Optimal MBA Application Number

Many business school applicants wonder how many MBA applications they should submit? In this article, I will discuss the optimal MBA application number based on real data. Deciding on your MBA application number is challenging because the more schools you apply to, the less time you have to spend on each application. On the other hand, you don’t want to put all of your eggs into one or two baskets. The data suggests that the ideal number of MBA applications is 5 to 7. For more information, check out this article on how to build your portfolio of MBA applications co-authored by Lawrence Linker and I.

Distribution of Number of MBA Applications

Distribution of MBA Application NumberFor this analysis, I used MBA application data from GMAT Club forums, which is self reported admissions data. By matching usernames across different school applications, I was able to get the number of MBA applications submitted. It seems strange to see that a third of applicants only applied to one school. I would have expected more applicants to apply to 5 or more schools. Even if we assume the source is slightly biased and ignore those who apply to only one school, two thirds of the remaining applicants still apply to only 4 or fewer schools.

MBA Acceptance Rate by MBA Application Number

MBA Acceptance Rate by MBA Application NumberThis graph is possibly the most important piece of information for applicants who are considering applying to a lot of schools. It shows that average acceptance rate per application is relatively flat if you apply to seven or fewer MBA programs, at around 24%. However, if you apply to more than seven schools then acceptance rate plummets to lower than 15%. Those few individuals who apply to 10 or more schools only have a meager 6% acceptance rate. Perhaps there are alternative explanation as to why these acceptance rates drop so much, such as GMAT or GPA of the applicants.

GMAT and GPA by Number of MBA Applications

GMAT and GPA by MBA Application NumberDespite having the highest average GMAT and GPA, applicants who apply to 8 schools have an acceptance rate of only 13%. This supports the idea that if you apply to many schools then you don’t have as much time to commit to each application, so quality decreases. Those who apply to 9 or 10+ schools tend to have lower GPAs while those who apply to 1 school tend to have lower GMATs. People who apply to 6 to 8 schools on average have the highest combined scores.

Also applicants that don’t get in for round 1 often apply during round 2 or 3. I found that 63% of applicants who applied to 2 to 5 schools applied to all schools in the same round while only 25% of applicants who applied to 6+ schools applied to all schools in the same round. Surprisingly there wasn’t much of a difference in average acceptance rate for those who applied to all schools in one round vs multiple rounds except for 8+. When applicants applied to 8 or more schools in one round, the acceptance rate was 50% lower than applicants who applied to 8 or more schools but did it in multiple rounds. So if you plan to apply to many schools, spread it out over a few rounds.

Accepted to at Least One School by MBA Application Number

Accepted to at Least One MBA ProgramThe next question is how likely is an applicant to get into at least on MBA program? If you want at least a 50% chance of being admitted, you should apply to 4 or more schools. The peak is 65% for those applying to 7 schools. If acceptances were completely random with a 25% acceptance rate and 7 applications, we would expect 87% to get into at least one school. This gap suggests that the applicants who are accepted tend to get into many schools while 35% are rejected by everyone. Similarly, for those applying to 5 schools, we expect 75% to get at least one acceptance but only 58% are admitted. I expect that this is because there is a major flaw in their application and they repeat it with every school. This is one of the reasons I suggest applicants use an admission consultant for at least one school. Catch the mistake early with the first school and you will be in much better shape.

Average Number of MBA Acceptances

Average Number of MBA AcceptancesThe graph above shows how many schools applicants got into, if they were accepted to at least one school. Unsurprisingly, those who applied to many schools were more likely to have a choice.

MBA Rank Comparison

MBA Application Number Rank AcceptedThe final graph shows the average school rank of the schools applied to verses the school to which they were admitted. I excluded applicants who did not get into at least one school. It is not shocking that applicants tended to get into lower ranked schools than the average rank of their applications. The big takeaway here is that the gap is much smaller for applicants that submitted 5 or fewer applications. For applicants with 2 to 5 applications, the average school accepted is 2 ranks worse than the average application. For applicants with 6+ applications, the average school accepted is 3.2 ranks worse than the average application. So applying to many schools degrades your chance of being accepted to the most elite MBA programs.

In conclusion, there are many considerations when deciding how many MBA applications to submit. Most of the data suggests that an applicant should apply to 5 to 7 schools to maximize their chance of getting into at least one school. If you want to raise your chance of being accepted to at least one MBA program above the 65% figure for 7 applications, I recommend you hire a consultant to help you craft your essays and avoid major mistakes rather than just submitting more applications.

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