After you have identified your career goals and have assembled lots of information on different MBA programs, you should be able to identify which MBA programs would be the best for you. These steps are not as simple as they seem to be. Even after compiling a list of potential MBA programs, many candidates wonder how many MBA programs they should apply to.
Obviously, there is no single answer since it truly depends on how much time you have to prepare for and on your chances of getting in. Following are few things to consider:
You can assess MBA programs on your list in following ways:
Your inclination for a particular school: You have identified few MBA programs which meet your criteria but there are obviously few in your list that is more attractive to you than others.
Your perceived chances of getting in: Even before applying, every candidate has some idea of his or her chances of getting into a particular school. Typically, this assessment of chance is quite unscientific. How do candidates come up with such assessment? Firstly, many of them compare themselves with the average profile of those admitted to the school they are aiming for (average GMAT score, average work experience, previous education background etc.). Secondly, every candidate has a level of self-confidence. On the basis of these two factors, candidates assess their chances of getting in, so there might be some rationale for it.
In reaching your final decision, with respect to which MBA programs to apply to, I encourage you to focus on the program that interest you the most, and not to worry excessively over your chances of getting in. As a matter of fact, your biggest enemy is none other than yourself. You will make yourself out of contention, if you don’t believe in yourself or if you believe your profile is not as strong as that of the average profile of the candidates who do get into the schools you are aiming for. Try not to give poor grades from your previous educational qualifications a chance to get in your way, or become involved in thinking that only candidates from top consulting firms or top investment banks can claim to have an admit from your target schools.
There is no ideal application. There are several examples of candidates with an undergraduate degree from US top universities, 720 plus on the GMAT and experience in the most prestigious consultancy firms in the world and still not making to any of the schools they applied to. And then, there are many examples of a candidate who do get into Harvard despite his or her 650 on the GMAT and a degree from a little-known college where he or she got an average grade.
Each school has its own evaluation criteria. But typically, the first and foremost criteria are personality and leadership potential, which you must bring out in your application. The only exception to what I have said is your GMAT score: if you get a GMAT score lower than 650, I encourage you to take the test once again. There are many candidates who take GMAT more than once and manage to get admit from one of the top business schools.
I hope that the above paragraph has helped you identify the schools you most need to aim for. Even after this, what I have said still doesn’t help you decide the maximum number of schools to apply to; my best advice is to first apply to your first choice schools and to submit your applications to those schools as early as the first round of application in October or November. This is based on the assumption that you have prepared the different parts of your application from April onwards with utmost diligence. Typically, you get the result of your first round application by January. If there is a rejection, you can then apply to your second choice schools. In this way, you will be able to focus on five or six schools which appeal to you the most.
Assuming that you are focusing yourself to a few first choice schools, you must increase your chances of getting into these schools. So be professional, set aside the time to truly understand what these schools are looking for and tailor your application to match their expectations. While writing your essays, you must avoid the quick ‘cut and paste’ method. A similar essay topic is often addressed by different schools, and despite the fact that your answers may be the same in terms of content; the way you present the content must be customized for each school’s individual profile.
There is another school of thought which suggests that you should apply to six to ten schools. This allows you to spread your applications across a range of schools. This way you can apply to one or two “likely” schools, several “possible” schools, and a number of “stretches”. “Likely” are schools to which you are likely to be admitted. These are schools at which current students have substantial lesser credentials than you possess. “Possible” are schools where your credentials are about equal to the average of those admitted. “Stretches” are opposite of “likely”. Your credentials are substantially lower than those of average person admitted.
Typically, many external factors, for example, your spouse, or financial or geographical constraints can present situations that call for applying to a different number of schools. However, in general, five or six MBA programs will enable you to perform an adequate amount of due-diligence and still give you enough scope to expand your likelihood of acceptance. When you apply to more than six, you risk weakening your application’s content and limit your ability to establish fit with your target school.