Acceptance Rates at Top MBA Programs – Should They Inform Your Application Strategy?

by Vantage Point MBA, Oct 12, 2023

As an applicant or prospective applicant to top MBA programs, you might be wondering what your chances of acceptance are…and rightly so, applying to business school takes a ton of time and energy, you want to make sure all the effort pays off in the end! To simplify things, we’ve compiled a list of acceptance rates at top MBA programs for the class of 2024. Analyzing this data reveals some interesting and surprising insights about selectivity across schools.

Stanford GSB is (Unsurprisingly) the Most Selective MBA Program
Many of you will not be surprised by the fact that Stanford GSB has the lowest acceptance rate of any U.S. MBA program. But just how selective it is might cause a few double takes.

The latest data shows that Stanford GSB accepts less than 9% of those who apply! That’s right, of the 6,152 who submitted applications, only 528 were accepted. Of note, however, is that last year was Stanford’s LEAST competitive of the last 5+ years, when acceptance rates hovered at 6-7%.

For context, Harvard Business School’s acceptance rate was notably higher than Stanford’s at 14% – of the 8,264 people who applied, 1,187 were admitted. Purely from a numbers standpoint, if you are considering adding a dream program to your list, HBS is statistically easier to get into (not that we’re recommending you decide where to apply solely based on this fact).

The Most Selective Program After Harvard and Stanford Is…
If you said Wharton (you know, H/S/W as the saying goes), you would be WRONG! There are actually four programs that are slightly less competitive than Harvard and Stanford but more competitive than Wharton – Sloan, Columbia, Haas, and Fuqua.

Why are these programs so selective, you may wonder? There are a few factors at play. The most readily apparent is class size – Wharton enrolls a huge class each year (~900 students) and these other programs are smaller (Haas’ class size is typically less than 300 students). There are simply fewer seats to fill, which is something to think about as you craft your list of target schools.

The second reason is a little more nuanced. Our experience is that these programs, notably Sloan, Haas and Fuqua, have a heightened focus on fit with their unique cultures. All the top programs care about that nebulous concept, ‘fit’, but these three schools take it to the next level. If you are simply planning to blanket a selection of the top programs with applications to see ‘what sticks’, it is likely you will strike out at Sloan, Haas and Fuqua unless you really take the time to know them and what they look for in applicants.

An ancillary factor driving Columbia and Sloan’s selectivity is the number of applications these programs receive (6,000-7,000, significantly more than other top 10 programs aside from H/S/W). With strong global brand recognition and, particularly for Columbia, a highly desirable location for both domestic and international applicants, they simply receive more applications. Sloan is also the only M7 school that has continued to offer a GMAT waiver option post-COVID, which could have increased application volume.

Two of the Highest Ranked Programs Are Not as Selective as You May Think
A bright spot to note from the MBA acceptance rates data is that two of the highest ranked programs, Booth (#1 this year per U.S. News) and Kellogg (#2 this year per U.S. News), have acceptance rates of 30% and 31%, respectively. Yes, the competition is still fierce, but those percentages are roughly 4x Stanford’s acceptance rate and double that of Harvard.

While there are multiple reasons for this, the math is simple. Kellogg and Booth have substantial class sizes (500-600 students) but do not attract the same number of applicants as their more selective peers. It’s possible that people overlook Chicago in favor of the east and west coasts or are less familiar with the brand names of Kellogg’s and Booth’s parent universities. Whatever the driver, consider using this knowledge to your advantage when deciding where to apply.

If you need help narrowing your search or an expert opinion on where you will be competitive, feel free to reach out to request an initial consultation. Click here for a full table of acceptance rates by school.