Continuing in my quest to help future students decide where to apply I present for your consideration:
"The XAres Simple Steps to Situational Systematic School Sample Selection (trademarked name)"
Deciding to go for a PhD is hard. Deciding where to go for a PhD is even harder. To give yourself some wiggle room and time, I'm going to suggest that you start early. Some people don't and they do perfectly fine in the applications. Ideally, though, you would start this process at least in June of year X with the intention of applying in October of year X+1 and beginning the program in September of year X+2.
Step 1: Decide you would like to pursue a PhD in business.
Step 2: Decide which area you would like to focus on (might I suggest marketing?)
Step 3: Read relevant papers in that fields top journals. Find papers that are of particular interest to you. Maybe the methodology is really cool (did you see that scale they used?). Maybe the area was of particular interest (I never thought about how managers made decisions in hiring practices).
Step 4: Convince your significant other that quitting "real life" for 5 years is the right option (this step may take a while).
Congratulations you've made the desirable decision to forgo years of money making in the pursuit of academic rigor. If you've followed my steps so far, you've also convinced friends and family that you are, in fact, not crazy. This is the part a lot of potential applicants have a hard time completing.
Remember those papers you read in Step 3 above, well I sure hope you've kept them handy. If you've done your job correctly you should have a bucket full (quantitatively) of papers of interests
Step 1: Make a list of every author of every paper in your bucket.
Step 2: Find out if these authors are still research active, what schools they are at and whether said schools have a PhD program. (perhaps keep track of all of this in a spreadsheet)
Step 3: Gather information about the school. (Pertinent information includes average GPA, GMAT and age of current students, add these to your spreadsheet)
Step 4: Check your stats against the stats of admitted students to the schools from step 2, if your stats match (i.e. if their %ages and GPA's are within a reasonable distance from yours), consider these schools as good schools to which you will apply.
Step 5: List the schools that are good fit with your profile in a separate tab in your excel sheet. (Go ahead and list one school that is out of your range, but that you would love to go to on there as well. One more application won't break the bank and you'll wonder what if if you don't apply)
Step 6: Go back to the list of authors in step 1 and look up students they advised and where they currently are at. If Dr. X is doing research of interest and Dr. Y was advised by Dr. X, there is a good chance Dr. Y is doing similar research.
Step 7: Repeat step 2 for the new list of names you have (at this point your excel is probably getting pretty big)
Step 8: Repeat step 4 with this list and then repeat step 5 (only this time do not list a dream school, you'll only need one or two of those on your list)
Step 9: Go back to the list you made in step 1 and look up their co-authors from other papers. This can be a process that takes forever, stop whenever you have a reasonable list of names.
Step 10: Repeat step 2 for the new list of names you have (your excel should be huge at this point)
Step 11: Repeat step 4 with this list and then repeat step 5 (only this time do not list a dream school, you'll only need one or two of those on your list)
Widdling Down the "List"
Alright if you've followed my steps closely you should have a list of 50 or so schools. If this is the case, then you need to start cutting some off. There is no specific number of schools to which one should apply. 20 works for some people, 5 works for others. Decide on the number of schools you feel that you can apply to that won't kill your bank account and that you have enough time to focus specific CV's and SOP's to. Each application needs to be a finely crafted piece of art, if you don't have the time for 20 applications, don't apply to 20 schools. (others may disagree with this point, but I'm not a fan of the scattershot approach)
Step 1: Remove any school you would not attend. Don't waste your time with applications to schools you wouldn't go to if accepted, even if your stats are in their range.
Step 2: Make sure each school you are interested in is accepting for your field that year. Some schools will list this on their sites. Sometimes people on here know.
Step 3: If a school is not accepting, take them off your list.
Step 4: Decide if there are certain areas you definitely would not want to live (do you love the city, do you hate the city).
Step 5: Take off any school that is in a location you wouldn't live in.
Step 6: Talk to your significant other about the decision. Tell them your preferences and be open to their preferences maybe they don't want to spend 5 years in Alaska even if the program is great. (Remember they are living there too. While you'll be school a lot they won't be. Don't make their lives terrible for your dream)
Step 7: Take off any school that just doesn't feel right. Trust your gut on this one.
Now that you have your list, you are ready to apply, right? WRONG! (I mean maybe right, it's really situation dependent)
Step 1: Show your list of schools to your references. They've already been through this process, they have great insight into what it takes to get into a program. They also may know someone at a program of interest and be willing to introduce you. Use these people to the extent that they allow you.
Step 2: Oh, yeah, make sure at some point in your decision you got references for your application.
Step 3: Get feedback from current PhD students on your school choices. We do a much better job at answering your questions if you ask us what we think about your shots at schools, X,Y and Z rather than asking us to tell you where to apply. Other students in real life would be a great tool if you know them.
So that's it for this post. Hopefully if you follow these steps you'll have a great list of schools to which you are applying. If things go well you'll be sitting in a seminar woefully underprepared soon enough. As always the views expressed in my posts do not necessarily reflect those of other forum members. If you have an issue regarding anything I said please feel free to comment below. Also remember that these steps are just a guideline for potential future applicants and not all steps will be relevant to all people. Pick what works best for you.