How Many MBA Programs Should You Apply To?

How many business school applications do you need to fill in to give themselves the best chance to get into a good MBA program? And on that point, how do you construct your list of business schools? Angela Guido is here to cut through the confusion with simple tools and strategies to make this task as easy and painless as possible.

By the end of this video, you should know all about reach, matches and safeties, what’s the best number of business schools to apply to, and how to aim high in your MBA dreams while keeping your feet on the ground. Good luck!


#MBAMondays #howmanyMBAs #MBAmo

YouTube video

Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to MBA Monday. I'm Angela Guido, the founder of Career Protocol. And today I'm talking about something that we allude to, that lurks around the corners of almost everything we talk about on this channel. But it occurred to me that I've never, ever actually addressed it head-on. And that is: school portfolio strategy. Which schools should you apply to and how should you think about constructing a portfolio of schools for your applications to make sure that you're aiming high, while keeping your feet on the ground?

Cover All of Your MBA Bases

When most people begin approaching their MBA applications, they start with the rankings and they start by dreaming big. Everybody wants to go to Harvard, everyone wants to go to Stanford, everyone wants to go to INSEAD. This is a great urge, but the truth is, most people won't get in to Harvard, Stanford, or INSEAD, and that might include you. And if you need an MBA to get to where you want to go in your career, or even if you just really want one to take your career to the next level, you want to apply to more than just the top, top programs to make sure that you're able to give yourself a chance at those top schools that are your favorites, but also to make sure that you're increasing the likelihood that you're going to get into at least one school.

Some of you know my MBA story. When I was applying to business school, I was a very unusual candidate. I had a high GMAT score and some interesting experiences, a solid undergraduate career. But my work experience was really weird. I had been an English teacher as a second language in South Korea, and then I had worked in human resources and strategy for a big accounting firm. But I really hadn't had any traditional business experience. When I told all my friends and family that I was applying to business school, the reaction was unanimous. It was: “Huh? What? That doesn't make any sense.”  So my job was challenging. I had to convince business schools that in fact, I really needed and wanted to be there. And that despite the unusual career experience I had, I was going to be a meaningful contributor to the classroom. So given that I was a slightly unusual candidate and I knew that I was I decided that to make sure that I was going to get into at least one school, I needed to apply to eight programs. And it's a good thing that I did because in the end, I was waitlisted at four schools and I got into one. I withdrew from two, and was rejected from one. So, out of eight schools. I really only got into one program, and this just demonstrates the importance of school portfolio strategy, because the school that I got into was not the lowest ranked or the weakest school in the bunch. It was actually kind of somewhere in the middle, and I was waitlisted at schools that have slightly weaker brand names than the school that I got into. And this is because you can never predict which school is going to need you and your profile to round out the portfolio of students that they're crafting, which means that you need to apply to a range of schools to ensure that you're able to get in somewhere.

Calibrating Your MBA Portfolio

So here's how to calibrate your own school portfolio. First and foremost, go check out This is our MBA odds calculating robots, which will tell you how you stack up, how your statistics and your baseline metrics stack up against successful applicants at the top 30 US business schools. At the same time, you'll get a 20+ page read out on all the elements of your candidacy, how they compare how you might be able to strengthen them, and how to really make the most with what you've got as you're applying to schools. But the most useful aspect of Mbamo is to help you understand whether a given school that you're looking at is a reach, a match, or a safety school, and why. And once you understand where you line up in terms of reach, match, and safety vis-à-vis all the schools that you're looking at, then you can begin to put together a portfolio of schools where you have some reaches, in other words, some schools where your statistics might be slightly weaker than the average admit at that program. Then you can have some match schools, where your statistics are on par with applicants in the past, and then even ideally, you're going to have one or two safer schools – safety is a misnomer because nothing is guaranteed – so if you look at a program where your statistics meaning your GMAT, GPA, work experience, promotions, all of that, brand names associated with your undergraduate and work experience, where they're slightly stronger than people who've gotten in the past, then that school is going to be safer. And as long as you do an amazing job on the application – you have to do that no matter what. Nobody gets into school with a super rockstar GMAT and terrible essays, you have to really present a really inspiring picture of who you are – but provided that you do that for your safer schools, you're going to have a really solid chance of getting into those schools.

So, if you're applying to some reaches, some matches, and some safeties, you are maximizing the likelihood that you're going to get into at least one school while also fully giving yourself a shot at your dream schools, even if your statistics suggests that those might be a reach for you. And this is part of why a Career Protocol we structure our packages as 3 + 3. Because we want our clients to apply to a portfolio of schools where they've got reaches, matches, and safeties in there, and we don't want them to have to compromise on their reaches. We want them to be able to aim really high and also protect their downside. So, in addition to doing three schools fully hands on, we help you brainstorm the essays for three more schools and that way you're submitting six really high-quality applications that you feel really confident about, while still giving your reaches your very best shot. That's how we like to do it. And then if you have something about you that's unusual – and not necessarily in a good way – like in my case, I just didn't have that much business experience, and that was unusual and not in a great way. Or if you've got, like, one statistic that's just really weak, like a really weak GPA from your undergraduate experience, or a career gap of a full year, or things that kind of stand out and not in a good way, then make sure you're applying to a few more programs than even five or six. You might apply to seven or eight like I did, because you can be sure that if your intention is pure, you have goals that necessitate an MBA, and you really genuinely want this education to advance your career, you will be able to find a school that will welcome you into their community, but it's impossible to predict which one that will be until you actually submit the applications and give them a chance to include you in their portfolio of students. So, if you have a weakness, or something you're worried about, or something that makes you stand out in a potentially not good way, then my recommendation is to apply to even more than five or six schools, with at least one or two on the safer side statistically, so that you are ensuring that all this work you're putting into your MBA applications pays off, you're going to get at least one really good option for business school, but hopefully even have a chance at some of your top choice favorite schools. That's it. That's how to calibrate your school portfolio strategy. Look broadly. Look at the rankings, look at the statistics, use to calibrate yourself, and then pick the set of schools that gives you a well-balanced risk portfolio in your application set.

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Picture of Angela Guido

Angela Guido

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

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