One of the most frequent questions we get from our clients and those who ask us for their odds of MBA admission is “How many schools should I apply to?” School selection – both the quantity and tier – is an incredibly important part of one’s application strategy and one that all applicants should invest a good amount of time considering early in the process.
Categories of Schools
We recommend that you think of school selection like building a portfolio of personal investments. By investing your time in a number of different schools across different categories, you can decrease the esoteric risk of being denied at any individual school, pit financial aid offers against one another, and ultimately make a more informed final selection. For this reason, we recommend applying to no fewer than six schools, two from each of the following categories:
Your stretch schools are your dream schools. These are the kinds of schools that you would drop everything and pay double price to go to if you could simply because their prestige, network, resources, and education would have an absolutely transformative effect on your career trajectory. The trouble is that these schools are normally difficult to get to for anybody and your admissions profile puts you in a rather uncompetitive camp. You should still apply to these schools! The admissions committee will still read your application. They are people too, and if you have a personal narrative that moves them or stops them cold, they may fight to make space in the class for you depending on the depth of the rest of the applicant pool.
Adding these schools to your portfolio is like buying the stock of risky tech companies. If things go well, the payoff is unbelievable. Plus, if you didn’t apply but later found out that you would have been admitted, wouldn’t you kick yourself about it? Personally, I would always rather the school say no to me, than for me to say no to myself. You can apply to these schools as a Hail Mary on your own at the end of the cycle, or if you want better odds you can engage with a consultant who has specific expertise at that school (much like how we do for HBS).
These are schools that you would be delighted to attend and where your profile is a little more competitive (e.g. two or more of the following is true: your undergraduate institution is better represented in the student body, your GPA is at or above average, your GMAT is at or above average, or your current employer is a major recruiter at the school). These are the schools that you are realistically targeting and which you will spend the majority of your time (either on your own or with a consultant) working on.
A grab school is not a safety school. It is a school where you would want to do, where your profile is competitive in most or all of the categories previously mentioned, but where your odds are still less than 50%. They are there for you to grab, if you can. Adding Grab schools to your portfolio does two things. First, if you’re sure that now is the right time to go to business school, helps give you the certainty that you will get in somewhere. Second, because you are a more desirable candidate to Grab schools, they will likely be more generous to you in financial aid. Suddenly if the cost of tuition for a grab school is 50-75% less than a Reach school, you’ll be a lot more excited about them. Also, getting money from one Grab school can help you in negotiating financial aid offers from other schools, but more on that at another time.
Run the analysis
Let’s run the numbers. If we believe that a person’s profile gives them a conservative baseline chance of admissions of 15% for Stretch schools, 25% for Reach Schools, and 40% for Grab schools (and for the sake of argument that there is negligible covariance between the applications), then the odds of being admitted to at least one school are the following:
Portfolio of 4 Schools: 1 Stretch, 2 Reach, 1 Grab – 70%
Portfolio of 6 Schools: 2 Stretch, 2 Reach, 2 Grab – 84%
Portfolio of 8 Schools: 2 Stretch, 3 Reach, 3 Grab – 93%
Which schools fit into each of these categories will depend on the unique admissions profile of the individual student. If you want our help in sorting, feel free to get your odds here.