved by a highly selective MBA program with global reputation and incredibly placed alumni base.
And lastly, you can't ignore your personality type, or at least the personality you want to build on. Obviously, it would be hard getting an MBA if you are a true introvert. I came across so many MBA students who claimed they were massive introverts. They were not! But this is more than introvert/extrovert. If you like hanging out with like-minded people focusing on common goal, a smaller close-knit class might be more for you. If you want to be challenged, meet entirely new set of people, then you need to apply to a different school. The best way to do so is by physically visiting the school and talk to several students. Prior to my MBA, I worked in one industry and I didn't know how most industries work. Believe it or not, I didn't fully understand even what consultants or venture capitalists did. And I absolutely had no idea about hedge fund and asset managers. I didn't want to be surrounded by people building the next unicorns. Rather, I wanted to meet people of diverse personal and professional backgrounds who also have diverse goals.
The best school that fit all of my criteria was the Harvard Business School. And I am glad I got to attend the program of my dreams.