You’ve done the hard work of assessing your profile and weighing what is most important to you in a b-school; now it’s time to determine which MBA programs you’re competitive at, and which ones might be too far out of reach.
Here are some helpful categories for breaking this down:
Safety: As long as you present a good application, you are likely to be admitted. Your qualifications are somewhat above average for that program.
Competitive: With a great application, you have a solid chance of an acceptance. Your stats put you on par with the school’s averages.
Stretch: With your profile, acceptance is not likely – but with a stellar application and a little luck, it’s possible.
Out-of-reach: Even though nothing is impossible, you may want to reconsider the time and money you will spend applying to a program that is highly unlikely to admit you.
What do those words mean in terms of the probability of acceptance? If you’re a numbers guy/gal, you may want some numbers!
I would love to give you concrete, credible numbers – if there was solid data. But there isn’t. I can, however, give you numerical guidelines that reflect my assessment over 20 years in MBA admissions and acknowledge the schools’ different acceptance rates.
Here are the guidelines:
Safety: Twice the school’s acceptance rate up to 99%
Competitive: The school’s acceptance rate
Stretch: Half the school’s overall acceptance rate
Out-of-reach: 25% of the school’s overall acceptance rate
Now let’s return to your profile assessment. Your strength as a candidate depends on several factors:
GPA and GMAT/GRE: How do your stats measure up against the middle 75-80% of admitted students in your target program? If you’re in the higher third of this range, you’re competitive; the middle third, you’re qualified, but a stretch; and if you’re in the lower third of the range, you’re reaching.
Work experience: Consider both the quantity and quality of your experience. When you’re applying to competitive MBA programs, it’s important to show advancement, leadership, and impact – whatever your function or industry. Top-tier programs are looking for this high level professional accomplishment, and without it – even if you have great stats – you’ll be less competitive. In terms of the quantity of experience, if you have less experience than average for students in your target program, or much more (for example, if you have fewer than three or more than eight years of work experience), you may be less competitive as an applicant.
Demographics: Being part of a group that is under- or overrepresented in the applicant pool – such as an overrepresented industry, demographic group, or global region/country – also has an impact. If you’re part of an underrepresented group, you may add a unique perspective that the program is looking for. If you’re part of an overrepresented group (for example, Indian applicants with an IT background), you may have to dig a little deeper to show the experiences that make you stand out – your stats alone are unlikely to get you in at elite programs.
Evaluate your profile against each program’s criteria (most programs state their criteria). Are you qualified? Can you show fit? Note that “qualified” means you meet the program’s standards – you can be fully qualified, but not really show fit. Showing fit is a higher and more complex bar, considering not only the ubiquitous stats, but also the character and values of the program and your holistic profile. As you evaluate which programs are safeties, competitive, stretches, and out-of-reaches, make sure you demonstrate that you are qualified and that you show that elusive fit.
An MBA is one of the most significant investments you can make in your future – that’s why planning ahead and applying to the right mix of schools is so important. But how can you proceed purposefully if you’re worried sick about your score or GPA? Watch Get Accepted to B-School with Low Stats to access the tools you need to mitigate low stats and make a positive case for MBA admission!
Linda Abraham is the founder of Accepted, the premier admissions consultancy. She has coached MBA applicants to acceptance for over 20 years. The Wall Street Journal, US News, and Poets & Quants are among the media outlets that seek her admissions expertise.