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Fridays from the Frontline: Having to Decide Between Multiple Schools

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In last week’s Fridays from the Frontline, we circled back with an applicant who’d shared his admissions journey with us earlier in the process to see how it concluded. For this week’s post we did the same, checking in again with Natalie Neilson, who shared her application process here back in December. What we didn’t plan on was the fact that both of these applicants would reveal that they’re heading off to the same school in the fall! (For anyone not heading to Wharton, we’d love to have you share your decision-making process with us in a subsequent post. And if you haven’t already, remember to submit via MBA DecisionWire!)

But though both applicants ultimately chose Wharton, the processes they followed in arriving at that decision took different turns. Neilson, for her part, was in the enviable spot of having to decide between multiple schools—eight of them. While perhaps one of the better stressors to face—you’ll see that it was indeed stressful. Read on to learn her advice for narrowing your list, making peace with your decision and making plans for the next two years!

How I Decided Which School to Give My Rose

by Natalie Neilsen

There’s this mysterious, magical land we tend to forget about when discussing the energy required for MBA admissions—it’s the space between acceptance letters and the first day of school. I mean, I get it. There is SO much work you need to do just to get accepted in the first place. But let’s not forget, the race isn’t over once you get an “account update” email, click the link, hold your breath and finally see “Congratulations.”

It’s a triathlon, not a marathon, and prepping for school is the second event. That’s right—it’s not just about essays, recommendations, calls with current students, interviews and a plunge in funds from all those fees/visits. It’s scholarship essays, scholarship recommendations, calls with current students and alumni, informational interviews and a plunge in funds from admit weekends, but also new friends and classmates! It’s wondering where the hell you will go. It’s knowing what your gut is saying but then second-guessing yourself immediately. I haven’t watched “The Bachelorette” religiously like some of my friends, but I think I know how the Bachelorette feels towards the end: a few choices, all of them are great and all of them have flaws but then again, so do you, so—so the question is, with all things considered, who is best for you? How nerve-wracking!

Now that I’m on “the other side” of acceptance letters myself—and thanks to everyone who read my first piece on Clear Admit months ago and were so supportive!—I’m glad to say I’m accepting a fellowship at Wharton in the fall. But, despite how amazing the school is, choosing a school isn’t easy for most people and it wasn’t easy for me. (Infamous over thinker: guilty as charged!) Ultimately, I wanted to make the best choice for me, and there can be so many things that come into play after acceptance that you could not anticipate when you applied. Below are some of my tips for narrowing down your list and ultimately, deciding who to give your “rose” to:


I applied to a lot of schools and am lucky that I got a lot of acceptances. On the other side of that, I found myself in the position of having to narrow it down. I think, ideally, you’ll want to have about three schools to decide between in the end, and you have to really dig deep into what you want in order to narrow it down.

Some of these schools, despite amazing features, will not make your cut. And at this point in the game, there may be new circumstances in your life that were not there when you applied a few months earlier. Maybe you realize that the department you want to specialize in isn’t as built out as you thought. Maybe you have something come up with a family member and want to remain on the East Coast, etc.

This isn’t an easy step, but start crossing schools off your list little by little until you get to three or so. This step is usually the most stressful, because you like something about each and every one of these schools—think back to my Bachelorette reference—otherwise you wouldn’t have expended the energy applying. But trust me, I learned that once a school is off the table, it’s easier to make peace (and make plans!) with where you ultimately end up attending. For me, at this stage, I said goodbye to some amazing programs and narrowed my list down to Wharton, MIT, and Kellogg.


For me, the single most effective way to judge a school, at one time at least, is during admit weekends. Definitely go!!! Sure, you get a little taste if you visited campus before or attended conferences or affinity weekends such as diversity, women’s or veteran’s, but there’s truly no scene like admit/welcome weekends! It’s here that you see the school in depth, and it’s here that you are surrounded by what I think is the most underrated group in the admissions process: your future classmates!!!having to decide between multiple schools

When everyone is applying, they are thinking about themselves and their own acceptance—and rightfully so, as it’s a tough journey! But during this phase, our heads are usually so down that we don’t pay much attention to the people also sitting next to you in the admissions office, waiting for the campus tour to begin. At admit weekends, you can actually scope out the vibe, make potential friends and roommates and picture yourself at the school (or not.) Before, in a class visit, you were trying to blend in, but at admit weekends—you ARE the classroom. And that’s a big change in perspective that you should fully engage in and analyze.

For me, Wharton’s Welcome Weekend was on point. Not only did the school really make sure to address everyone’s questions and concerns, but I had never seen such a concerted effort by an administration to make us feel welcome. The Student Life Fellows actually care about your experience, and instead of selling us and starting every sentence with “Well, at Wharton,” which you’ll see at other schools, they were actively encouraging us about the MBA, no matter where we might choose to go. During the two days, I had people I could look up to, who knew my name. Furthermore, I brought my partner, and throughout the day, he enjoyed the partner activities, and throughout the evening activities, he was treated like a student. There was no “oh, you’re here with Natalie?” but rather, “Nice to meet you, Austin. Tell me about yourself.” In all, leaving that weekend, I knew in my gut where I was going.


For full transparency, I attended Wharton’s Welcome Weekend then other schools’. When I arrived at the other schools, my mission was to pretend I hadn’t already fallen in love with Wharton. You cannot control the order of welcome weekends, but you can control if you get to each school with an open mind. I wanted to see objectively what they had to offer and give them a fair shot even though I was still in the honeymoon stage with Wharton.

Well, they were great programs, which I already knew, but in the middle of one of the weekends, despite my best efforts not to compare “this weekend to last weekend,” I knew. I didn’t feel as “at home.” I gracefully declined everyone else’s offer.


Once you make your decision, there will be others making decisions as well. Some of your friends will go to schools you turned down or got denied from. You may even have thought to yourself that wound had healed—until you see the post on Facebook. Immediately, you start comparing yourself. “Is she smarter than me? Better than me? Oh my God, I’m such a loser. But why, God, I worked so hard???” Even if you avoid the pity party, you might catch yourself thinking, “It seems like all my friends are going to ______. Did I make the right decision?”

Reality check: You can get denied by your “top” school and still get into amazing schools. And your “top” school may not have anything to do with rank. It could be a school you had early exposure to, the one you fell in love with first, the one you could really “see yourself” at even more than the other schools, etc. It happens to A LOT of people. It’s initially confusing because usually—while you made sure every application was your best work—you gave 150 percent to that one school’s application.

So when you find yourself with all these amazing schools saying “Yes, come!”—even though you’re super excited about these other schools—for some reason you’re also still healing slightly from that particular rejection like a breakup that you thought you were past. This may sound absolutely absurd to others, but it really does happen to a lot of people!

No joke, there was a school that I was crazy about early on—and it seemed like once I got denied, it appeared everywhere. Mentioned on a TV program I was watching and in yet another magazine I’m reading while traveling. Another cool startup entrepreneur I find on Instagram? Seems to have always gone to that school. Hung out at that school. Met their co-founder at that school. Always at the top of their bio, smack dab where sensitive rejects like me can find it.

This sounds cheesy, but take a moment to remember your first love. They were your everything right? Now imagine, they break up with you, and the next day, your celebrity crush magically finds you and asks you out. Talk about a mix of emotions! You’d still be heartbroken about your first love, while being excited about your new possibilities. So I’m saying this because it is totally possible to be over the moon about where you get accepted to, while still getting over the rejection that mattered most to you. It’s not being ungrateful, it’s appreciating the gem that came your way while also admitting to yourself that you need to acknowledge and deal with those other feelings. It’s very possible to be sad and happy at the same time, however, it is not possible to be sad and overjoyed at the same time. You need to let go to grow. Frowns don’t look good on red carpets.

So, at some point, you have to choose to snap out of it and move on into fully embracing and building your new life with Russell Wilson (err, I mean, whomever). Like I said before, as long as a school is on your “list,” you cannot make peace and make plans. (And that “list” can mean a physical list of acceptances you’re narrowing down or even a mental list of rejection ghosts. Ask yourself, “Is the school still taking up space in my head?”)

Once you decide where you ARE going, you can lace up your shoes and get moving. Your interaction in the Class of 2018 Facebook will change, drastically reincarnated from passive to active. These people are, after all, officially your new classmates. Your interaction with alumni and current students will breathe a new life, as they are now relationships and not just contacts or advice-givers.

Buy a t-shirt and say good riddance to the schools that passed on the pleasure of your presence. You have blessings to count and a purpose to get to work on! Have the courage to admit to yourself that this is where you are meant to be and where you will thrive. Bottom line: You cannot fully appreciate what you have until you have said goodbye to what you do not.

I didn’t imagine myself being a Whartonite, even in my wildest dreams. Yes, I diligently prepared in the application process and was fairly confident in myself, but I still wasn’t sure that at the end of the day, I was “the type” that gets into and goes to a place like Wharton. But Wharton had other plans.

I know not everyone is spiritual, but I believe in being confident “for such a time as this” and that there was a plan in place that is above me, that I may not know fully yet. Even though I didn’t see it then, how blatantly exciting is that? In my life ahead, I’ll have even more amazing stories on why Wharton was the best choice for me and how my new career is blossoming because of the education I found at Wharton. I will also confidently know I got an experience that “that other school” could NOT provide in the same way.

I don’t know who I’m going to only meet at Wharton, who I’ll only get to see there or what I’ll learn only because I made this choice. But I do know that if my blinders were not knocked off my face with that particular rejection, maybe I wouldn’t have looked as hard at what the Russell Wilson’s of the world had to offer me. How ironic now, in hindsight, that by being shut down, I was forced to look into the path I was truly meant for. What’s for you is for you, and I am so excited about what’s ahead.


We often forget in this process to be grateful. No, I’m not talking about saying thank you to those who helped you, which you definitely should do, but rather, daily internal gratitude. This process is stressful, yes—you wonder if you made the right decision. When you fill out your FAFSA or see those interest rates, you wonder if you were right to turn down those acceptances that were paired with fellowships. When you see those moving expenses, you wonder if you were right to turn down the school closer to home. When you see that all of the big corporate scholarships out there seem to be in fields you want nothing to do with, you start to wonder if you were right to step out on faith in your dreams and indicate that you wanted to change careers.

These thoughts all cross your mind briefly and captivate you like shooting stars. But that’s just it. While these thoughts are valid, they are temporary. You made a decision with ALL things considered. You leaned on friends, family and mentors who know you best. And remember, you also leaned on yourself.

There are many people who don’t have the luxury of having multiple schools to compare and contrast. And also, while you may have been rejected by a school or two, there are also people, like I mentioned above, who were dying to go to the schools you are now considering. You are blessed! Remember that. Despite this whirlwind of emotions that may engulf you sometimes—you thought whirlwinds were over when you hit the “submit” button, but no, surprise!—take a moment daily to reflect on how lucky you are, no matter where you or your friends are going, no matter where you got accepted and where you got rejected—you are where you are for a reason. Embrace it. You’re a rose.

Peace, love, and Admit Checklists!

“My heart is at ease knowing what was meant for me will never miss me, and that what misses me was never meant for me.” — Imam ash-Shaf’i

Have you recently decided where you’ll be enrolling in the fall? Be sure to share on MBA DecisionWire! And if you’d like to submit a post for Fridays from the Frontline that explains your decision in greater detail, please email [email protected]