Mission Admission: Choosing a Safety School

Mission Admission is a series of MBA admission tips; a new one is posted each Tuesday.

For many candidates, Round 3 is a time to sit back, relax, and wait for the MBA admissions committees to make their decisions. However, for others, the third round is a time to be conservative and apply to a safety school. But what constitutes a safety school?

Although determining exactly what a safety school is can be difficult (given that many variables are involved, and the definition can shift depending on the candidate in question), a good place to start is with scores. If a candidate’s GMAT score and GPA are significantly higher than the target school’s averages, then the school is—at first glance, at least—a “safe” choice. So, for example, if you have a 750 GMAT and a 3.8 GPA and you are applying to a school with  a GMAT score middle 80% range of 620–730 and an average GPA of 3.4 for the most recent entering class, you are off to a promising start.

Next, you might consider your work experience relative to the target program. For example, many Goldman Sachs investment banking “alums” apply and are admitted to the so-called M7 schools (Stanford GSB, Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg, Chicago Booth, Columbia, and MIT Sloan). If you happen to be such a candidate, choosing a school outside this tier would certainly make you more competitive (keeping in mind scores, community service, and recommendations as well).

Finally, you might consider the program’s general selectivity. If you consider yourself a competitive candidate at a program that accepts approximately 18% of applicants, applying to one with an acceptance rate closer to 30% may be a safe option.

Before you start applying to any safety schools, however, ask yourself this relatively simple question: “Would I actually go if I got in?” Spending time applying to an MBA program that you would not be willing to actually attend is pointless. If you choose to apply to such a school (as some do), anyway, you will—rather ironically—find yourself with no “safety” net at all.

To explore potential safety schools typically ranked outside the top 15, check out our Diamonds in the Rough blog series.

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