It’s never smart to put all your eggs in one basket – aim too high and you may be left with nowhere to go, aim too low and you might get acceptances to schools that aren’t quite right for you. For the highest chances of getting in AND for the best MBA experience, you need to evaluate your competitiveness and apply to the best MBA programs for you, spread out over the following three categories: reasonable reaches, on-pars, and safety schools.
Defining Our Terms
Reasonable reaches: These are the schools for which your acceptance is unlikely but possible, especially with an impressive application.
On-pars: You are competitive at these schools and with a great application, you have a solid chance of getting in.
Safeties: You will likely be admitted to these programs if you present your case credibly.
How Competitive Are You?
How do you determine which schools fall under these three categories, when a safety school for one applicant could be a reasonable reach for another, and vice versa? Looking at the rankings, class profiles, and application requirements will help you figure out which schools are harder or easier to get into, but none of this matters without comparing those stats and figures to your own personal admissions profile.
Let’s take a look at the following categories:
1. GPA & GMAT
How do your stats stack up when compared to the mid 75-80% of students at a given program?
To gain a status of a safety school, you’ll want to fall into the top one-third of this range; to be considered an on-par, you’ll need to make it to the mid-third; and if you’re in the lower third, then this school would be a reasonable reach for you.
The next factor to consider is your work experience, both qualitatively and quantitatively.
Top tier programs – perhaps those on your reasonable reach list – will want high quality work experience where you can show advancement, impact, and leadership relative to your accomplished peers, regardless of your function, industry, or organization. These top programs will turn down applicants with near-perfect stats if they lack the requisite professional accomplishment.
The number of years you’ve worked is also important: having fewer than three or more than eight years of work experience may make you less competitive.
This is another factor to consider when weighing your competitiveness – your demographic group. This includes the global region/country you’re from, your cultural background, and your industry.
Some demographic profiles are overrepresented in b-school admissions (for example, Indian IT males) so if you have this “label,” you’ll need to sharpen your competitive edge (even more than usual) if you’re applying to reasonable reaches. But that doesn’t mean that applicants from underrepresented groups are a shoo-in at these schools – if you can’t handle the program, you won’t get in, no matter how unique your personal background is.
A Fourth Category: Out-of-Reaches
There’s a fourth category that we didn’t mention: the out-of-reaches. While it’s true that you should never say never and that nothing is impossible, we generally believe that there are much better ways of spending your time, money, and energy than applying to these super-hard-to-get-into (for you) programs.
As you research and visit MBA programs, determine how qualified and competitive you are for them. Then draft a list of reasonable reaches, on-parts, and safeties to apply to. And then apply with confidence knowing that you’re applying to an amazing mix of schools for you.
Having trouble choosing the best programs for you? Grab your free copy of Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One, an exclusive Accepted admissions guide that will help you hand-pick the ideal MBA programs for YOU.