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How Life and Career Impact the Choice and Number of Potential B-Schools

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, May 1, 2024

"How many business schools should I apply to? Which schools should I apply to?" Aspiring MBAs begin to ponder these vital questions in the spring before the busy application-writing season in summer and fall. The answer regarding potential B-schools varies depending on where the candidate is within their "window" of applying.

The vast majority of MBA students are in their mid-20s to early 30s. Only a small portion comes directly from college via the deferred MBA admissions route. Likewise, only a few attend a full-time MBA program in their late 30s and into their 40s. However, even within this eight-year "window"—from 24 to 32 years of age—applicants have a variety of factors to consider when deciding which portfolio of MBA programs they should apply to.

Age Considerations

Many applicants in their mid-20s will decide to apply only to their first two choices this admissions cycle. If it doesn't work out, they can try again in a couple of years with more experience. We understand this approach for some younger candidates. However, older MBA applicants should strongly consider a different approach.

Instead, they should apply to a broader array of potential B-schools to ensure that they will at least have the option of attending business school in the fall of 2025. The best scenario involves an intelligent mix of top schools and "safer" schools that will yield the applicant's choice of MBA programs. Some candidates get on a "Harvard or Stanford or nothing!" kick that doesn't serve anyone's interests.

Next Career Alternative

Some MBA aspirants are in positions where they could continue for many more years. Others hold roles at consulting firms or top investment banks where policy or tradition encourages young employees to get further education.

In environments where one can continue to advance unfettered, applicants might consider applying solely to their top-choice programs. However, candidates coming from companies with two- to three-year analyst programs that don't allow for much upward progression should cast a wider net that includes a larger portfolio of potential B-schools.

Career Track Satisfaction

We've talked to several MBA aspirants who feel they are "locked" into too technical or narrowly defined roles. Yet, some still want to apply to just a few highly-ranked programs. When people hope to make a career transition to an entirely new role or industry, we highly encourage them to apply to a broader array of business schools.

There are incredible programs throughout the top 20 in the B-school rankings (and even beyond) that can provide the classes, career programs, and alumni networks that aid this transition.

First-timer or Re-Applicant?

A candidate going through a second round of business school applications should almost always apply to more schools. If the candidate is reapplying a couple of years after dramatically improving their experience base, they might add a couple of new schools to the mix but still target their top programs from a few years before.

B-Schooled Podcast #136: Advice for Reapplicants

However, suppose the candidate is reapplying next year without significant changes in role, experience, or extracurriculars. In that case, it makes sense to pursue a different base of schools, with perhaps one or two holdovers from the year before.

Family Considerations for Potential B-Schools

Taking two years to get an MBA is not just a business decision—it's a life decision. Sometimes, the interests of boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, and children are critical factors in deciding whether, when, and where to apply. These considerations are much more complex and varied than those listed above, so working through them in depth isn't easy here.

For instance, we've met some students who wanted to get through business school quickly so that they could start a family afterward. We've also worked with applicants who thought that business school (with daycare, low travel requirements, etc.) was a great environment to begin to build up their brood.

Candidates should talk with family, friends, mentors (and potentially an MBA admissions consultant) early in the application process to determine where they are in this "window" for business school. It's a critical step in thoughtfully managing this multi-month application process.

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Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. We offer multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help with essay editing, interview prep, and MBA resume review. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.