My target schools were mostly geographic based. Both my wife and I have family in California, so I really focused on the schools out here. Coming from a background at Berkeley, when I was applying I really wanted to get a different atmosphere from that at Cal (and I have an implicit bias against Stanford because I’ve been heavily networked within the Cal Alumni Association and couldn’t even get myself to consider it). At the same time, my GPA may not have made me competitive.
In looking at the remaining schools in California, it really came down to UCLA, USC, and UCDavis. The campus visits really made a huge impact on what I thought about the schools. I really liked the interactions that I observed between students at USC, I felt slightly put off by the interactions between students at UCLA, and saw UC Davis as a potential up and comer with lots of silicon valley ties. Prior to my visits, I definitely had a heirarchy of UCLA>>USC>UCDavis, but after I felt that personally they were UCLA~=USC > UCDavis.
When it came down to decision time, I received a large scholarship at Davis, was wait listed at USC, and dinged from UCLA. Because I did engineering undergrad at UC Berkeley, my GPA was definitely a factor in where I initially got in (at UC Berkeley, the average engineering GPA is 2.7 - the school is one of the few that actually does grade deflation ). Knowing how powerful the USC network is, I really pushed for that acceptance there: bumped my GMAT from 710->720, took an outside class, and started pulling in some finance at work. When I received my acceptance in May/June, I really had to think hard with my wife on where I wanted to go long term. In the end, I chose USC primarily because of the alumni network. A second reason was the class size: with around 220 student per class, I felt that we would have a lot more opportunities to meet long term friends. After almost finishing this first year, I absolutely would have made the same decision. My wife and I have loved it more than we thought we would and I can’t wait to help push this school back into the top 20 ().