The Most Selective MBA Programs

When you’re looking at metrics to compare the best business schools against each other, one of the best indicators of quality is the number of applicants a school accepts and rejects. After the average GMAT score, there are some observers who believe that the percentage of applicants accepted is the most important sign of quality for a school.

These numbers show that despite a slight decline in applications over the past year, it’s still extremely hard to get into a very good business school. Stanford, as it has for decades, leads the pack in selectivity. In putting together the Class of 2011, it accepted  a mere 6.5% of those who applied.

There are some very big surprises in this list of the best. Who would have thought, for example, that the University of California at Davis–a school that has never made it into a top 25 list–is more selective than many of the very best schools, such as Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Davis accepts just 21% of its applicants, versus Fuqua’s 30.3%.

Other big surprises? The business schools at Texas A&M University and the University of Florida are more selective than the University of Chicago’s Booth School. Sure, the differences are miniscule–just fractions better than Chicago–but it’s completely counter intuitive given the quality of Chicago’s business school.

School Percentage Accepted Average GMAT
1. Stanford 6.5% 726
2. Berkeley (Haas) 11.0% 718
3. Harvard 12.2% 719
4. MIT (Sloan) 14.2% 711
5. NYU (Stern) 14.5% 717
6. Columbia 14.9% 713
7. UPenn (Wharton) 16.9% 718
8. Yale 18.0% 715
9. Dartmouth (Tuck) 18.8% 712
10. Northwestern (Kellogg) 19.5% 706
11. California-Davis 21.0% 684
12. USC (Marshall) 22.0% 690
13. Cornell (Johnson) 22.3% 700
14. Texas A&M (Mays) 22.7% 652
15. Michigan (Ross) 23.4% 701
16. Texas-Austin (McCombs) 23.4% 681
17. Georgia Institute of Tech 23.6% 684
18. Florida (Hough) 24.6% 684
19. Chicago (Booth) 24.8% 714
20. UCLA (Anderson) 25.0% 711
21. Virginia (Darden) 25.4% 701
22. Connecticut 26.0% 621
23. Georgia (Terry) 26.0% 646
24. Arizona State (Carey) 27.0% 673
25. Calif.-Irvine (Merage) 27.2% 675

Data: Provided by schools for the Class of 2011

Why are there such discrepancies? The most common reason is location. A high percentage of applicants choose where to apply on the basis of where they want to live. That’s why the California schools do so well. It’s a highly desirable place to live and learn so it draws an exceptionally large pool of applicants. The same is true of New York, where the beneficiaries are New York University and Columbia University.

Another reason for some of the surprises has to do with self-selection. The average GMAT and GPA scores at the best schools are so high that they keep many applicants who aren’t quite in that league away. The result: fewer overall applicants. At the same time, some schools that rarely rank among the top 25 schools are heavily marketing their programs to get the highest possible number of applicants.

How do some of the best non-U.S. schools compare on these stats? London Business School, ranked number one among non-U.S. schools, compares favorably on this measure. Last year, LBS accepted just 17.6% of its applicants which would put it just behind The Wharton School and ahead of Yale’s School of Management. INSEAD does not reveal its selectivity number. In a recent interview with BusinessWeek, the admissions director for IE Business School in Spain, the fourth highest ranking school outside the U.S., accepts about 31% of those who apply to its full-time MBA program.