MBA blog

Perfect School Selection

While applying to graduate schools, you should first evaluate your profile to gain an understanding of what schools are within reach and what schools should be put aside for better times.

STEP 1: Evaluate Your Profile

If your results are lower than the average of the students at a designated school, you should understand that you have lower chances of gaining admission to said school, unless you have something that can impress the Admissions Office – something outstanding that makes you stand out among the other applicants. Otherwise, either set your sights on a different school or put aside your application for a year and spend the next year improving your profile. Let’s discuss the different aspects that make up your profile.

Test Results

The majority of students who are thinking of applying to graduate school check their test results first. This includes both the scary and horrible GMAT and its friendlier younger brother, the GRE. While most applicants still prefer taking the GMAT, these days, more and more students are choosing the GRE. Schools usually do not have preferences of one exam over other, but there are still some schools that may ask you to take a particular exam. Harvard states that 88% of the students in their Class of 2019 took the GMAT, while only 12% applied with GRE results. At Booth, 7% of students have taken the GRE, and 93% have taken the GMAT. Let’s compare the average GMAT/GRE results of students accepted into the top 10 business schools*. (Top 10 Business Schools according to the “US News” report)


#


School name


Average GMAT score

Average GRE score

Verbal

Quantitative

1

Harvard University

730

164

164

2

University of Chicago (Booth)

730

N/A

N/A

3

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

730

163

162

4

Stanford University

737

165

164

5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

722

154-169 range*

*middle 80%

159-170 range*

*middle 80%

6

Northwestern University (Kellogg)

732

N/A

N/A

7

University of California ​Berkeley (Haas)

725

N/A

N/A

8

University of Michigan  Ann Arbor (Ross)

716

160

160

9

Columbia University

724

N/A

N/A

10

Dartmouth College (Tuck)

722

N/A

N/A

If you are an international student, you may face an additional challenge: the English Proficiency Test. You can usually take either IELTS or TOEFL – most schools accept both. Bear in mind that this test is also important; your score should be at least 7.0 for IELTS or 100+ for TOEFL to be eligible to apply to the top business schools.

Your GPA

A low GPA can threaten your chances of acceptance into business school if you did not perform well during your undergraduate degree or other past academic endeavors. Usually, graduate schools do not establish a minimum GPA for application, although some do. Regardless, for top schools, the average GPA of accepted applicants is around 3.6 out of 4.0. Here are the average GPA scoresof applicants accepted into some of the top universities*: 

#

School name

Average GPA

1

Harvard University

3.71

2

University of Chicago (Booth)

3.6

3

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

3.6

4

Stanford University

3.74

5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

3.49

6

Northwestern University (Kellogg)

3.6

7

University of California ​Berkeley (Haas)

3.71

8

University of Michigan  Ann Arbor (Ross)

N/A

9

Columbia University

3.5

10

Dartmouth College (Tuck)

3.51

Your Work Experience

Your work experience for MBA programs is also a critical point. Having zero work experience or no management responsibilities will probably disqualify your application. Some universities even state minimum levels of work experience required for eligibility. Remember that when applying for an MBA, you need to have at least 6 months of experience, by default. Here is what business schoolsare saying*:

#

School name

Average work experience

1

Harvard University

27 years average age

2

University of Chicago (Booth)

5 years

3

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

5 years

4

Stanford University

4 years

5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

4.87 years

6

Northwestern University (Kellogg)

5.1

7

University of California ​Berkeley (Haas)

5

8

University of Michigan  Ann Arbor (Ross)

N/A

9

Columbia University

5

10

Dartmouth College (Tuck)

63 months (5,25 years)

As you can see, the majority of those admitted for MBA programs are professionals in their late 20s who are seeking to advance their careers with the program. If you don’t have enough work experience, you should question whether you really need this degree now and consider applying to other Master’s programs, which do not demand any professional experience.

STEP 1: Conclusion

After comparing the average results of accepted students to yours, you should have a clearer picture of what graduate school is suitable for you: do your results allow you to apply to top-10 business schools, or is it better for you to expand your your aims to consider top-50 schools?

STEP 2: Determine What Is Important For You

Before choosing the school you apply to, study the program’s specific features and decide on the elements that are important for you.

Mode of Study: Full-Time or Part-Time?

Are you an incredibly busy top manager at Goldman Sachs who cannot stay away from the workplace for more than a couple of days? Or do you just want to keep working while earning your MBA degree? In either of these cases, part-time studies may prove more appropriate for you. In these programs, you typically visit the school a few times per year, and the learning process combines online lectures, self-study, and on-campus classes.

If you are ready to pause your career for 1-2 years and fully concentrate on studies, a full-time program is the right choice for you. At the same time, you have a larger variety of schools where you can apply - every single business school has a full-time MBA program, while only some of them offer part-time options*.

#

School name

Part-time MBA

1

Harvard University

X

2

University of Chicago (Booth)

Yes

3

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

X

4

Stanford University

X

5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

X

6

Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Yes

7

University of California ​Berkeley (Haas)

Yes

8

University of Michigan  Ann Arbor (Ross)

Yes

9

Columbia University

X

10

Dartmouth College (Tuck)

X

Program Length: One Year vs. Two Years

Which one is more appealing to you? Do you want to experience student life for longer, or would you prefer to graduate faster and implement your theoretical knowledge in practical workplace cases? The standard American MBA program is 2 years long, however there are still a few schools that offer both one-year and two-year variants:

  • Kellogg

  • Cornell

  • Marshall

  • Goizueta

  • Olin

Beginning of Studies: January VS September Intake

Decide when you want to start your studies: fall or winter. The main differences a January intake offers are:

  • Shorter term of study

  • Absence of internship

  • More work experience is preferred

 Here is the list of US business schools that have two annual intakes:

  • Columbia University

  • University of Massachusetts Boston

  • Georgia State – Robinson

 Cost of Attendance

When applying to Graduate School in the United States, you should prepare for the fact that it will be pricey. You will likely need a loan to help pay for your studies. Here are the approximate program costs*:

#

School name

Approximate tuition fee per year

1

Harvard University

$73,440

2

University of Chicago (Booth)

$72,000

3

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

$78,948

4

Stanford University

$70,590

5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

$74,200

6

Northwestern University (Kellogg)

$71,544

7

University of California ​Berkeley (Haas)

$59,739

8

University of Michigan  Ann Arbor (Ross)

$67,300

9

Columbia University

$74,400

10

Dartmouth College (Tuck)

$72,150

While it may seem unaffordable, don’t despair; the majority of schools provide some financial help. Scholarships and fellowships can cover from 10% to 100% of the tuition costs. In most cases, the you must first apply and be admitted to be considered for any of this assistance, and earlier applicants might have an advantage over students admitted later.

Location: Big Noisy City or Cozy Small Town?

While some students prefer to study in a big city like New York with the desire of greatly developing their network and getting a job offer before graduation, other students are more comfortable with the learning process at a school with a calm, academic atmosphere. Remember, the environment and the community surrounding you shape your vision and experience. You should choose the place that will be more comfortable for you.

Class Size: Large vs. Smaller

When selecting a university to apply to, you should also consider the class size. In other words, where you will find yourself most comfortable: in a large class or smaller group? Do you want to interact closely with your groupmates and have a greater opportunities to establish relationships with the professors? If so, smaller class sizes will be better for you. However, if you want to meet more people during your MBA degree and build a broader, more diverse network, a larger size class is more suitable. Consider whether you would prefer a small unit where everybody knows each other or large group where you can be anonymous. Here is a table of the class sizes* for some of the top universities’ MBA programs:

#

School name

Number of enrolled MBA students 2019

1

Harvard University

928

2

University of Chicago (Booth)

582

3

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

863

4

Stanford University

418

5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

404

6

Northwestern University (Kellogg)

478 (2 years program)

7

University of California ​Berkeley (Haas)

282 (Fall 2017 intake)

8

University of Michigan  Ann Arbor (Ross)

422

9

Columbia University

753

10

Dartmouth College (Tuck)

293

Check the acceptance rate

This is probably one of the scariest things – check how many students were successfully admitted and how many applicants were rejected. Let’s compare the acceptance rates for the top MBA programs in 2017 (according to Acceptance Rates for Leading Business School MBA Programs).

#

School name

Acceptance Rate

1

Harvard University

11%

2

University of Chicago (Booth)

20.8%

3

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

19.2%

4

Stanford University

6%

5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

11.5%

6

Northwestern University (Kellogg)

20.2%

7

University of California ​Berkeley (Haas)

12%

8

University of Michigan  Ann Arbor (Ross)

25%

9

Columbia University

16.5%

10

Dartmouth College (Tuck)

23%

Seeing a figure like 10% is daunting, however, it is not as scary as it may initially seem. Yes, the majority of students got rejected, but that does not mean you will face the same fate. You need to remember that, first of all, you need to meet the program’s requirements. Secondly, your profile has to be comparable to that of the average admitted student for the program of your choice. And third, you need to have a strong desire and willingness to study at the particular school. Your motivation plays a huge role. Write your essay(s) with passion; a great personal statement can certainly go a long way towards getting you admitted.

Contact the Admissions Office for Additional Information; Reach Out to Alumni

This is not a ‘must’. However, if you have any questions regarding the program, check the website’s FAQ, and if there is no answer for your question, contact the Admissions Office. Remember, it is their job to act as consultants for prospective students and help clarify things.

There is another way to find out more about aspects of the school that interest you: contact alumni. Each university gives profiles of some of their recent graduates, along with contact information. Have a specific question and want to get insider information? Contact an alumnus: it is always better to learn something directly from someone who recently graduated from the program.

STEP 2: Conclusion

Compare all the information you collected and choose the most appropriate school. Consider every possible nuance of the  program; they might prove critical later on. Two years of MBA education will shape you as a leader, manager, and team member. Your thinking and vision will be also formed according to the environment in which you spend those years. Choose wisely and study every detail about the program.

STEP 3: Plan Your Preparation and Application Process

List 2-3 “stretching” schools you would ideally want to go to, and two “safety” schools in case your applications to priority schools are not successful. Start preparation well in advance! Remember, to achieve a good GMAT or GRE score, you need to spend at least 3-4 months on preparation. If you are not a native English speaker, you will also need to take additional time preparing for the English Proficiency Test. Even if you are confident about your English level or GMAT knowledge, it does not necessarily mean you will get a good score. These tests often reflect how well you prepared more so than your academic level.

You should carefully consider potential referees. Do not underestimate the value of references. A good reference will make be a huge advantage for your application, while a bad one can easily disqualify you from consideration. Choose your referees wisely; they should be people who are not only in good relationships with you, but who are also highly supportive towards your decision of pursue further studies.

Do not forget to create your account and online application form on the website of your chosen universities as earliest as possible and study them diligently. This will help you to prevent any unpleasant surprises when you are ready to submit the application. Do not neglect to attentively study the form, as it sometimes turns out that the personal statement they ask for is not actually a traditional essay, but rather a few independent questions that must be answered. Make sure you also study the instructions for how your referees should submit their references. Is there a designated form for them to fill out? Or do they need to submit a reference on letterhead?

STEP 4: Apply!

One of the most frequent questions is “When the best time to apply?”. The answer here is simple: when you are 100% ready to apply. The Admissions Office does not give preferences to students who apply in the first and second rounds. Basically, there is no difference between those who submit their application form in the first round compared to those who apply in the third round. You have to be fully ready to apply, whichever round you choose. If you still are unsure about some aspects, it is better to wait for the next round and submit all your documents in a fully polished state.

Nevertheless, being prepared for the Round 1 has its advantages. First of all, there are no students admitted yet, which means you will have less fewer applicants to compete with. Second, the Admissions Office tends to give a positive response to more students from the first round. So when making your plan for the application process, try to formulate it in a way that allows you to have all your documents fully prepared by the first round.

Plan your preparation wisely, and good luck!

* All data from tables is taken from the programs’ official websites, where the class profile is presented

MBA Strategy is an admissions consulting company with over 10 years of experience assisting talented candidates to become students of the world’s top business schools. Our achievements:

  • About 1,000 customers with 700+ GMAT scores

  • Over 500 students admitted to top US and European business schools

Anna Tokarieva is an MBA Strategy consultant. She is an expert in school selection, profile assessment, brainstorming, and polishing application essays.

 

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