Savvy MBA Application Strategy: How Many, Which Schools, and When to Apply

MBA Application Strategy

You’ve decided the MBA is the next stop on your career path. What now? The smartest applicants are those who take the time to create an informed MBA application strategy—a well thought-out game plan that can help you obtain your goals as efficiently and effectively as possible.

One of the first challenges you’ll face is school selection—strategically choosing which schools to target, bearing in mind the competitive mix of those schools.

In recent years, MBA applicants appear to be trending downward in terms of the total number of schools to which they apply. Research we have undertaken on data from MBA DecisionWire suggests that candidates now typically apply to about five programs. You can also explore MBA ApplyWire to learn more about other candidates application strategies.

“A combination of factors could be at play here,” suggests Alex Brown, a consultant to Clear Admit who spent years working in MBA admissions at Wharton. “More information is now available about schools, so it is easier for candidates to determine which are truly target schools, rather than the more shotgun approach of yesteryear,” he says. “The complicated nature of the application, engaging recommenders and so forth, may also be encouraging applicants to really refine their school list before applying.”

Making Your List

So what types of schools should make up the list a candidate ultimately applies to? While the answer will obviously depend on the individual candidate, one piece of advice applies to all. “Remember: Only apply to schools you would be absolutely happy to attend,” says Brown. “There is no value in applying to a school just to get an acceptance letter if it’s not a school that will help you reach your goals.”

With that main tenet as a guide, many candidates find it valuable to classify schools into three buckets: reach schools, realistic schools and safety schools. Applying to at least one school in each of these buckets helps position a candidate to get into and ultimately attend the best possible school her candidacy will allow.

Say you apply to all safety and/or realistic schools and gain admission to every school. While on the surface this appears like a successful MBA application strategy, that is only true if your mix of schools included the best possible school to reach your goals. “If you only apply to ‘realistic’ schools, you will never know if you could have achieved something that you presumed was beyond your reach,” Brown points out. Therefore, a truly successful application strategy often includes one or two rejections along with acceptances at schools where you will thrive.

The final consideration of a comprehensive MBA application strategy is when to apply to your selected schools. That is, what admissions round should you target for which schools and why. More on that in an upcoming post, so stay tuned.

This article has been edited and republished with permissions from Clear Admit.

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