How many schools should you apply to? How do you strike the balance between too many and too few? And how do you know the exact right number for you?
Yep – this question gets 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 experts recommend applying to 3-4 schools, period – with no exceptions. I am a little less doctrinaire, but offer the following guidelines.
4 Tips for Choosing the Right Number of Schools
1. If you have 2-3 schools that support your goals, have acceptance rates north of 30% and where you are strongly competitive, then applying to 2-3 schools total is totally reasonable.
2. 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 it would make sense to apply to those 2-3 programs and no others.
3. 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 admission.
4. If you are applying to schools with acceptance rates in the 15-30% range and you are competitive but certainly not a shoo-in (and most people aren’t), then it would be wise to apply to 3-6 in this range and 1-2 in the range where you are likely to be accepted.
Assessing Your Goals & Qualifications
Your goals and your qualifications relative to your competition are paramount. If you are from a group that is overrepresented in the applicant pool, like Indian IT males, you may want to apply at the higher end of the ranges 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. And there are benefits to applying to safety schools, if they are chosen wisely.
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 and co-author of the definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.