It’s going to receive one of those frustrating “it depends” answers. It depends on your qualifications, the schools you are aiming for, whether you are willing to tolerate the possibility of reapplication if rejected, your goals, and the people you ask. Some advisors recommend applying to 3-4 schools. Period. I am a little less doctrinaire, but offer the following guidelines.
• If you have 2-3 schools that support your goals with acceptance rates north of 30% and where you are strongly competitive, then 2-3 schools total is fine.
• If you can find only 2-3 schools that support your goals and meet your needs, and no others do, which happens rarely but it does happen, then 2-3 is fine.
• If you have target schools that you are dying to attend but either competition is extremely intense (acceptance rates under 15%) and/or your qualifications are not competitive, then you need to apply to perhaps 1-2 of these and 3-6 where you are more likely to gain admissions.
• If you are applying to schools with acceptance rates in the 15-30% range and you are competitive but certainly not a shoe-in (and most people aren’t), then I suggest applying to 3-6 in this range and 1-2 in the range where you are likely to be accepted.
Your goals and your qualifications relative to your competition are paramount. If you are from a group that is over-represented in the applicant pool, like Indian IT males, you may want to apply at the higher end of the ranges I provided above. Please keep in mind that you don’t need to apply to all schools first round. You can split the schools between first and second round deadlines. You may also be interested in my perspective on a safety schools.
Some will argue that 6-8 schools spreads the net too wide, is expensive, time-consuming, and will dilute your ability to pursue excellence in your applications. If you try to apply to so many schools within a month, I agree with those critics. If, however, you want to maximize your chances of acceptance and can spread your applications out over two rounds, then it is a reasonable option. Not a requirement. An option. Like I said, it all depends.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.