Reach Schools: Increasing Your Acceptance Odds

Reach Schools: Increasing Your Acceptance Odds

It’s critical to have a strategy when selecting which business schools to apply to. Typically, applicants will apply to a mix of safety, target, and reach schools to better their odds.

“Most candidates feel overwhelmed with applying to more than the average of four or five schools,” Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, says. “Therefore, it’s crucial to think strategically about school selection and develop a competitive mix of MBA programs to target.”

But how do you go about deciding which schools are “safety” and which are “reach” on your list? Ilana Kowarski, a reporter for US News, recently broke down what you need to know about reach schools, and what it takes to get into one.


A reach school is generally defined as a B-school where some of your qualifications—whether GPA or test scores—fall below the average for admitted students.

Prospective students may lack certain accomplishments and experiences, such as impressive extracurricular activities and a track record of leadership, that are typically necessary for acceptance at these institutions,” Kowarski explains.

A big misconception that applicants have about reach schools is that they don’t have what it takes to get in—when in reality, they do.

“It’s common for MBA applicants to misidentify programs as reach schools based on inaccurate assumptions about admissions criteria,” Kowarski says. “Sometimes a personal feature that a candidate perceives as a disadvantage in the admissions process is not viewed as such by admissions officers, who may describe that trait as a plus.”


If you’re applying to a reach school with below average test scores or a low GPA, your best bet is to be upfront about your weaknesses in your application.

“For instance, someone who had a personal crisis during college that made it hard to focus on school can provide context on this issue in an optional essay or application addendum,” Kowarski says. “Similarly, someone who had an issue at a testing center while taking an entrance exam can explain this to admissions officers.”

Additionally, experts say, it can help to demonstrate other areas where you’ve excelled.

“Think about why a challenge would concern the admission committee and provide evidence to overcome the concern,” Melissa Rapp, associate dean of graduate admissions at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, says. “For example, if you have a low undergraduate GPA the committee may worry about your academic ability or your commitment to learning. Provide examples of your mental abilities through your work experience and directly address a lack of focus when you were younger, what you learned, and ways you have shown commitment more recently.”

Sources: US News, Stacy Blackman Consulting

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