Can you beat the MBA acceptance rate? Handicapping Your MBA Odds and Choosing Schools

MBA Acceptance rates are super low. Admissions directors have an embarrassment of riches to choose from in building their class profile with huge application volume increase and a more impressive incoming class every year. Every round, a lot of applicants compete for precious few class spots at elite schools. This article will help you choose the right set of MBA programs to apply to so you can aim high while keeping your feet on the ground. Or in other words, ignore application trends and be smart about going for what you really want: aim for your favorite dream schools while ensuring you also apply to a few safer schools given your statistics. Your future self will thank you!

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Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t get into business school.

Absolutely everyone can get into business school. Not everyone can get into every school. And only some people can get into any given school. But if an MBA is an important step on your career path to your career dreams, then you can find a school that will both give you what you need and be thrilled to admit you. Want some inspiration? Check out where the Fortune 500 CEOs went to b-school. Spoiler alter: it ain’t all Harvard and Stanford.

And if you’re like most people, there is a wide array of schools that will offer you exactly what you need. It’s a rare situation when a candidate can only achieve their goals through one specific program. An MBA education is a little bit like coffee: you might prefer Intelligentsia, but Starbucks will do, and in a pinch, for that matter, so will Dunkin Donuts.  If you need an MBA hit to get where you want to go in your career, it behooves you to cast a broad net in your search and application process.

For example, take a look at Poets&Quants’ recent analysis of programs targeted by MBB consulting firms for summer Pre-MBA internship opportunities. If you don’t know about these pre-MBA summer programs, they’re basically a chance for the firm to court their most coveted candidates. Getting into these summer programs doesn’t guarantee a full-time offer, nor does being denied admission to one such program mean you’re barred from recruiting with the firm. It’s just an indication of how much the consulting firm is investing in each school.

Given that so many people think you need to go to an M7 school to get into McKinsey. You might be surprised to learn that McKinsey is bringing people on board from these 17 schools. BCG is targeting 28 MBA programs! Which is nothing compared to Bain’s 40! And these are among the most elite, competitive, and coveted post-MBA job opportunities. Yes, still, even as people flock to Silicon Valley in higher numbers and consulting fights the perennial reputation for poor work-life balance. More MBAs want to do consulting post-MBA and specifically at these firms than any 2-3 other industries/functions combined.

And if you can get into THOSE jobs without a top 5 MBA, these numbers prove beyond a doubt, that no matter what you want to do in your career, you can do it post-MBA from most programs. You don’t need a top 3 degree to get there from here!

A word to the wise: nobody can determine your potential but you. Not MBA programs, not adcom directors, not an MBA admissions consultant, and not your friends and family. You owe it to yourself to fulfill your potential and go for your dreams.

Let’s rip the Band-Aid off: here are the acceptance rates at top MBA programs in the U.S. right now.

I am also including the average GMAT score and GPA of admitted applicants for your reference.

US News 2021 Data

This data is for the general applicant pool and doesn’t break it out by women, ethnic categories, federal guidelines, or multi-dimensional reporting for diversity classifications. Each school reports those numbers as a portion of the class size in the form of detailed profiles of the incoming class, but of course they never reveal applicant numbers by category. So when looking at odds and acceptance rates, you’ve got to start with the whole applicant pool.

As you would expect, Stanford Graduate school of Business and Harvard Business School have the lowest acceptance rates (both 9% for the class of 2022). Recall that due to the pandemic, the class of 2022 is in a unique position. Many students decided to defer, so school admission officials had to alter class sizes and in some cases, extend Round 3 deadlines to accommodate the changes.

Regardless, the MBA acceptance rate numbers don’t look great, right? It’s intimidating to see that chances are so low across the board. But these numbers are the results the average applicant can expect. Are you average? Or are your MBA acceptance rate odds higher or lower than that for the general pool. That is the question you need to answer and the one this article will help with.

Importantly, when we calibrate our students’ chances at target schools and help them assemble their portfolio of schools, we tether our assessment to the hard facts about their candidacy. Because these are the dimensions on which you can be objectively compared to other candidates:

  • Everyone has a GMAT or GRE
  • Everyone has a GPA
  • Everyone has companies they’ve worked for
    of varying levels of prestige and competitiveness
  • Everyone has been promoted (or not)
    and changed jobs (or not)

But the odds and the outcome are two different things. Take the odds into account and do so honestly. But do not let them discourage you. Instead, choose a set of schools that protects your downside risk while maximizing your upside potential.

Determining which MBA programs you should apply to

I always recommend applying to a portfolio of schools.

Because given the odds and acceptance rates, any individual school is risky.

For most people, the right number is between 4 and 6 schools. But if you know my story, you know why I applied to 8! I had a lot to offer, but I was a “risky candidate” who didn’t really fit with the conventional expectations of MBA programs. The MBA acceptance rates were definitely not in my favor! But I knew some school would take a chance on me, I just didn’t know which one! So I applied to a lot of schools to give more of them the chance to see how much I could add to their community. Luckily a great one saw my potential and admitted me!

If you have a major anomaly in your profile such as a below-average GPA, a weak GMAT, unusual career experience, or any number of other elements that might make your application stand out to the admissions committee – and not necessarily in a good way – then you might also want to try for more than 6.

Within that portfolio of 4+ schools, I recommend you choose some reaches, some matches, and some safer schools. That means that as you look at a given school, here is the line of inquiry you want to pursue:

If I am going to apply to this MBA program, how good are my odds?

Is applying to this school and only this school a risky proposition because my statistics aren’t well aligned with candidates who succeeded in the past?

If the answer is yes, that would make it a “reach school.”

Or is applying to this school and only this school a relatively safe bet because my stats are stronger than the average admit?

If you said yes to this one, that would make it a “safer school.”

Before I get to calculating your own MBA acceptance rate odds, take a moment to reflect on the difference between odds and reality. Statistically, the house always wins in blackjack – the odds are stacked against you in any given hand, in any given streak of hands. And yet many people make millions of dollars at the blackjack table every year. What the odds say and what will actually happen are two different things that are not causally linked.

So don’t let the odds get you down. Use them instead to assemble a portfolio of schools that allows you to aim high while also keeping your feet on the ground. Think of it like an investment portfolio. If you want an average of a 10% return, you choose some higher-risk assets that return at 20% but could also go to zero, and then you throw in some bonds that are expected to increase at 3% with 95% certainty. That way, you win, even if you don’t win them all.

Calculating Your MBA Admission Chances

Your odds depend on your statistics. But your success depends on much more than that. Things like your passions and character, your specific achievements, your unique fit with the school, and all the elements of MBA application execution that can make the difference between a big fat Yes and a ding.

If you want a read on BOTH your MBA odds and some of the intangible qualities your MBA application presents, then look no further than MBAmo, our MBA Admissions Calculator Robot.

Just take 60 seconds to enter a little information about your background and experience, and MBAmo will generate a 20+ page customized profile assessment and readout on your MBA acceptance chances, including the competitiveness of your profile across a variety of dimensions compared to the school’s class profile and the things you can do to strengthen your candidacy and increase your odds on your business school journey. He’s pretty cool, full of awesome admissions advice, and built with a ton of love!

Please check it out! Try MBamo as many times as you want for your favorite schools so you can select the right portfolio of schools for you, including reaches, matches, and safeties.

Then, apply for a free MBA strategy call with me or a member of my team to discuss your results in detail and strategize a path to achieving your MBA dreams by working together on one of our amazing Authentic MBA Application package services. We’re not like any other MBA Admissions Consultant and we absolutely LOVE helping our clients beat the MBA odds and win despite slim MBA acceptance rates!

Happy Applying!

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Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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