Strategizing Your Business School List

Now is the time to start preparing and strategizing for Round 1 MBA applications. If you plan to start an MBA program in the Fall of 2017, you will want to submit your applications before the first-round deadlines in September and October, which means you will spend this summer working on your essays and other materials. Before you can start, however, you need to decide where to apply.

When strategizing your business school list, you should begin by looking at the top 50 schools as ranked by US News and World Report, The Economist, and Bloomberg Businessweek. For a summary on rankings, deadlines, average scores, application requirements, and information exclusively for international students, reference our Business School Application Planner.

Next, you need to be aware that the range of acceptance rates for the top 50 MBA programs is expensive, ranging from about 7% (Stanford) to 53% (Brigham Young) with the average around 25%.

With rare exception, students who apply to MBA programs have strong transcripts and persuasive reasons for attending. The average applicant will receive only one acceptance for every four applications.

For international students, the process is even more competitive. Often times, an admissions office will have one reader assigned to evaluating all applications from a specific region. Thus, international students are competing against students from the same country or region. What does this mean? International applicants must be extremely thorough and strategic in researching school fit before finalizing their school list.

So, how do you decide where to apply?

You can start by ignoring the rankings. Think about the kind of environment you prefer. Do you want to experience the vibrancy of New York at a school like Stern (NYU) or Columbia, or enjoy the mountainous tranquility of Tuck (Dartmouth)? Is weather a consideration? Last fall, I worked with an applicant who rode horses every day, an activity that she used for exercise as well as serious introspection. As she needed a program with access to stables, geography played a crucial role in building her school list.

Does the school size matter? The biggest programs—Harvard Business School and Wharton—offer dozens of electives for second year students, whereas the smaller schools do not. With 800-900 classmates, you are sure to increase your network substantially and find new friends. That being said, you are also a bit less likely to meet most of your classmates and will probably get less personalized attention from faculty and staff. At programs like Fisher (Ohio State) and Mendoza (Notre Dame), which enroll 120-150 students per class, you will know everyone by name, have an easier time building relationships with professors, and you may even find that the alumni network is stronger. When deciding where to apply, you should think about how you learn best and whether you will thrive in small or large classes.

Next up: career goals. Though you can get a job in any industry after earning an MBA, different programs have different strengths:

  • If you are interested in energy, you should apply to Jones (Rice University).
  • If you are interested in tech, you should add Ross (Michigan) to your list.
  • Smith (Maryland) is top-ranked for student satisfaction. Students even obtain real world experience by helping manage the university’s endowment fund.
  • Olin (Babson) consistently ranks near the top of the list of entrepreneurial programs.

Your school list needs to align with your career goals!

After you finish this initial evaluation phase, your list may still be too long. Now is the time to check out the schools’ websites. Spend a few minutes looking at each one to get a sense of the student environment. What courses are required? Does the program’s mission align with your interests and character? Are there various clubs and other organizations? Can students walk across campus and take classes at other schools in the university?

When building your business school list, be sure to include a range of competitiveness. You should include three kinds of schools: reach schools, schools that seem like a good fit for your grades and scores, and a couple of “safety” schools that should accept you based on your academic record and accomplishments.

For more information about how to build your business school list, ask our business school admissions experts—Former Admissions Officers from the top MBA programs.

Check here the upcoming MBA application deadlines of top universities for 2017 intake.