Mission Admission: Deciding on 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 Emory’s Goizueta School (GMAT middle 80% range 620–730 and GPA 3.4 for the Class of 2015), 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, Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg, Chicago, Columbia and MIT). 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 Columbia Business School, which accepts approximately 18% of applicants, applying to Texas, which in recent years has accepted 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 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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