You have finally decided to get an MBA degree but questions are now flooding your mind. How do you choose the right business school and programme? How do you compare them? What do you look for? How do you know it’s the right “fit” for you? Many people would base their choice on rankings and accreditations but that should not be the main drive behind your decision. Increasingly, candidates are now considering the business school culture.

What is business school culture?

Every school (business or not) has its own culture, a set of values shared by its students, faculty, administration, and everyone involved with the school. These values influence and shape life on campus and determine whether or not you will feel a sense of belonging there. Many applicants overlook the importance of “fitting in”. But knowing the prevailing culture can help you determine whether or not the programme is a good fit for your personality, values and beliefs.

Why should I select a school that “feels like home”?

Our natural human need for self-esteem and acceptance as a member of a supportive group drives our desire to belong. “The social ties that accompany a sense of belonging are a protective factor helping manage stress and other behavioural issues. When we feel we have support and are not alone, we are more resilient, often coping more effectively with difficult times in our lives.” according to The Mayo Clinic.

How will I know the school culture is right for me?

When everyone is treated equally and encouraged to share their ideas and perspectives, you will feel at ease in your new environment. What can that sense of belonging look like?

In an interview for Access MBA, Laura Simion, a Cornell MBA alumna, said this when asked what made her feel at home at Cornell:

“After I went to Cornell, I truly felt at home. I had students offer to help coach me through the interview and application process. Faculty who I met at receptions in New York City, and also on campus, followed up with me and were truly excited and energised by my presence, which made me feel like I was heard. I felt it could be a programme where I could contribute and learn.”

Being seen entails being acknowledged for who you are, as well as being respected and rewarded for it. If you want to thrive alongside other people and push each other forward, choose a school that rewards collective accomplishments. On the other hand, if you like to stand out and are highly individualistic in your work, look for a university that values personal contribution more.

Feeling connected is crucial for success at business school. Engaging in genuine, positive interactions with peers and faculty will depend on how you prefer to communicate. If you want to feel like you belong, you must communicate with faculty members in a way that is both comfortable and appropriate. If you consider professors to be peers, pick a school that allows more informal relationships. If you prefer a more formal and distant approach, you might be a better fit for a school that values formal relationships.

Feeling comfortable in your skin is essential anywhere you go, whether it’s university or work. Some universities have a traditional style of conduct and expect you to look a certain way. Others will allow for a more liberal style, like coming to classes in a T-shirt. Choose according to what will feel best for you.

There are more aspects to compare and thankfully there is a tool that can help you make that decision. The Unimy Cultural Fit will compare your preferences to some of the best business schools around the world and give you the top schools that fit your beliefs and expectations.

What are the benefits of choosing a school based on culture?

Feeling “at home” in business school offers many benefits. The most obvious would be feeling comfortable and reducing stress, but it goes beyond how you feel. Here is how it can affect your academic experience:

Increased participation – many studies over the years have shown a connection between a student’s sense of belonging and their engagement in class. Good communication and support from your professors will increase your participation and lead to better results.

Boost in performance – when a school’s culture is a good fit for you, your performance will be stimulated. A boost in performance leads to better professional development. According to a 2021 study on the effects of school culture on the academic achievement, 42% of the students questioned, stated that school culture affects their academic achievements by creating a will to study.

Stronger network – the more comfortable you are in business school, the more likely you are to form quality relationships, thus building a lasting network that will benefit you down the road in your career.

Knowing whether you'd thrive in a team-oriented, collegial environment or a more intense and competitive programme is just one of the questions you can ask yourself when trying to determine a "fit" with a specific business school. A little research and introspection will help you determine which MBA programme is the best fit for you and will give you a great business school experience that will translate into a successful and quick career growth.