Your MBA Application Strategy – How Many Schools?

Applying for an MBA is time consuming, as well as stressful.  How many schools should you apply to? Is it even worth it to go to a “lesser” school’s MBA program?  Will a mid-tier or even lower-tier school help you get to where you want to go?  How many applications are average?  What is the best possible strategy before you enter a land of diminished returns?

In my opinion, the most important thing an MBA candidate can do is plan and structure their application strategy.  By this I mean, decide upfront if you only want to apply to the top-tier U.S. MBA programs (Kellogg, Booth, Wharton, HBS, NYU Stern, MIT Sloan, and Columbia) and if you don’t get in, reevaluate again for next round or next year….or not.  OR, if you would actually be pretty pleased at a mid-tier or even lower-tier school, and if a degree from those MBA programs will truly meet your future professional needs.

I’ve had students who’ve done it both ways:  some only want to go to the top MBA programs and if they don’t get in they would rather stay on their current course at their company, and perhaps get a few more years of work experience and promotion under their belt before trying again, or simply try to move up without an MBA degree.

Others, simply want to go to any MBA program that will have them, as their trust is more in the MBA degree itself than the actual school.  They simply want the degree.

Which is the right choice?

In my opinion, if you have the credentials, and especially if you’re in the Finance Industry, the top programs are the only way to go. HBS, Wharton, Booth, and Kellogg, if you can get in, and this goes double if you’re an investment professional and intend to work in a large city like New York.  The top schools are key in the Northeast region for advancement.  A low-range school isn’t going to help you much if your dream is to quickly climb to the top of your field at Morgan Stanley or Deloitte.

However, you may not only be able to get by with a mid or lower range school if you want to set down roots in another region of the country  = it might actually HELP you.

For example, say you have family and want to stay in Tennessee, Atlanta, or North Carolina.  The Southern schools (Fuqua, Darden, Emory and Vanderbuilt) are going to serve you better in my opinion, than even the Top Ten schools in the NE, because your network, opportunities, and alumni connections in that particular region of the country are going to be that much stronger.

So, what do you do?  First, decide where you want to be.  In the NYC, shoot for the top.  In the South, head for the regional schools, out West in Silicon Valley? Stanford or any of the other Top Ten are key (along with UCLA Anderson).  The Midwest?  Ross is a great mid-tier selection. Tailor your school choice during this application stage to your long-term location goals.  It may actually give you even more opportunity than you realized.

Oh, and how many schools should you apply to?  If you’re open to not limiting yourself to top-tier, spread it out so you’ll increase your overall chances, applying to some from each level: top-tier, mid-tier, low-tier.  I would also think about applying to 5-6 schools.  Remember, you don’t have to make a choice until you actually get in, which I sincerely hope you do!

[I’m a former Harvard interviewer and a Harvard graduate, and I currently run the MBA admissions firm MBA IVY LEAGUE, out of Manhattan.  Like more information?  Please fill out my contact form and request more info, today: www.MBAIvyLeague.com]