How To Organize Your MBA Search

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Selecting an MBA program is one of the most important career decisions you can make, so choosing wisely should be top priority.

Since an MBA is such a big investment, both financially and in terms of time and effort, it’s important to find a program that will help you meet your goals, and will offer long-term returns.

To maximize your chance of admission, you’ll need to strike the balance between being highly selective, and giving yourself a good range of options.

When you organize your MBA search, you should ask yourself two key questions: How many programs should I apply to? And what should I think about as I select them?

How should I choose my target schools?

With hundreds of business schools to choose from, just knowing where to start your MBA search can be a challenge. But a few important factors will help you work out which MBA programs are a good fit for you.

First of all, you should ask yourself the basic questions: do I want to study in a campus or city setting? Is there a particular area I want to specialize in? What are my post-MBA career goals? What kind of people do I want to study alongside?

As you start building out your MBA application list, looking at business school rankings can also be a good starting point—but they aren’t the be-all and end-all.

“Rankings are a logical starting point when evaluating MBA programs—they can provide a general pulse on how the market feels about a school,” advises Katie Thomas, senior consultant at Vantage Point MBA Admissions.

“But it’s important to dive deeper into your MBA program research to understand how they could fit you.”

Read more: User’s Guide to Full-Time MBA Rankings

To do this, go beyond the school website. Reach out to alumni and current students to hear first-hand what you can expect from the program, look into career reports to see whether graduates are hired by your dream employers, and attend informational webinars. If possible, visiting campus in-person will also help you get a feel for the school.

Finding schools that fit your priorities and goals is one piece of the puzzle. The other is working out how well your profile matches that of current students—in other words, how likely you are to be admitted.

“Find some benchmarking data on acceptance rates, average GPAs, and GMAT or GRE scores,” suggests Scott Edinburgh, founder of admissions consultancy Personal MBA Coach.

These metrics will help you work out whether you are a strong candidate—or, if you don’t plan to apply for a couple of years, what you’ll need to do prior to your application.

This might mean working on your GMAT exam score, building work experience in a specific area, or considering how to best present your personal brand.

Read more: How Long Should You Study for the GMAT Exam?

How many MBA programs should I apply to?

Scott recommends applying to between five and seven different MBA programs.

“Since all business schools look to fill their classes with diverse candidates, you cannot always predict which schools might need someone who fits your profile,” he explains. “Applying to a broad range of schools helps to balance out this risk.”

The schools on your MBA application list will typically fall into one of three categories: safety schools, realistic schools, and reach schools.

Safety schools are programs where you’re very likely to be accepted. Your work experience, GPA, and GMAT will closely match the top 10 percent of their students, giving you a high chance of admission.

Realistic or “target” schools are essentially one rung up in terms of challenge. These are programs where you have about a 50 percent chance of admission.

Finally, reach schools are typically a prestigious MBA with a low rate of admission. You will still have a chance of acceptance based on your profile, but the odds are slimmer.

“Of the five to seven schools you are applying to, make sure you have a relatively equal balance between reach and realistic schools,” Scott advises. “Then, include one or two safety schools—especially if you want to secure an acceptance this year.”

Knowing how to organize your MBA application process can be tricky. But once you’ve compiled a list of target schools, things will start falling into place.

The MBA application process will be slightly different for each program, but you will typically be expected to submit GMAT or GRE scores, submit a resume, compose admission essays, and source letters of recommendation.

To stay calm through what can be quite a stressful process, Scott recommends creating an application timeline and sticking to it, aiming to complete the MBA application a few weeks prior to your deadline to ensure you have time to proofread and hone.

“There are many components to the process, but following a structured, calculated plan will help you decrease stress as you complete your applications,” he says.

Looking for more guidance? Our free guide Finding Your Best Fit Full-Time MBA Program gives you step-by-step guidance from experts to narrowing your search and connecting with schools.

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