By Linda Abraham, founder and president of Accepted.com
You've worked really hard to build a strong profile. You know you're top b-school quality, but even the most confident and impressive of candidates aren't guaranteed acceptance at Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. Many of you – those who really want to start their MBA next fall – should have backups, or safety schools, schools for which you are highly competitive and that are strong in your area of interest, but that are not as highly regarded overall.
Here are a few factors to consider when deciding whether to apply to safety schools and which ones to choose.
1. If you don't get into your top choice school and do gain acceptance to your safety school, will you attend?
If your answer is no, and you'd rather wait a year and reapply to your top choice program, then there's really no reason to waste your time and money applying to safety schools. Safety schools are really only for people who, if rejected from their top choices would be happy to attend their safeties. Older applicants may fall into this category, as well as other applicants who just don't want to wait until next year or go through the grueling application process again.
2. Next, can you find a safety school that meets your criteria?
As mentioned above, just like your top choice b-schools, your safety schools need to support your goals. Don't just choose a backup school simply because it's "the next best." Think about what you want to do after you get your degree – will this program help set you out on that path? Furthermore, your safety schools needs to teach you the material you're seeking to learn in the manner in which you're seeking to learn it. Do your safety school's recruiting strengths and teaching methods (lecture, project, case) match your learning style?
3. Finally, will you be happy at this school?
Have you always dreamed of going to a b-school in a large urban center? If so, then maybe your safety school should be in a large metropolis and not in a small college town even if the latter is somewhat more highly ranked. You know yourself best – if you won't be happy out in the boondocks, then don't apply to a small town or country school. Furthermore, if your safety school doesn't offer the types of clubs, societies, and social life that you're seeking, then it's not for you.
So, should YOU apply to a safety school? As always, the answer to this is a resounding "It depends." If you are an all-or-nothing type of person who won't settle for anything less than the top ten, then you may as well not bother applying elsewhere. But then again, if you're this type of person, then you better be prepared to spend another year working if you need to reapply next year. If, on the other hand, you will be content at a school that's not in your personal Top X, then you should go ahead and apply to a safety school (or two). If your heart is set on attending business school next term, then your safety school will serve as the proper insurance to get you there.
Not sure how to choose the right b-schools for you? Download Accepted.com's free special report, Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One, to help you decide where to apply.
Accepted.com, the premier admissions consultancy and essay editing company, has helped applicants around the world gain admissions to over 450+ top schools since 1994.