Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, Wharton and other top business schools have become so competitive that none can be called a target anymore, even if you have a 3.9 from Stanford, a high GMAT score and stellar work experience. As an MBA applicant, you may have heard that you should apply to some stretch schools, target schools and likely, or safety, schools.
What does this mean and how do you go about it? In today’s super-competitive MBA application process, it’s a good idea to do your research to figure out where you stand so you can make an informed decision about which MBA programs are stretches, targets or likely schools for you.
Start with a broad list at first – maybe 15 or more – so you don’t eliminate too many right at the beginning. Then once you’ve narrowed them down more – maybe 8 to 10 – start compiling a list of how many are stretch, target or likely for YOU.
How do I know which are stretch or reach schools?
One of the first rules of thumb with the top ten business schools is that they are essentially stretches for EVERYONE. Yes, even you with the 770 GMAT.
For example, Berkeley Haas denies close to 60% of candidates with a 750 or higher GMAT score. So as you make up the list of schools you will apply to, put every top ten school in the stretch list. Beyond these top schools, a stretch school is one where your GPA and GMAT are on the low end of the 80% ranges the schools report. In some cases, you’ll only see an average GPA reported so use that as your barometer. If your GMAT and/or GPA are way below the average, that school is a stretch for you.
Also, consider your number of years of work experience. If you are significantly over or under the school’s average number of years, that puts you at a disadvantage in the applicant pool. This is particularly true if you are only a year or two out of college, as schools now are looking for candidates who can share significant work experiences with their classmates. If this is you, consider waiting a year or two to become a stronger applicant.
Which schools are target schools for me?
Target schools for you are schools where your stats fall within that school’s reported ranges. For example, if you are applying to NYU Stern with a 3.4 GPA and a 700 GMAT, it may be a target school for you since the 80% GMAT range is 650-760 and the GPA range is 3.10 to 3.87.
Remember that you are also compared to others within your demographic, so if you are well outside the range of your own demographic, even if your numbers fall within the school’s range, it will be harder for you to gain admission. These numbers are not broadly distributed so it’s more difficult for applicants to learn. For example, women typically have slightly lower average GMAT scores and candidates from regions that emphasize standardized test taking, such as Indian nationals, generally have higher GMAT scores.
Knowing which schools are likely, or safety, schools
MBA programs that you are likely to get into are those where your stats fall above their 80% GMAT range and well above the average GPA. For example, someone with a 3.6 GPA and a 750 GMAT could consider UNC Kenan-Flagler a likely school since its 80% GMAT range is 640-740 and average GPA is 3.4. Of course, even likely schools are not a guarantee if you haven’t answered some key questions in your application, including why you need an MBA, why now, and why at that school.
So now that you have your list of schools and which are stretch, target or likely, you should apply to a mix of each. If you do six applications, perhaps apply to two stretch, two target and two likely. Many applicants switch to three (or more) stretch, one or two target and one likely. Do what feels right to you, but without a likely school or two in the mix, there’s a chance that you’ll wind up empty-handed when decisions come in. Sometimes applicants spread their applications across rounds, doing stretch and target MBA programs in Round 1 while being prepared to apply to an additional target as well as likely schools in Round 2.
Remember to consider YOUR list of stretch/target/likely schools, not your friend’s or co-worker’s list. Georgetown University may be on your target list but your friend’s stretch list. It’s not where the school is in the rankings but where YOU stand in relation to that school.
Jennifer Jackson is an MBA Admissions Consultant at Stratus Admissions Counseling. Jennifer’s background includes four years at Edelman Public Relations, where she focused on communication strategies. After completing her MBA, Jennifer joined Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting firm.