B-School Selection
Comments 141

IIMs versus FMS, XL, MDI and other top schools

Now that the first round results of almost all the b-schools are out, we get regular queries about which b-schools to join. There is rarely any confusion about A, B, and C but after that, it seems as if aspirants are having a lot of trouble choosing between the IIMs L, I, and K and other top b-schools such as FMS, XLRI, MDI, and others. How does one go about making the right choice between the IIMs and other top schools? One of the terms thrown around a lot these days is ROI.


How you should really calculate ROI

A few years back, an aspirant I was speaking to after an ISB info session said

  • Sir, these days even IIM-A does not offer a great ROI, the average salary and fee are close to each other.

A lot of aspirants tend to use ROI to evaluate colleges. They tend to use ROI in conjunction with batch size to decide which college to join where ROI is simply taken to be the Average Salary/Cost of Education.

Well, once you do an MBA you will realize that more than an ROI, the better tool to use will be a Cost-Benefit Analysis since you are not investing in a purely financial instrument or land or gold.

Whenever one does a cost-benefit analysis one has to consider not just the tangible but also the intangible costs as well as benefits.

The intangible benefits or the benefits to which you cannot put a number are the ones that most aspirants on the verge of joining an MBA program, those who are doing their MBA and those who have just graduated are unaware of. This post will deal with all of these intangibles that might help aspirants to make a decision.


The three letters I-I-M carry more weight than you can imagine

Firstly, no aspirant should forget that the second most prestigious & valuable prefix that an institution in this country can carry is IIM. When most aspirants start preparing for the CAT, they do not tell themselves that they want to crack XL or MDI or FMS, it is always the IIMs that are on most people minds.

The same holds true for the rest of the business management fraternity — the word IIM carries a lot more weight than you can imagine. People evaluating you at your workplace are more likely to pull down an IIM grad at the slightest hesitation saying “How can this person be from an IIM” than they are to say “How can this person be from MDI or XL” (I overheard this as recently as last Sunday at a cafe).


The IIM-tag predisposes people to think positively about you

When you introduce yourself as an IIM graduate, people’s perception of your ability becomes vastly exaggerated. People will tend to treat you as being good unless you yourself prove them wrong. Whereas those from other brands are viewed neutrally and they have to prove themselves. It goes without saying the same applies when people look at your resume.

And if you are from say L, I and K and become a great professional, people might tend to think that you are from A, B or C; they might even assume you are from an IIT as well!


An MBA is about a lot more than your first job

The problem with the ROI method is that it places unduly high importance on the short-term result — the first job you get out of campus. Don’t you think that is barely any return! Good investments yield returns over a longer time period and a good MBA is also supposed to do the same.

You might not get your dream job even at IIM-A

On-campus recruitments are very unlike recruitments off-campus and this difference is key to understanding the long-term value of an MBA.

During placements on campus, recruiters are constantly comparing you with a huge list of other candidates they have at their disposal. For recruiters it is like a buffet with many awesome things to choose from but with one constraint — time and competing recruiters!

So what do companies do? They start using various filters to ensure that they look at fewer people and somehow get the people they want before their competitors get them. What are the filters that get applied? They vary from company to company but to name a few

  • the brand of the college you graduated from (everybody wants to get into McKinsey but they can’t possibly interview everyone, so they use the college brand as a filter)
  • leadership positions held (so guys with big leadership roles on campus get filtered in over may be people with a better CGPA) etc

So intense is the competition among companies that this year one prominent consulting firm at IIM-A was even willing to forego the final interview round if the people who they shortlisted so far were still not picked up by others. Imagine, they were scared that by the time they finish their process, they will no have candidates left!

Compare this with an off-campus process. Firstly, it is not a 3-day affair, so companies are not in any hurry to shortlist and interview people as fast as possible. So you will end up getting a fairer shot and enough time to make a good case for your candidature.

Companies do not need people only at the time of campus placements. In fact, most fresh MBA graduates quit their first jobs within a year! There is a constant need for people all year round and they scour various portals and recruitment agencies to get resumes.

So you do not need to worry about the campus placements being final summit or crowning point to reach. In fact, it is just the beginning of the climb.

What the MBA gives you is a platform to reach the top over the course of your career.


It’s your peer network that will get you jobs in the long run

Campus placements last only a few days but your peer network, network of immediate seniors and alumni network will be the ones that will be getting you jobs over a longer period.

When you graduate from an IIM, you graduate with access to a network of people working in the best companies in the country. You will not come to know of openings through Naukri or other portals but from your peers since firms hire a lot through referrals.

Also, you get access to platforms such as IIM Jobs through which candidates and recruiters find each other. A student who just graduated from IIM-A told me that after graduating this March he was approached by three companies via IIM Jobs.

Can you place a monetary value to the opportunities that this network will open up for you?


If you want to start your own firm, the tag is invaluable to attract investors

Investors are always taking bets on people as much as they are on ideas. Even before you pitch your ideas, investors will be aware of all the hot ideas and opportunities that are present in the market. So, in essence, they are only evaluating the capability of the team and one of the things that goes a long way in boosting your credentials is the IIM-tag.

So keeping all of this mind how should you make your choices?

IIMs – L, I & K versus FMS, XLRI, S.P.Jain, MDI

Technically I would always place the old IIMs above all other schools purely for the reasons mentioned above.

The only exception can be FMS, for the almost non-existent fees! How does one break this deadlock? Choose FMS over the others if

  • If you have already done your graduation from an IIT and/or
  • If you are sure you want to explore entrepreneurship options immediately after your MBA

What is the rationale behind this?

Firstly, If you have not studied at a premier national-level college, whilst staying on campus in the hostel, an education at FMS or S.P.Jain will be incomplete in terms of the experience.

You will do an MBA only once and the experience of studying in an awesome campus (in contrast to FMS, S.P.Jain, and NMIMS) dedicated primarily to the program you are doing (in contrast to MBAs at IITs) is something that you will cherish for life. You are not going to really enjoy life again (maybe for a few years after you graduate) 🙂

If you have already experienced the same during your graduation then you can go ahead and choose FMS, else the IIMs.

Secondly, if you want to start working on your own venture straight out of college then an education loan will always be an albatross around your neck, making FMS best option.

A slightly more nuanced take can be this particular order(with the caveats mentioned about FMS) —  L, FMS, XL, IIM-I, IIM-K, and the rest.

There is a case for choosing SPJIMR-Ops over IIM-I and IIM-K if you are really keen on getting the full range of core operations jobs to choose from, the IIMs might not offer you such a vast selection since they do not admit based on specialization.


Choose other colleges over new IIMs

When it comes to the choice between new IIMs and other schools, choose other top schools over them since you will get the benefit of the degree only over a very long-term, when they are no longer considered new.

Also, everything else right from campus, to college culture and placements will just be beginning to take root and hence leave you quite a bit on the backfoot in the short-term. There is also be no network of peers of seniors through whom you get access to jobs.


You are not investing in a college you are also investing in yourself

Most view the expenditure on an MBA from the what-am-I-getting-for-what-I-am-paying lens, making it the college’s responsibility to deliver. Well, unfortunately, the college owes you nothing.

The college deems you suitable for a career in management and has offered you a seat giving you access to

  • the learning that they can offer and
  • the best firms in the country

You are investing this money to acquire this education and this network to maximize your potential and your career opportunities.

Most of the time what you study during the course will barely be used in the first few years of your life as an MBA. It will only start making sense when you come into big decision-making roles later in life (even those subjects which you will find most useless on campus).

You are not learning subjects that will help you do your first job better. You are learning and developing the skills to lead a company later.

So it makes a lot of sense to view things not from an immediate placement perspective but from the perspective of maximising your chances of leading the best firms or starting a successful firm of your own.


A few years back this post elicited a lot of aggressive responses.

People accused me of favouritism in placing L over XL since the former is my alma mater. People have pointed out the average salary at XL being higher than the one at L, and so and so forth.

Firstly, I live by Groucho Marx’s dictum — I refuse to join any club that will have me as a member.  So, there is no special attachment that I have to IIM-L or any other institution. Wherever I have studied, it has always been a few teachers, the architecture, and the library that I have had an attachment to or fondness for rather than the school or college as a whole. It goes without saying that the moment I meet any person from IIM-L, I do not get particularly excited since that particular individual should be someone with whom I will get along (one has conversations with a person not a tag).

Secondly, yes, the average salary at XL is higher than that at L, but the fees at L is lower.  Higher average salary does not mean that every student at XL will get a salary more than every student at L.  Also, the average is a function of the denominator. If you take the salaries of the top 180 students at both colleges, I am sure the comparison will look different. Now if you feel that you will end up in the bottom 120, then it is a different matter altogether.

Thirdly, I am not sure if the everyone in the cream (the ones who score 99.5 and above on the CAT) of the test-taking population takes the XAT. IITians would always like to add a few more Is to their resumes instead of other alphabets. I myself eased off when taking the XAT since I was sure that I had aced the CAT. Also, XAT is verbal heavy than LR-DI or QA heavy, so the CAT ends up filtering out a different set of toppers. So as a batch goes, I feel the kind of peer group you are likely to find at the top at L might be different from the kind you will find at XL.

To validate my arguments we need to slice and dice a lot of data that only the b-schools can give us and they couldn’t care less. So readers can take “my take” with a pinch of salt and ignore it, instead of launching into tirades.

I am sure XL can be argued to be a better choice solely on the basis of its sporting rivalry with IIM-C and the events surrounding this rivalry. After a point, it always boils down to the premises that you use to reach your conclusion, with a different set of premises or criteria you can arrive at a different conclusion.

Another major accusation that a commenter hurled was that people like me perpetuate the Sharma Ji ka beta and elite college ke peeche bhaagne wala syndrome. Well, relying on labeling people en masse seems to be a major national malaise that starts at the top. It is any day easier to label and discredit rather than having to tease out the rationale.

Did I ever make a statement saying if you have to do an MBA, do it only from the IIMs? Nope. In fact last year, I convinced a student to take up NMIMS and not waste yet another year running after an IIM without a job in hand. In most of my replies to queries on this blog, I always ask students to take not just the CAT but XAT, IIFT, NMAT and SNAP. So the commenter was attacking an argument that I did not make!

All I am saying is that if you have the luxury of choosing between the old IIMs and other schools, my personal vote would be for the old IIMs, which you are welcome to crumple it and throw it in the dustbin.

The reason I am making these things clear is that I do not want to go through the drudgery of defending a personal opinion in the comments section. As Oscar Wilde said, people are either charming and tedious, one of my other dictums in life to avoid the latter variety as much as possible.

I hope this article goes some way in helping aspirants view things from a different perspective and resolve the queries in their mind.

141 Comments

  1. Hello Tony!
    I have been following your blog since 2018 and as usual, this post was really insightful.

    My profile: 83.5/84.31/72.7 in 10th/12th/Grad (CGPA to percentage conversion has been my undoing), GEM with a work experience of 20 months at a Consulting firm and even got promoted recently. Interested in Marketing and Consulting.

    I gave CAT in 2020 with the intention of keeping abreast with the exam pattern and botched it but nonetheless got calls from new IIMs and MDI. I have a good chance of converting MDI IM (International Management) but I’m not too sure about it. Would you please help answer some of my questions regarding this?

    1. I had given CAT in 2018 and scored 98.22, so I’m confident that with a focused prep this year I can get a higher score. Should I wait for another year and try for the old IIMs/XLRI/SPJIMR/ISB? At what percentile range do I have a shot at getting into the old IIMs with this profile?

    2. The opportunity to get two degrees and study abroad without a big commitment, as I can sit for placements in India or move back later with MDI being recognized in India is drawing me towards the IM program. I’d confess seeing my friends pursue their post grad is also a factor. Are these factors strong enough to compensate for the poor ROI?

    3. I would be taking a loan for my MBA but I don’t mind doing it for the experience. Should I also think of giving the GMAT for an MiM/MBA program abroad or would I be better suited at one of the Tier-1 colleges listed above?

    Thank you!

    Like

    • Hi GL,

      Well, you can think of a retake provided you are confident that you can crack in excess of 99, if you do that you can get calls from the old IIMs and the other schools that you mentioned.

      If you feel you can afford to spend extra for the international experience and treat it the whole thing like getting into MDI regular program only but paying more for the international icing then you can go for it.

      If you desperately want the old IIM experience given that you have good work-ex and can make the most of it then the reward will be worth the risk of the re-attempt.

      Your profile will have too much work-ex for MiM and too little for MBA, which by the way will be way too expensive. Unless you want to settle abroad, no point in looking at the GMAT.

      And yeah, remember one thing — doing an MBA, getting married, having kids, the kids getting good marks, the kid getting into great
      colleges — this ticking of checkboxes by peers you will realise is no great achievement, everybody does the same ol’ shit, it is called the great Indian “settling” down; only sediment settles down — want things because you want them, desire things because you desire them.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Tony,

        Thanks for your prompt response. While your advice brought clarity of thought, I do have a few follow-up questions.

        1. As I mentioned above, I’m interested in Marketing and Strategy Consulting but my current line of work (Analytics) isn’t aligned with those domains. I feel that by not waiting for a year and joining MDI IM, I would be progressing quickly towards my interests. Is there any fallacy in my line of thought?

        2. While I’m not desperate to the get the old IIM experience merely for the tag, I can afford to wait for another year. In your view, is there a considerable short-term/long-term advantage in joining the old IIMs over MDI to justify the retake?

        Thank you again!

        Like

      • Hi GL,

        One thing is for sure that you really trying to as logically as possible proceed to a solution, which is admirable.

        The first question only makes sense in light of the second question.

        For example, if I say there is a lot to gain by getting into an old IIM then you might not be in a great rush to jilt Analytics and rush into the arms of Marketing and Strategy Consulting. And frankly, while Analytics is not directly related to Marketing or Consulting it is certainly relevant.

        But the value of an old IIM tag over MDI is not easy to quantify though it can be — tracking the median salaries of the past 25 years adjusted for inflation of graduates from different programs — but such studies are sorely lacking in the Indian context and given that one can only make the decision on the basis of the fact that the alum network of the old IIMs and portals such as IIM jobs will over the longer period offer a vaster array of opportunities; another additional factor is always one’s personal ambition in terms of the college.

        To sum up, you will not be making a mistake by joining MDI-IB (provided you can shell out the fee); the rest is up to you.

        All the best!

        Like

  2. vakul0412 says

    Hello Sir,

    I am confused between MDI PGDM-IB(international business) and NMIMS mumbai mba core. I believe MDI can provide better final placements, international exposure(1 year in ESCP europe including foreign internship), and peer group, but I am concerned that it being not a regular indian mba program can reduce my exposure to some other good aspects of mba like fests, events, case study competitions, senior junior interaction, etc. Should I consider NM over MDI because of this?

    Profile:
    10th – 93.14%
    12th- 93.6%
    Btech(NIT jaipur)- 8.05
    Work ex- 2 yrs 10 months in Deloitte USI in the tech. consulting domain

    Aspirations from Mba- Good business learning, personality development and a job with fixed salary not less than 15 lpa.

    Profile/sector desired- Marketing, Gen man, strategy, consulting. No IT.

    Like

    • Hi Vakul,

      You have done a good job of listing the differences between the two programs.

      But the catch is that to choose between the two is a matter of preference.

      For example, if you have already had experience at a national level college then would another round of the same experience make more sense(also NM is not residential) or international experience — there is no right or wrong answer — both can be justified, one way or the other. If you are from an NIT and have good work-ex your resume is already competitive.

      You will not be making a mistake by taking up either of the programs, choose the one you are kicked about, the rest is FOMO.

      All the best!

      Like

  3. Nikita says

    Hi Sir,
    Your blog has been very insightful. I have converted IIM Indore and SPJIMR Finance and I am confused between the two. A lot of people smaller batch at SP a very big advantage over I’s batch of around 500 odd people. Also I has the IIM tag, however these days there is a lot of speculation on social media with respect to its reputation. I wish to pursue a career in management consulting or finance related roles. Can you give your 2 cents on the issue which can help me to make a choice? I have till 16th to accept the I offer. Thanks

    Like

    • Nikita says

      I would also like to stare my profile – B.Con and CA (first attempt). 9 months work-ex in stat audit at Deloitte and 4 months at EY in Financial due diligence. Gap from Sep19 to Dec20 for CAT prep (an error on my part I now agree).

      Like

    • Hi Nikita,

      Congrats on the admits; this is always a good problem to have!

      Well, let’s us keep it simple:

      1. Your profile will always be super-sought after and one of the first to get a shortlist at an IIM or any other school, especially for Finance and Gen Mgt, roles since CA-MBA combos are what these recruiters look for and give first priority to, which is why the rash of engineer-CFAs, of late. Not to mention the gender diversity angle!

      2. So given this batch size shouldn’t be a problem at all since the recruiters you are looking at will be niche and they will looking only st a small portion of the batch — profiles such as yours.

      3. High-end Finance jobs are always niche and recruiters tend to be brand conscious so having an IIM degree on the resume will be a big plus, the farther you go into your career.

      Do not bother with all the social media chatter around IIM-I about 6-8 years back IIM-I had a few hiccups but it has more than recovered.

      I do not see any reason for you to choose SP or IIM-I. In my head, it is not even a comparison for a CA-MBA.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

  4. Hi Tony,

    It’s been a while I wrote to you. But here I am yet again, seeking your guidance. I have converted NMIMS Mumbai(core) and IIFT Kolkata. My WL for Delhi is 100+ so I find the movement from Kolkata to Delhi unlikely. I also have a 150+ WL for SIBM Pune, which according to the past trends could’ve been a regular convert but things seem bleak this year as the WL has only moved by 30 till now. Hence, I would like to go with IIFT D or SIBM P, if converted. However, if not, which one to choose between NM and IIFT K? The 600+ batch size of NM is scary along with no campus life and hostel. On the other hand, I’ve heard Kolkata campus is treated like a step-brother to Delhi campus with 5-10 companies and competitions they aren’t allowed to participate in. Also, I have heard that the placement procedure isn’t transparent and there is an inherent difference in the mindset of recruiters b/w D and K. How should I go about it in this scenario? Please help me out here. Thank you!

    Profile- 9/9/7 GEF (BTech, CSE)
    Workex- 19 months with Infosys
    Specialization- Marketing (Preferably in an established brand)

    Like

    • Hi AA,

      Congratulations on the admits!

      My simple rule of thumb is — when faced with two brands of more or less equal repute, choose the one where you get admission into the flagship program, so in this case, I would advise choosing NM-core.

      Yes, the batch size is large and stuff but at IIFT-K then you will feel as if you are in the economy class as opposed to D students who are in business class. But going by the placement stats, IIFT-K seems to be doing pretty well.

      And as far as the batch size goes, it depends on how you see yourself — if you feel you are not likely to end up in the top one-third to half of the batch then do not join, otherwise, batch size does not matter. Given gender diversity as well, I would not worry too much about placements.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

  5. Profile- 9.4/84.4/8.2/96.83 GEM (BTech, ECE)
    Workex- 24 months in IT Software development
    Interest in specialization – Consulting/GenMan/Product Management

    Hi sir,

    I am waitlisted for the MDI-IB program which I am sure I will convert. I had other options like NMIMS and IIM Ranchi which I had left to prepare for next year. But I am very confused with the MDI-IB program to take it or to prepare for next year for better programs and college. I had analyzed the program thoroughly and the few points that are impacting my decision are as follows –
    Negatives-
    1. Since MDI is a marketing campus I couldn’t see top-notch consulting/GenMan/ProdMan(fields where I am interested to go in) in final placements. Also, Since we do not have access to summer placements of MDI, we are leaving a chance of PPOs in top companies. So I am forgoing a chance in getting placed in a lot of good companies. Am I right on it?

    2. Getting an internship in Europe is difficult due to language and timeline issues. There is a high possibility that we get an internship in a startup. And even if we get a good internship, converting it to PPO is very difficult due to costly work visas which companies don’t sponsor. So ultimately we are dependent upon the finals of MDI. So this means that am I getting myself into two good branded colleges but ultimately reducing my options for good companies due to no PPO opportunities?

    3. The high fees of about 35L including Europe expenses, almost 70% of which would be a loan, will restrict me from taking any further risk like a second degree or a startup(although I don’t have any plan for it as of now) for almost 3-4 years.

    4. If I am ultimately returning to India for placements, I cannot see any use of the MiM degree, as it is an entry-level degree and I would have limited job opportunities in Europe if I am applying for them from India.

    Positives-
    5. I would have access to alumni of both MDI and ESCP which could open up many more opportunities for me in the future.

    6. Since I did my undergrad and job from my house only, the international experience would be too fruitful for me and my learning curve at an early stage would be too steep. Also, I will have an access of both Indian batch and international batches. Thus more networking!

    Also since this was only my first attempt I feel I could do better next time, but nothing can be said for sure for CAT. Also, next year would be my last attempt for CAT. Also I am considering the fact that doing MBA next year would be better as there are high chances that it would be offline. Thus I am confused about trying next year or going in for IB.

    Can you please guide me as to are the points I have written are good enough for consideration or is there any fallacy or addon in those? Also finally what should be the decision I should take?

    Thank you for the support you are providing to all the aspirants! Really appreciate your effort.

    Like

    • Hi JA,

      You have rightly summed up the pros and cons.

      But to keep it simple, treat the whole thing like MDI with international exposure — having a great time at a great cost, a vacation-cum-work that you will never get a chance again to explore, no holiday can be this long — and nothing more (all the rest of the benefits do not make sense if you want to come back).

      As far as placements at MDI go, top-notch consulting, no, but Gen and Prod Man roles should happen.

      So, the rationale for a re-take will be a shot at Tier-II Consulting roles, the brand value of an old IIM, and a lower loan amount.

      The choice will finally have to made by you.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

  6. Hi Tony Sir,

    I have converted MDI Core and expecting IIFT-D as well(Convertible waitlist). Kindly help in choosing the college. Workex: 3.5 years and interest in product management. GEF

    Like

    • Hi Ankita,

      Between MDI and IIFT you will not be making a mistake by choosing either since it is not an MCQ.

      The placement of both colleges will be driven by Marketing with all other domains thrown in for good measure (barring top draw Consulting and Finance)

      You can use one or more of the following criteria to choose:

      1. The better campus (even if you are likely to spend only 15 months there)
      2. The lower fee
      3. Any specific firms that visit one and not the other

      The rest is FOMO.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ankita Mohanty says

    Hi Sir,

    I have converted MDI-Core. Also, expecting that I will convert IIFT-D in next list. Kindly help in choosing the college.
    Workex: 3.5 yr
    Interested in prodman roles.

    Like

  8. Advait says

    Hi Sir,
    I have 9/8/7 profile with 33 months workex in TCS in BFSI domain. I know in the hindsight that it’s a pretty average profile. Right now I have MDI and IIFT Delhi in hand. From the reports, I can see more number of companies across domains visiting MDI than IIFT. Also the batch size at MDI makes me inclined more towards it.
    My only concern is the brand perception. Over time, if the MDI brand falls the way NMIMS and SIBM have, will it affect my career growth in any way? And since both of these colleges are comparable, will the “Indian Institute..” brand bring something more to the table in longer run if I choose IIFT?

    Like

    • Hi Advait,

      I do not think going by placement records and outcomes one can say that NMIMS and SIBM have fallen, it is more student perception than anything else. So, I do not think MDI brand dilution is likely.

      I am not sure if the “II” actually carries that much weight since it is not a branded chain of schools.

      All I will say is that you will not be making a mistake by choosing either, you can choose one of the two based purely on personal preference — campus, fees etc.

      The rest, as I have said in other comments, is FOMO!

      All the best!

      Like

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