As an MBA applicant, you probably wonder what is the "correct" number of b-schools to target. Some individuals believe that there’s only one program for them, while others feel uncomfortable applying to fewer than 6 or 7. Understandably, you want to maximize your chances for admission yet minimize the time and effort required to apply.
To help you determine your target list of MBA programs, answer the following 5 questions:
1. Which schools align best with your background and goals?
Research the published profile of the last few classes at various programs you’re considering. Where do you see the largest percentage of students who came from your academic major and current industry, and who accepted post-MBA jobs at companies that you’d like to join?
2. Which schools are most / least likely to admit you?
Obviously, the more selective the school, the harder it is to get admitted. So, look at the published stats for the most recent admits to see where your GMAT score ranks within the "middle 80%" and where your GPA is reasonably close to the median. While there are exceptions, applicants with a competitive academic profile are more likely to have a chance for success than those whose numbers fall short. You can get a head start on this process by getting a free, expert evaluation of your MBA candidacy.
3. Which schools would you happily and proudly attend if they the only ones to admit you?
Your ultimate goal is "admission" not just "application." So, unless you can envision yourself actually enrolling at a given school if it is the only place that accepts your candidacy, then don’t bother to apply. One of the best ways to determine your comfort with an MBA program is to make a campus visit where you can speak with students, administrators and faculty about your expectations and get a feel for the culture. At the very least, communicate by email or phone with current students.
4. How much time do you have to prepare excellent applications?
Producing an authentic, complete and compelling application takes real effort. And producing multiple recommendations can burn out even the most dedicated recommender. The time you devote to each app means that you have less capacity for other apps, so make each one count. Working with a professional admissions consultant like The MBA Exchange can help you achieve the optimal mix of quality and quantity.
5. Do you want or need merit-based financial aid?
Business schools tend to use scholarships, fellowships, and grants to entice applicants whose profiles would enhance the MBA program’s reputation and ranking. So, the more of a stretch it is for admission, the less likely it is that you’ll be offered merit-based aid from that school. And a five-figure scholarship can make a lower-ranked school suddenly more appealing than paying full freight at a school that’s ranked higher. So, before you include a program on your final target list, consider the impact of receiving or not receiving merit-based financial aid.
One final word of advice. Once you complete your first MBA application and understand the amount of analysis, planning and execution required, you’ll have a much better sense of how many apps you can prepare. So, don’t "over think" the targeting process before you actually get started. Jump in!