“Putting It All Together – Your Initial List” is excerpted from the Accepted.com special report, Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. To download the entire free special report, click here.
Creating the actual list of schools may seem like a formality by now. As you have gone through the previous steps, a group 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 each falls 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). Sort these schools by reach, on-par, and safety.
If your research yielded more programs than you want to apply to, you’ll need to further weed down the list. Which programs in a given category meet the most of your wants and/or best meet your needs? You can also factor in where you have the better chance of admission, since the programs within a category will vary in competitiveness.
What if this process results in 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. Remember, competitiveness will vary within category. So some reaches might be close enough to on-par to almost fit in that category or straddle the two. If not, you have some hard choices to make:
• You can proceed with this less than ideal balance, fully aware of the situation and doing your best.
• You can research more programs: Look again at some you previously rejected and/or broaden your scope; maybe consider other geographic regions or part-time programs.
Especially if you are applying to numerous 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 (e.g., Kellogg); but you’ll stand out more in programs renowned for other areas (e.g., Chicago Booth). 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 will 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 engages your initial assumptions or preferences.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.