Deciding how many MBA applications to send out

BY Jason ArmestoJuly 14, 2021, 2:00 AM
Martin Laksman

Completing MBA applications comes with a cost. Not just the monetary cost of application fees, which generally fall in the range of $100 to $250 each, but candidates also pay with their time and energy. Between collecting references, studying for standardized tests, writing essays, and doing interviews, finishing a single application alone can be a grind. 

So how many applications is the right amount to submit to MBA programs? On the one hand you don’t want to overexert yourself unnecessarily, but you also don’t want to risk not being accepted to any program at all. 

While different admissions directors have different views on how many applications an MBA candidate should submit, they do agree on one thing: There is no magic number. 

The “right” number of applications is highly variable and based on the particular candidate, says Evan Bouffides, the assistant dean and director of graduate admissions at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

“The point first and foremost is to get into a school where you would feel comfortable, where you would feel happy, and where you think your objectives will be met,” he says. “So if a person says, ‘I want to do this specific thing with my career,’ and they only find three or four schools that will accommodate them, then that’s the answer.”

Establish your priorities for an MBA program

Instead of aiming to send out a certain number of applications, MBA candidates would be better served focusing on applying to business schools where they’d be a good fit. 

Bouffides’s advice is to create a list of priorities related to what you’re looking for in a program. “Usually you’ll come up with quite a few things, but at some point you have to narrow it down,” he says. “So I tell candidates to pick the two or three things that are absolutely the most important to you, and that’s how you try to determine the subset of schools to which you apply.” 

Those priorities could vary dramatically from one candidate to another. A candidate interested in full-time MBA programs, for instance, will have different considerations than a part-time candidate—like location, says Arman Davtyan, the assistant dean of enrollment management at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School

“If you’re a candidate who’s trying to do a part-time MBA program, you’ve got an established life with work and a family, and you’re going to keep working while you do your MBA,” he says. “Then your options are going to be fewer by the very nature of where you are in life.” 

Factors to consider beyond the curriculum

While price tag, ranking, and location are some of the first considerations a candidate may have, there are many other factors candidates should weigh, cautions Michael Waldhier, the director of admissions and interim managing director of resident professional graduate programs at Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business. 

“You’re going to be in the same classes for two years with a group of people,” Waldhier says. “How big of a group do you want? Do you want those people to be competitive or collaborative?” 

Apart from the classroom dynamic, Waldhier points to a myriad of other important criteria including a school’s alumni network, its relationships with certain industries, its discipline specialties, and available educational support, to name a few. 

Meghan Weber, the MBA program coordinator at Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business, adds that a school’s career services, faculty network, and job placement history are also things to consider when weighing where to apply. While all of those considerations may seem overwhelming, Weber says that by doing that research you can narrow down the list of schools and better address your needs.

Mix it up with programs of varying competitiveness 

Once you’ve established a list of schools that could be a good fit, you want to be sure that you’re accepted into at least one of them. To do that, Davtyan believes it can be helpful to put your schools into three different buckets: the aspirational program, those where you’ll be a competitive applicant, and those where you think you have a very strong chance of acceptance. 

“You don’t want to overload that list with out-of-reach schools and then, at the end of the day, you may not get any admission offers,” Davtyan says. “You want that list of schools to be varied so that by the end of the cycle you have multiple offers to consider.”

How many applications is too many?

In theory, if you can afford the fees and also have the time and energy, there’s no harm in submitting 15 or more applications. But that’s certainly rare. Bouffides estimates that candidates send out four to six applications on average, while Davtyan estimates seven to 10, and Waldhier estimates four to five. 

As long as the quantity of your applications doesn’t interfere with their quality, casting a wide net can give you options. Even though your dream school may seem unattainable, if you truly fit its candidate profile then applying is worth a shot. Applying to more schools might also result in more financial aid offers, which could help you make your final decision. 

When determining which round to apply in, the general rule is the earlier the better. Programs will typically have more seats and financial aid available in round one than in later rounds, so although you shouldn’t rush through an application just to meet that first deadline, submitting the best application you can as early as you can could help your admission prospects. 

“If a person really finds a set of schools that they love, it doesn’t matter what their perception is of what their chances are of getting in,” Bouffides says. “I think in most cases if they think they’re a good candidate, if they see they’re a good fit for the school, apply and let the process take over and see what happens.”