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Admissions Tip: Making Your List of Business Schools

You’ve decided the MBA is the next stop on your career path. What now? The smartest applicants are those who take the time to create an informed MBA application strategy—a well thought-out game plan that can help you obtain your goals as effectively as possible.

One of the first tasks you’ll need to tackle is school selection: strategically choosing which schools to apply to, while considering how your experience and stats compare to those of current students (or, how “competitive” your application will be at each program).

How many MBA programs should you apply to?

The number of schools you should target depends on how important it is for you to begin an MBA program in the next academic year. Some candidates, often those who are early in their careers, choose to apply only to their 1-3 dream programs, knowing that they would be content to continue working full-time for another year (and continuing to enhance their MBA candidacies) if they are not admitted.

Meanwhile, if your priority is to start an MBA as soon as possible, we recommend applying to 5-7 schools. There’s always an element of unpredictability in the admissions process. No matter how well your background compares to the class profile at your target schools, you can’t count on being admitted to any given program. Applying to a robust number of schools is the best way to ensure that you have the option of starting an MBA on the timeline you want.

What should you consider when deciding where to apply?

MBA programs are designed to facilitate career growth. For some students, this might mean pivoting into a new industry or job function. Others are aiming to accelerate along their current professional trajectories, or launch their own ventures. Whatever your plans, an MBA program’s employment outcomes are a great place to start as you research schools and decide where to apply.

Which schools send the highest percentage of graduates to elite consulting firms? Which have the strongest resources for entrepreneurship?  Consulting MBA program rankings and our Best Business Schools For series can help you get oriented and identify the schools that are most likely to position you to accomplish your post-MBA goals.

Of course, you’ll also be spending two years on a school’s campus and in its larger city, so lifestyle considerations should absolutely be factored in as well.

What kind of “mix” should you aim for with your school list?

Many candidates find it valuable to classify schools into three buckets: reach schools, realistic schools and safety schools.

  • Reach schools are those where your GPA and/or GMAT score, or other elements of your profile, may fall below that of current students (as published in the program’s class profile)
  • Realistic schools are those where your credentials are similar to those of enrolled students
  • Safety schools are those where your credentials compare favorably to those of enrolled students

Applying to at least one school in each of these buckets will help to position you to get into the best possible school your candidacy will allow.

Some may ask, “why bother with reach schools at all?” Well, imagine that you applied only to safety and/or realistic schools and got into all of them. While on the surface this appears like a successful MBA application strategy – but that’s only the case if your mix of schools included the best possible school to reach your goals. If you don’t “reach” for the best program possible, then you’ll never know if it was attainable. Oftentimes, a truly successful application strategy includes one or two rejections along with acceptances at schools where you will thrive.

The final consideration of a comprehensive MBA application strategy is when to apply to your selected schools. Each application involves a good deal of work, and submitting strong applications sometimes involves applying to some schools in Round 1, and others in Round 2.

The Bottom Line

While the answers to the questions above will obviously depend on the individual candidate, one piece of advice applies to all: only apply to schools you would be happy to attend. There’s no value in applying to a school just to get an acceptance letter if the program won’t position you to accomplish your post-MBA career goals.

Once you’ve made your preliminary list, be sure to head to MBA ApplyWire to learn more about other candidates’ application strategies and to receive feedback on your candidacy.

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