3 Steps to Choosing How Many B-Schools to Apply To (and Some Exceptions)

Posted by The MBA Tour on 25 February 2014 / 0 Comments

By Linda Abraham, President & Founder, Accepted.com

How do you decide which and how many business schools to apply to?

The first thing you should know is that there are no hard and fast rules, and that nothing is set in stone. You may decide on one number today, and then at the last minute, decide not to send off one of your applications, or to apply Round 2 to three more schools. And that’s okay. In this article, we will discuss choosing an appropriate number of MBA programs to apply to, understanding that the application process is dynamic and that things may change.

That being said, don’t be mistaken in thinking that choosing the number of schools to apply to just happens. If you want to apply in an organized fashion, then you should make choosing the number of b-schools to apply to a real step in the pre-application process, and complete that step in an organized fashion.

Let’s walk through this step-by-step:

  1. Assess your needs and wants to come up with a list of target programs. This can be a long list; just make sure that each school on the list is a good fit for you
  2. Divide those target programs into three categories: reasonable reaches, on-pars, and safety schools. You should have a pretty good idea of which categories your schools fall into based on your profile – your GMAT score, transcripts, work experience, etc. Now you should have three slightly shorter lists of schools
  3. Narrow down your three lists so you have a total of 5-8 programs. A “typical” applicant will probably apply to 2-3 reasonable reaches, 2-3 on-pars, and 1-2 safeties. This way, so long as you make an effective case in each of your applications, you have a decent possibility of gaining acceptance at a reach school, a likely acceptance at one of the on-pars on your list, and a definite acceptance at the safety school.

Now, you ask: What happens if I’m not a “typical” student? Are there cases where I should apply to more or less than your suggested 5-8 schools?

Of course there are always exceptions:

  • The older applicant: The older you get, the closer you move to EMBA territory. If you’re up there in age, apply to as many programs as you can manage to ensure that you get in this year.
  • The fairly young applicant: It may not make sense to take off two years this early in your career, unless you’re heading to one of your very top choices. Apply to 1-3 schools; if you don’t get in this year, then you can reapply next year and get some more work experience.
  • The geographically unsettled applicant: You’re not sure where you want to live for the next few years. Apply to more schools to cover more ground so you can make a decision about location when you’re ready.
  • The busy applicant: There’s a looming deadline and you’re pressed for time – choose a smaller number of applications to complete to ensure that you deliver quality rather than quantity.
  • The brand-driven applicant: If you’re a Harvard or bust type of person, and know that you will only go to b-school if it is one of your top three choices, and each of those three choices are reaches or on-pars, then you may as well save yourself the trouble of applying to any safety schools. In general, don’t waste your time applying to any schools that you know you’ll never actually attend.

Linda Abraham, president & founder of Accepted.com, the premier admissions consultancy & essay editing company, has helped applicants around the world gain admissions to 450+ top schools since 1994. She is the co-author of MBA Admission for Smarties.


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