How many schools should I apply to?

Dec 15, 2009
Tags: Admissions Process, Applications, B-School, Choosing the Right School, School Selection

Written by Angel J. Burgos, Director, MBA Programs, School of Management, George Mason University

Take time to define realistic career goals and learn as much as you can about the career or job you wish to pursue. Then, all of the decisions you face in applying to an MBA program will be easier and more focused. Ideally, you should begin researching business schools at least a year before you apply. 

First, determine whether you want to attend a full-time, part-time, or executive MBA program. The next step is to determine whether you prefer to remain in a particular region or if you are open to moving to any part of the globe. A part-time student choosing to continue to work full time at an existing job usually has a limited number of geographic options and probably should pursue all of them. Because time scheduling is so crucial to completion of a part-time MBA, you want to be sure that the school’s schedule will fit with your personal and professional obligations. No matter how good the program, it won’t matter if you can’t make class or you can’t pay the tuition. 

Applying for a full-time MBA program presents different challenges. Most students pursuing a full-time degree are committed to attending the best program they can get into and apply to a wide range of MBA programs, including one or two “safety” schools. If you are focused on a particular graduate program, then you should concentrate all of your efforts on meeting the admissions standards for that school—and research those standards thoroughly. If you may need to retake the GMAT to boost your scores for admission, build that into your planning. 

Admission is based on a combination of academic, professional, and leadership factors. To gain a comprehensive assessment of an applicant’s career goals and knowledge, business schools typically require on-campus interviews. 

Applying to full-time business school, therefore, is time consuming and expensive. Applying to more than 10 schools is overkill. If you have done a thorough job researching business programs, you’ve probably found only a handful of programs that meet your needs and interests. Typically, you should apply to about six schools that you have carefully considered and for which you have carefully crafted your application package—especially your essays and recommendations. 

Most accredited schools offer high quality MBA educations, so you can’t go far wrong. The key to selecting your best fit is to understand each program’s strengths, curriculum content, program culture, and student services. Do your program homework and query admissions officials based on that homework—asking questions without doing due diligence is likely to leave an unfortunate impression of your professionalism and commitment. 

If you want to get into the best school, you cannot fail to present your best case. Good luck!