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The Safe Approach to Identifying MBA Safety Schools

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When it comes to applying to business school there is no such thing as a sure bet. Top MBA programs are becoming increasingly difficult to get into and just because a school has a high acceptance rate doesn't mean they'll automatically let in everyone with a 750+ GMAT score. While it is tempting to spend a majority of your time on dream schools like Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton, it's in your best interest to identify other highly regarded MBA programs that provide a quality education, strong network, and abundant job opportunities where your odds of getting in are a bit more favorable.

After our last blog on nailing down stretch schools, we decided to take a look at the other end of the spectrum at safety schools in an attempt to answer the question of what makes for a good safety school? Before we answer this question let's start out with defining by what we mean by safety school. A safety school is an MBA program where your profile ranks among the top quartile of admitted students and typically features a high acceptance rate in addition to a large class size.

Now let's break down the nuts and bolts of a good safety school.

Criteria 1: Would you actually attend this school if you were given admission? This seems like a no-brainer. However, you would be amazed at how many applicants decide to reapply next year rather than commit to a safety school that sits at the bottom of this list. If you are a risk-taker that has the perseverance and luxury to reapply next year if things don't work out then don't include safety schools in your list. Applying to a school that you would walk away from if it was your only option is an incredibly huge waste of time that could have been better spent polishing your other applications. Don't simply apply to schools that are lower in the rankings as a way to offset your anxiety at more competitive programs.

Be honest with yourself and really look at what you want out of an MBA program. While safety schools help mitigate the risk of full out rejection and give you options to consider, it's important to recognize that not every school lower in the rankings is worth pursuing so choose wisely.

Criteria 2: Your stats make you look like a rock star among admitted students. They say that safety comes in numbers and in the case of safety schools this phrase means finding programs where your GMAT score and GPA sit above the average for admitted students - the larger the gap, the safer you are! Many schools list a low to high range for 80% of their admitted students so you want to be on the far right side of the range. For top MBA programs to maintain their rankings, they have to play the numbers game which means a higher priority (and often times scholarship money) to students with higher scores to attend their schools in order to boost averages.

Criteria 3: High rates of acceptance + large class size. Programs with high acceptance rates (25%+) in addition to a large class sizes (above 400 students) make for great safety schools based on the numbers alone. For example while some strong candidates consider Ivy League programs like Tuck and Johnson as safety schools with a great brand name, the smaller size of these programs limits the attractiveness of these schools as safeties. And these schools know where they rank, so they're equally concerned about yield. So, you see, they might not be as safe as you might think!

Criteria 4: Does the school provide excellent opportunities to recruit at companies that you want to work for? This is actually one of the most important things that we focus on when helping our clients narrow down their list of schools to apply to. Oftentimes applicants get so wrapped up in rankings and the prestige of a school name that they fail to realize that they can still get into the same post-MBA careers in consulting, banking, and tech as MBAs from Harvard, Stanford, Booth, and Wharton. A great example is the Ross School of Business which has some of the highest placement rates for consultants at McKinsey, Bain, and BCG in addition to being one of the largest feeder schools to tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft. We did a great piece on this topic in our blog post A Different Approach to Choosing MBA Programs so make sure to check that out as well.

Following these four criteria will give you a solid start to determining safety schools that fit your profile and goals. To get a better assessment of which safety schools are best suited for your specific background and objectives we recommend scheduling a free consultation to get a full breakdown of your profile to create a refined list of schools. For more information on your school selection process don't forget to also check out our collection of free resources and school profiles.

Good luck!
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