Saturday, February 19, 2011

The MBA Project: Home Court Advantage

No doubt about it, being able to actually visit a school that you're thinking of applying to is a huge advantage.  That's a "no duh" kind of thing to say, but I was ready to go to any number of schools, sight unseen, in foreign countries that I haven't even been to yet.  I was prepared to assume that risk, but, man, a definite plus to staying here is that I can get on campus and see it all firsthand!

Today I went to an information session with the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).  As a reminder, the other school on my list is the University of San Diego (USD).  And believe me when I tell you that for at least the first couple of years that I lived here, I got the two mixed up all the time.


USD, a private Catholic University in Linda Vista

is not the same as this:

University of California, San Diego, a Public University in LaJolla
Oh, and just to add another bit of confusion, there's also San Diego State University.  They, too, have an MBA program, but they did not place on my list.  First of all, I'm not crazy about the part of town it's in.  Second, I don't know anyone who went there and as far as I can tell, the program doesn't stack up to USD or UCSD.  The image that comes to mind when I think of SDSU is "party school".  Apparently, it was ranked as one of the top party schools in the country by a certain gentlemen's magazine.  I'll pass.

Anyway, I went to UCSD today for an info session, and I must say that I'm very glad I did because I feel more informed than ever in making my decision.  I went with a "Pfff, well, I might as well have a backup...whatever..." attitude.  Not expecting much, just sorta going through the motions. 

Having already been to USD and heard their spiel, I had a basis of comparison by today.  I must say, I was a bit more impressed with UCSD's presentation.  The sprightly little lady who gave it did a very thorough job of explaining what the Rady School of Management stands for and what sets it apart from other institutions.  She made the connection between the school and the San Diego's unique industry, and as a bonus she had two current students in the Flex MBA program come in at the end and answer questions.  I walked out of there with a very clear picture of the program's direction and what one could expect to get out of it.  I also found out why the school is suspiciously absent from rankings--it's too new.  That's all.  When another prospective student asked and the director answered, it was an, "Oh!  Of course!" moment for me, and I felt better.  Look, rankings aren't everything, but when you're evaluating where to go spend your money, it certainly helps you make decisions.

So, if I could sum up each school with one word, it would be this:

USD: Sustainability

UCSD: Innovation

I think that the two concepts are absolutely related, but still quite distinctly different.  Whereas USD makes sustainability the overlying theme and weaves it into much of their core material (and also offers it as an area of concentration, UCSD treats it more like a supplemental topic of interest.  So, while I am impressed by UCSD and have no doubt that over time it will gain more national recognition, I know that USD is the better program for me.  What also distinguishes USD from UCSD is that it has a more global scope, whereas UCSD is very much San Diego-centric.  And you know what?  I dig that.  San Diego is an amazing city and biotech and consumer electronics are the backbone of its industry--UCSD made a smart move in establishing itself as San Diego's premier business school for leaders who want to make a difference in this market.  It also makes sense because it is a state university, after all.  It's in their best interest to cultivate a student and alumni population that will contribute to the state welfare, where as USD is private, so why not jettison its grads across the world?

I found the presentation so invigorating that I afterward I came home and filed my taxes and filled out the FAFSA.  With that and the GMAT behind me, it's really time to draft the essays next.  Oh, and guess what I'm doing on Monday?  Observing a class at USD!  It's a first semester course called Ethical Leadership and Organizational Behavior--say that 10x fast.

Well, that's enough reflection for today.  I think I'll go lose myself in a few episodes of Europe Through the Back Door with my homeboy, Rick Steves.  Tina and I are about to whip ourselves into a frenzy once her vacation time is approved for our trip.  Weiter so!