NOTE: This is #8 in a series of blog posts on the topic, “How to Select the Right MBA Programs.” To see previous segments, link to the following:
Creating a list of schools may seem like a formality by now – as you have gone through the previous steps, a list of feasible and appealing programs most likely has evolved almost organically. It’s time to firm it up in preparation for the hands-on application process.
Establish your desired balance among the three categories: reach, on-par, and safety. (Note that these categories have variation within them.) Whether you are applying to ten programs or two, you should be clear about where they fall on this continuum vis-à-vis your profile. Out of the total number of programs you’ll apply to, how many do you want in each category, and why? Answer this question based on your previous evaluations, and make your list accordingly. This allocation should be deliberate and informed, not accidental.
Now take the list of schools that meet your needs and, ideally, fulfill your important wants, and also are viable targets (i.e., they are not out of reach). Separate these schools by reach, on-par, safety. Ideally your research efforts will have yielded more programs than you want to apply to and you have the pleasant task of weeding in each category. You can weed simply by deciding which among the programs in a category you like the most based on your previously identified factors; you can also consider where you have the better chance of admission, since the programs within a category will vary in competitiveness.
What if you find after this process that you have an imbalance? You wanted two reaches, three on-pars, and one safety. You ended up with no safeties, one on-par, and an overabundance of reaches. It’s not uncommon. First, consider whether some reaches might be close enough to on-par to almost work in that category or straddle it. If not, you have some hard choices. You can proceed with this less than ideal balance, fully aware of the situation and doing your best. You can research more programs, looking at some again more closely and/or broadening your scope – maybe considering new geographic regions or part-time programs.
Especially if you are applying to a good number of programs, consider balance within categories as well, and try to widen your scope of programs. Say you’re a consultant. The majority of consultants will gravitate to the known consulting programs. You’ll stand out more in other programs. This balance within categories is especially helpful because the vicissitudes of the upcoming admissions season are still unknown. If a flood of consultants apply, your breadth of programs will be all the more important.
Now you should have your list of MBA programs. Or, I should say, your preliminary list. Since you continue to learn as you go through the application process, it’s quite possible that you may modify this list. This list should be firm but not rigid; you shouldn’t veer from it on a whim (otherwise no point doing it in the first place), but you should for a solid reason that “pushes against” your initial assumptions or preferences.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Success, The Consultants’ Guide to MBA Admission, The EMBA Edge, and author of several articles and the free, email mini-course, “Ace the EMBA.”