Safety Schools and Your MBA Application Strategy

safety schools

The term safety schools gets thrown around quite a bit in MBA admissions. So, applicants need to clearly understand what that term means before they start the business school selection process.

The rule when coming up with a target school list is that you must feel enthusiastic about attending every one of them. That holds true regardless of whether they are dream schools or programs you might consider a safer bet. If you would feel disappointed rather than ecstatic about advancing your career by attending a school, then do not apply. That’s a waste of everyone’s time and your money.

What Exactly are Safety Schools?

A safety school doesn’t mean you will always receive an offer of admission. It means your chances are far greater than at a program with an acceptance rate of 15 percent or lower.

So, to decide what qualifies as a safety school for you, start with the hard data points. As a general guideline, look at intriguing programs where your profile falls within the top 10 percent of admitted students.

Compare your undergraduate GPA, GMAT score, years of work experience, and industry background with accepted applicants reported by the school on their class profile page. If you come from an underrepresented industry, consider that an advantage for your application.

Here’s a foolproof way to decide whether your list should include one or more safety schools. First, determine whether it’s vital for you to go to business school next year. Is the need immediate? If so, then definitely include a range of schools of varying degrees of competitiveness. The application pool fluctuates each year, and all you need is one admit, so spread some risk around.

Or, have you zeroed in on a handful of highly competitive programs that would best advance your professional goals? If you have some flexibility with the timing, it would be better to focus your energies on the GMAT and elevate your profile according to your target programs’ characteristics.

Everyone has different reasons for applying to business school. Your focus may be on networking prospects, the educational experience, geographic location, culture, special programming, or even family tradition. If you’re excited about any of those elements at a school and would be happy to attend for any of those reasons, then consider it, even if it’s a safe choice.

Real-World Scenarios

We had a client who applied to UCLA Anderson School of Management and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Of the two, Stanford is the more competitive “reach” school. But the client was from Los Angeles and would have been happy to go to Anderson, thus making it an excellent selection for a safety school.

Ultimately, he did get into Stanford and chose that school over the full scholarship offer he received from UCLA.

Another client faced the difficult decision of remaining on the waitlist at his dream choice, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, or accepting an offer from UT McCombs School of Business, his safety school, and one he would be happy to attend.

When the waitlist purgatory continued into summer, he decided to withdraw from the Haas waitlist and commit to a sure thing. He became delighted with McCombs as he met his future classmates and weighed the significant financial benefits of in-state tuition.

If you decide to apply to a range of schools, make sure each is a good fit. Also, ensure that your excitement, level of research, and passion for the program come through in your application. Even for the safety schools! The AdCom folks have been at it long enough and can tell when an applicant has lukewarm feelings for them. Any ambivalence is the surest way your safe bet will become a bust.

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