Just One of 4,653 Applicants Trying To Get Into A Top School

I’m a planner. I like to know what’s going to happen. One way I do that is by estimating the chances of something occurring and setting my expectations accordingly. This is especially the case with the nebulous world of business school admissions, as I figure out what my uncertain chances are at getting into somewhere.

As an initial matter, to have a reasonable chance at admission, my entire candidacy has to be competitive (i.e., admissions committee could visualize me attending their school). I believe that’s the case with each school I have applied to, given my grades/scores, work/extracurricular experience, recommendations, reasons for getting an MBA and essays. Plus, I’m not completely socially awkward. So, I think it is more likely that I would get into at least one business school than not. But, you never know until it actually happens. Thus, I thought it would be a reassuring exercise to look at what the admissions statistics alone tell me about my chances.

First, I’ll state the obvious: if someone enrolls at one school, they can’t enroll elsewhere. That’s important, because the admissions process works almost like a trickle-down effect (more like simultaneous decision-making, in game theory parlance). The top applicants may get multiple admission offers, but they can only accept one, which means an unclaimed spot at other schools. Schools know this. That’s why, to yield a right-sized class, schools admit more people than there are planned spots, either during the regular decision cycle – knowing their historic yield rates – or via their controlled waitlist. In any case, I need to make the cut with the total number of seats available among the schools I am planning on applying to.

Turning to the numbers, the six schools I am planning on applying to are looking to fill a total of approximately 3,361 spots (i.e., total number of enrolled students from last year’s application cycle for the Class of 2012).

For each business school that I plan to apply to, the raw data for their incoming two-year MBA Class of 2012 (i.e., for the school year beginning in 2010) is listed below:

School Applied Admitted Enrolled/Yield
MIT (Sloan) 4,782 621 (13%) 335 (54%)
NYU (Stern) 4,501 585 (13%) 392 (67%)
Columbia Business School * 6,666 1,023 (15%) 739 (72%)
UPenn (Wharton) 6,819 1,159 (17%) 817 (70%)
Chicago (Booth) 4,299 945 (22%) 590 (61%)
Northwestern (Kellogg) ** 5,270 1,001 (19%) 588 (59%)
Total 32,337 5,334 3,461


*Includes both January/September two-year MBA intake, but not JD/MBA statistics.

**Includes include both two-year MBA and MMM class, but not JD/MBA statistics.

In addition, Harvard and Stanford are looking to fill another 1,292 or so seats (903 and 389 students enrolled in the Class of 2012, respectively). Although I am not applying to either, many of the people who apply to the schools I am applying to will also be applying to Harvard and/or Stanford. As both schools have a yield rate of about 90%, that indicates that most people who get admitted to one of the two will go, so those schools are relevant to this exercise via their apparent position at the top of the trickle-down admissions pyramid.

So, the fundamental question becomes: Am I one of the top 4,653 (give or take) applicants?

In other words, instead of wondering if I’m among the 13% who get admitted to MIT or NYU or 15% who get admitted to Columbia, I just need to wonder if I’m in the top 4,653 or so applicants. To me, that sounds like a much more reasonable proposition.

There’s a group of applicants out there who would likely be admitted to any school they apply to. I’m probably not in that group, so I hope that group is small and that they all enroll at a school I’m not applying to. I am hopeful that I fall into the next group, which are not automatic “shoe-ins” but would likely excel at any school, given the chance. As long as the size of that group is not greater than the number of available spots at the schools I am applying to, I should get in somewhere.

If I do not get admitted to one school, that means that school has filled up with applicants that aren’t taking any spots at another school, which may open up a spot for me. Also, the above is a “worst-case” scenario, because it does not take into account the possibility that top applicants will choose to attend other peer schools not included in this list (e.g., London Business School, INSEAD, Tuck, Haas, Ross, Fuqua, Darden, UCLA, Cornell, Yale, among others). So, it’s likely that I only need to be among the top five or six thousand applicants. It might end up in a down-to-the-wire admission off of a waitlist, but the raw numbers show that I should get in somewhere.

I’m sure I’ll be looking back at my thought process and data to make sure I’m not missing any major assumptions or details, but for now, I feel more positive about my chance of getting into at least one of the schools I have applied to. By applying to a sufficiently large pool of seats, it increases my chances of making the cut to one of those seats. In the end, I only need to get into one of the schools I’ve applied to (but will gladly accept multiple offers of admissions).

This post is adapted from Just Ship, a blog written by an anonymous MBA applicant who has a GMAT score above 760 and is targeting six or seven of the top ten business schools. You can read all of his posts at Just Ship.

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