SBC Scoop: Selecting the Right Set of Schools

The initial questions we tackle with clients are how many schools and which schools – to apply to.  I am a big believer in the portfolio theory when it comes to MBA applications:  Apply to a reasonable number of schools (somewhere around 4) and make sure they vary in competitiveness.  Of course, they should all be schools you would be excited to attend, but you may include some super reach, dream schools as well as some that are a safer fit.  At the end of the day, all you need is one admit, so spread some risk around.  You never know what a given application pool looks like in a given year at a given school.  There are factors outside of your control, and you need to plan.

This week’s case study focuses on Cynthia, whose experience highlights the importance of appropriate school selection as a first step in your process.   Cynthia was a solid, if not outstanding, candidate and we felt confident that she should be able to secure admission at one or more schools.  She had a 3.2 GPA, 700 GMAT and three years of experience in marketing at a large technology company.  Her extra-curriculars were weak and we spent a lot of time brainstorming areas of passion to highlight for her, so that she could really come alive and stand out.

Cynthia desperately wanted to end up in New York or California, and she was determined to attend a top 15 school.  When she came to us, she had her heart set on Stern at NYU, as she felt it was a good fit for her credentials and the location was obviously right for her.  In fact, she wanted to apply to Stern and only one other west coast school (either UCLA Anderson or UC Berkeley Haas).  We encouraged her to apply to more than two schools.  Many people found her results surprising:

Stern – deny
Columbia – admit
Haas – waitlist/admit
Anderson – waitlist/deny
HBS – waitlist/deny
Stanford – deny
Tuck – waitlist (removed from waitlist)

Cynthia’s first decision was from Stern and that obviously left her very discouraged.  It did, however, encourage her to add additional schools to her list, some even more competitive than Stern.  Ultimately, Cynthia’s results were phenomenal, and things turned out even better than she had hoped.  However, it was a long and rocky, emotional road, spanning a full 12 months.  Her journey highlighted the fact that “all you need is one”, but casting your net a bit wider can help you to get that one (or two) admits.

To read more SBC Case Studies, click HERE.

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