Which b-schools should I apply for? And in what order?
Updated: Sep 28, 2021
I was speaking to an applicant recently and this question came up, and I think it warrants a blog post:
A strong MBA application strategy means deciding the right target schools and applying in the right order. This should be clear before you write a single word of an essay!
How many b-schools should I apply to?
Most applicants target at least 3 schools per round. For most applicants, 6 schools is the limit. Before you say “I’m dedicated, I can apply to more than 6!” remember lesson 1:
The number of schools you can apply to is limited not by your ability to write essays, but by your recommenders’ patience.
Generally, recommenders become even more difficult to manage after 6 recommendations. By the way, there are ways you can make their life easier, (which I’ll write about soon!).
What order should I apply to b-schools?
If you plan to apply to schools over multiple rounds, for example R1 and R2, you’ll want to consider the sequence of your applications. There are two factors that you should balance:
Never apply to a school you wouldn’t accept if it was your only offer in that round. I sometimes see applicants reject an offer from their ‘safety school’ in R1 hoping for better luck in R2, only to regret it later. Mistake. So, apply ambitiously from the get-go!
BUT make sure your first applications are high quality. Another mistake I see often is that applicants don’t take their first applications seriously, hitting a rhythm in R2 and looking back with regret at their less-than-perfect earlier applications.
In an ideal world, all of your offers from schools would arrive at the same time, so you can compare. Unfortunately, life isn’t so simple. Schools deliberately time their responses and deadlines to push applicants to accept offers, even if they may not yet have heard back from competing schools.
To understand why schools do this, put yourself in the admission committee’s shoes: One factor on which business schools are ranked is the percentage of accepted applicants who enrolled. Schools want their offers to be accepted by as many candidates as possible.
Pro-tip: If you have offers from other schools which will lapse before a deadline, call the admission committee and request an early decision.
These negotiations can become complicated. Get in touch with me if you need help.