The school selection process is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when considering an MBA degree. Whether you aim for Round 2 (or 3) this season or are laying the foundation for a future application cycle, give ample consideration regarding which programs will dominate your waking thoughts over the coming months.
The MBA application process takes up a huge amount of time and effort. Most candidates feel overwhelmed with applying to more than the average of four or five schools. Therefore, it’s crucial to think strategically about school selection and develop a competitive mix of MBA programs to target.
Dream or “Reach” Business Schools
The majority of candidates who apply to the leading business schools are bright, personable overachievers. They would be an asset to any program. However, each year we see excellent candidates prematurely take themselves out of the running for some of the top schools.
Certain programs, such as Stanford GSB and Wharton, have single-digit acceptance rates. Literally, thousands of highly qualified applicants get turned down each year. But if you don’t even give yourself a chance at admission, you may always wonder, “What if…” Is there anything worse?
B-school is an ambitious dream. So, shoot for the stars, or you might regret not trying.
While the process is extremely competitive, you shouldn’t count yourself out before the game even begins. That’s why we recommend people ask themselves the following questions. Is getting an MBA degree your top goal? Or, is getting an MBA from a specific school what really matters most?
If you’d truly feel at peace with never getting an MBA if you didn’t get into School X, then you can move forward by focusing all of your efforts solely on your dream school or schools.
A word of advice, though. If your test scores are much lower than the average at your dream school, give the GMAT or GRE another shot. Also, start thinking about explaining your academic weaknesses and highlighting the unique strengths you would bring to the classroom setting. In any case, come decision time, it’s important to remain realistic.
An acceptance to Harvard Business School or Wharton would thrill almost any applicant. But you’re going to have to balance what school you want to attend with where you can actually get in. Start with the hard data points. As a general guideline, take a look at MBA programs you like where your profile falls within the top 10 percent of admitted students.
Compare your undergraduate GPA, GMAT/GRE score, years of work experience, and industry with accepted applicants reported by the school on their class profile page. If your industry is underrepresented, consider that an advantage for your application.
Research the schools, make sure you know what’s important to you, and figure out which ones fit well for you.
Remember the Golden Rule of MBA admissions—only apply to schools you would be thrilled to attend.
If you work in an industry that typically makes up a bigger portion of the applicant pool, such as investment banking or consulting, make sure within your application that you think beyond your obvious achievements and differentiate yourself through your essays and interviews by picking memorable and unique stories and experiences.
Safety schools don’t mean bad or less desirable schools—they’re simply a more obvious fit with your numbers and profile. A good way to determine whether your list should include safety schools is by asking yourself how important it is for you to go to business school next year.
Maybe you have a compelling reason you need to exit your job and make a move to grad school ASAP. If so, including safety schools among your targets is a smart strategy. If the need is immediate, 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!
It’s important to stay pragmatic and align your expectations with the MBA programs that match your particular profile. This is doubly true if your GMAT score isn’t through the roof or your career trajectory has stalled out.
Remember, though, you’re still not guaranteed an offer of admission. When your school selection includes “safety” options, that merely means your chances are far greater than at a program with an acceptance rate of 15 percent or lower.
In the end, we can’t overemphasize how important it is to really be yourself in your application. That’s the best way to find the school that is right for you. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not uncommon to be admitted into a more highly-ranked program and denied by a seemingly less competitive one.
That’s because the MBA admissions process is not only about numbers – it’s about numbers and experiences and personalities and fit.