The Tuesday Q&A: Figuring Out Your Safety Schools

MBA FAQ, MBA frequently asked questions, bschool questions, mba questionsQuestion:

How can you determine what’s a good safety school? Is a gap of four or five schools (in rankings) a big enough gap?


We get this question AAAAAALL the time here at Admissionado, and for good reason. Applicants want to know how to figure out which schools they have a great chance, a good chance, and a slim chance of getting into, and a big part of our business is helping folks figure that out.

That said, this isn’t an exact science. There’s no super-secret formula or magical calculation that tells you what makes a reach school vs. a match school vs. a safety school. But how can that be? Well, rankings aren’t exactly an exact science, either. The people who rank MBA programs are compiling and evaluating all sorts of data, some of which (like graduate employment rates, average post-grad salaries, etc, etc) don’t have anything to do (at least not DIRECTLY) with your chances of getting into that program. So, just because one school is ranked four or five slots higher than another doesn’t mean that you automatically have a better chance at the lower-ranked school.

So, how DO you figure out your MBA app strategy when it comes to safety schools? The most obvious and least precise recommendation here would revolve around the standardized testing (GMAT, GPA, TOEFL, etc). If your current GPA and GMAT scores are WAY higher than the particular MBA program’s published average, then you could start to look at that school as a POTENTIAL safety school. However, there are SOOOOOOOO many other factors to take into consideration—your specific work experience, your extracurricular activities, your projected concentration and business plans—that this sort of metric assessment is imprecise at best and misleading at worst.

At the end of the day, you can prep a reach/match/safety application list that ends up being totally wrong after you apply. We’ve seen folks get into two or three of their reach schools and only one or two of their safety schools… how much sense does THAT make? So, when it comes time to figure out where you want to apply and how great your chances are there, reach out to an admissions consultant and get a full profile evaluation to figure out the best strategy for you.

— Jon Frank

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