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Should I apply to “safe” schools for Business School?

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

(I’m not sure I’ll get into my first-choice B-school)

The short answer is NO. B-school admission is more competitive than ever this year, but does that mean you should apply to subpar schools just to get an MBA? In the application rush, students often choose one or more schools that they’re pretty sure they’ll get into, because there’s nothing worse than not getting accepted anywhere - right? But before you do extra work, wasting your time and that of your safe school’s admissions committee, ask yourself:

  • If this is the only school I got accepted to, would I want to go? and

  • If I went to this “safety school” would my MBA actually be marketable?

An MBA is a professional graduate degree that is viewed and utilized quite differently than, say, a law or medical degree. If you get a JD or MD from a sub-par school, potential employers think “well, this person got a degree from a low-ranked school, but they’re still legally eligible to practice law/medicine.” An MBA from a low-ranked school on the other hand, will not get you the same thing, because business school studies are not standardized in the same way as other professional studies. The main worth of your MBA comes not from the content of what you learned, but from the school’s reputation for graduating highly competent people. So if you earn your degree at a no-name school, you might as well have saved your time and money.

What if I didn’t get into any of my top choice B-schools this year?

Rather than go to a sub-par “safe school,” try again for the next admissions round. This might mean waiting till next year. First, call the admissions offices of places that rejected you and find out what was wrong with your application. Call as soon as you get the rejection letter, while they still remember your application. And call, don’t email - because technically, they’re not allowed to tell you the reason. Try to get to an actual admissions officer (their names are often listed on the school’s website).

Many times, students kind of already know why they might have been rejected. Maybe your GMAT/GRE was lower than that of your first-choice school’s average incoming student’s. Maybe your college transcripts were not so stellar. Or maybe you applied at the last minute - this always considerably lowers students’ chances of admission. You can’t do much about your transcripts, but there’s a lot you can do about test scores, recommendations and essays. So don’t be afraid to wait a year, after all, what’s at stake are your long-term career goals.

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