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How Many MBA Programs Should You Apply To?

It’s time: You’ve decided to invest in yourself and advance your career. You know an MBA is for you, and you’re ready to apply. First you need to decide: How many MBA programs should you apply to?

How Many MBA Programs Should You Apply to? It Depends…

The more closely you understand your situation, the more confident you can feel in determining the number of MBA programs you will apply to.

Do Programs Care About the Number of MBA Programs You Apply To?

Should you be concerned about the number of MBA programs in your target set? As it turns out, business schools seem to care. Some MBA program application forms will ask you how many schools you applied to. London Business School, Chicago Booth and Berkeley Haas all ask for that information. Even if schools don’t ask on the application, it’s likely this question will come up in your admission interviews.

Why do schools ask how many schools you applied to?

They want to know how serious candidates are about the schools in their application mix. They want to assess how invested you are in their program and how likely you are to enroll if they offer you a place in the class. They also want to know about their competition.

How Many MBA Programs Do Most Students Apply To?

The number of applications submitted varies widely among applicants; generally, it can range from four to eight applications per candidate, although those who are set on a particular school may pour all their energy into fewer apps. When you’re putting together your target list, you might select the top two or three schools that you really prefer, one or two others that are next in line, and one or two that are the back-up choices.

Some applicants may want to put their eggs in one basket, apply to only one school, and reassess if that doesn’t work. Other applicants may decide to send more than eight applications to help ensure acceptance.

Timing is a Key Factor

Is getting admitted this year really important? If circumstances in your life or career have aligned so that it’s an ideal time for you to step out of the workforce and get your MBA now rather than later, then you may want to cast your net widely and apply to many schools to maximize your chances of getting in.

More applications also can help in situations where your application shows a significant weakness.

On the other hand, each application is unique and requires a significant investment of your time. Juggling the deadlines and optimizing every component of six or eight or more applications is a real commitment. If you are working full time and balancing extracurricular activities, it may be difficult to find the time to perfect that many application packages. It may be better to narrow the set rather than risk errors or a weaker application because you ran out of time.

If time is on your side and you’re not concerned about immediate acceptance, you may want to only apply first to the top schools on your list, knowing that you can broaden your strategy in the next cycle if necessary.  If deadlines are approaching, you might want to limit your number of applications and focus on making those as strong as possible.

Cost also can impact the number of applications that you submit to MBA programs. Keep in mind, it’s not only the cost to submit applications, which can range from $100 to $250, but also the cost of your time to gather recommendations and all other materials and complete the applications.

Helping You Decide

Where do you start to determine how many MBA programs you should apply to? These steps can help you answer that question for yourself.

Assess your situation

Pursuing an MBA is a life-changing endeavor and an investment in your professional and personal growth. Knowing what you want to gain from your MBA experience sets the foundation for your school search.

  • What is your career goal? What area of business excites you? Many MBA programs degrees focus on areas such as entrepreneurship, real estate, luxury goods or nonprofits. Schools also may offer specialized degrees or cutting-edge expertise in economics, finance, or marketing, among other areas.
  • Are you looking to switch industries? Some MBA programs are more accommodating to career switchers than others.
  • Do you want a fast path to an MBA or are you more comfortable taking your time? Do you want a format where you can still work full time and attend class part time? Are you looking for an online experience for convenience, or an immersive, hands-on experience and opportunities to build your network? Fortuna’s blog on Understanding the different types of MBA programs will help you narrow down the format that works best for you.
  • Do you want a highly rated school? How much value do you place on career services and on-campus recruiting rates? How important is the school’s alumni network to you and your career aims?
  • How much do you care about class size? Are you looking for a competitive or collaborative classroom environment?

The answers to these questions and more shape your MBA vision. Crafting this vision bring your career goals and next steps into sharp focus and pinpoints the role an MBA education can play. From this exercise, develop a prioritized list of the qualities in a program and school that are most important to you and begin your search for possible candidate schools.

Research schools and MBA programs

Now that you know what you want, start visiting the websites on your list of schools. The closer you look at each program’s strengths and culture, the better you will understand if the program makes sense for you.
For more tips, turn to How to Research MBA Programs: 4 Key Tips and How To Choose a Business School  and 8 Factors on How to Choose a Business School.

List the pros and cons of each option

After completing your research, write down the pros and cons of each school on your list. See if there are any gaps that you can fill through networking or visiting the campus. Determine whether there are some schools that you can easily eliminate.
Next, rank the schools left on your wish list based on how well they meet your personal situation.

How to Find Your Perfect Mix of B-Schools

Your own personal ranking of business schools will help you in determining the number of MBA programs you apply to.

You can start by grouping them into categories:

  • Dream schools, the one or two that you want most. These may be “stretch” schools, if your grades and scores don’t quite fit the school’s typical admitted student profile.
  • Likely fit schools, the ones that offer the programs that are a good fit for your goals and your qualifications.
  • Safe schools, the schools that you believe are most likely to admit you.

Scrutinize and winnow your list until you arrive at a mix of target schools that fits your needs and strategy.

Why Applying to Too Many Schools is a Bad Idea

A targeted application strategy can save you time and money, not to mention helping you reach your goals. One risk is that applying to too many MBA programs can impact the quality of your applications. You may start to take shortcuts in your responses as you apply to more programs.

Schools want to see a compelling answer to the question of why you want their MBA. With a broad list of schools, you may struggle to share a distinct and compelling reason, You may find it more challenging to gather the letters of recommendation for every application.
Finally, as noted above, schools that ask about the number of schools you applied to may interpret a large number as either a lack of commitment to their school, or as your lack of clarity about what you really want to accomplish with your MBA. All these factors can decrease your likelihood of acceptance into your most desired schools. 

Bottom Line

Finding your own answer to the question of how many MBA programs to apply requires you to reflect deeply on your goals and priorities.

Fortuna consultants — consistently rated as the best in the industry — can share tips and advice throughout your application journey that help you define, refine, and reach your goals. Book a free consultation to talk with our pros and find out how they can guide you.


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