One of the first questions any MBA applicant will have is “how hard is it to get in?” You might turn to acceptance rates to get an idea of this. While the numbers below are a good starting point, let’s start by noting that they are NOT a measurement of your chances at getting into a program. They take into account neither your strengths as an applicant, nor the strengths of the field, nor the year over year fluctuations in applicant supply and demand at any given institution.
We know you want the numbers, though, so here are the acceptance rates of the US News and World Report top 10 U.S. MBA programs. The data here are for the class of 2019.
|RANK||SCHOOL||ACCEPTANCE RATE||CLASS SIZE||NUMBER OF APPLICANTS|
|#1||University of Pennsylvania – Wharton||19.2%||863||6692|
|#2||Stanford Graduate School of Business||5.7%||418||8173|
|#3||Harvard Business School||9.9%||928||10,351|
|#5||University of Chicago – Booth||23.5%||582||4674|
|#6||Columbia Business School||16.5%||753||6188|
|#7||Northwestern – Kellogg||20.2%||478||4595|
|#8||UC Berkeley – Haas||12.9%||262||4007|
|#9||Yale School of Management||17.4%||348||4098|
|#10||Duke – Fuqua||22.4%||433||3796|
Now that we’ve got that out there, let’s talk about what these numbers actually tell us.
What do acceptance rates mean?
Some (or all) of these acceptance rates may look intimidating, but before you panic about your chances of attending a top-ranked MBA program, let’s peer behind the curtain. Acceptance rates are part of an admissions department’s strategy, both to market their programs and to ensure that they fill their seats. Top-ranked programs receive thousands of applications and typically only have a few hundred to several hundred spots to offer, so it’s natural that they would have low acceptance rates. In fact, since acceptance rates are part of the formula used by journalists to create MBA rankings, the low acceptance rate is part of the reason why these schools are top-ranked MBA programs in the first place. A low number is advantageous to the school because it gives them the opportunity to tout their prestige, but these numbers are not the whole story.
Acceptance rates vary year by year, and sometimes they vary a lot. Even if programs keep their class sizes roughly the same (and they generally they do, though not always), they have little control over how many applications they receive, which greatly influences their acceptance rates. For example, Wharton reported an acceptance rate of just 9% in 2016, but in 2018 they accepted 856 of 5,905 applicants, bumping their acceptance rate up to about 14%. By contrast, Berkeley Haas had an acceptance rate of 15% for the class of 2020, but when they received nearly double the number of applications and reduced their class size by about 100 spots the following year, their acceptance rate shrank to a slim 6%. Business schools are making conscious decisions to try and keep these numbers low by recruiting more applicants and changing the size of their class.
Unfortunately, there is just no way to know at the time of application whether you will be in an extremely competitive year or not, or whether your dream program will expand or shrink their class size. For that reason, you should be thinking beyond acceptance rates—consider how competitive your application is, whether you have enough work experience (and the quality of that experience), and how compelling of a case you can put together to advocate for your acceptance. When you apply to a top MBA program, you will undoubtedly be applying alongside hundreds of other quality, competitive candidates, which is why it’s important to differentiate yourself. Call out what makes you and your professional experience: a knack for innovation, a wealth of leadership experience, broad global exposure in your industry, or expertise in a specialized field. Make sure that you differentiate yourself by your clear-cut, well thought-through and compelling career goals, as well. If you want to know more about your chances of getting accepted at various programs, or you want a competitive edge in putting together a strong application, then take advantage of the services of professional MBA admissions consultants who can help you with exactly that.
Yield rates and the dreaded waitlist
Keep in mind that while you are thinking about acceptance rates, the school is also thinking about yield—how many of their accepted students will matriculate. This number is also part of the ranking calculation at most major news outlets: the higher the yield rate, the “better” the school is deemed to be. At the very best schools, the yield rate can near 100%, but even a few steps down the latter it will fall dramatically (consider, for example: how many CBS students also get in to GSB, and go there instead?). The school wants to fill their spots optimally so they can collect enough tuition and continue thriving, which means they have to predict what their yield rate will be when they start offering acceptances. This is why “fit” matters more to lower ranked schools—they want to pick people who will actually accept their offer.
This can be good news for you—if your dream school has a lower than expected yield rate, meaning that far fewer students matriculate than are admitted, then you have a better chance of getting in off the waitlist, which is, in the end, just a tool schools use to make sure they are able to fill out their class numbers. In essence, your chance of getting off a waitlist depends in part on how good the admissions committee was at forecasting their yield rate. That’s out of your control, but if you are waitlisted, you can still boost your chances by following up with the school, submitting another essay, and even seeking another recommendation if you are able to.
A competitive acceptance rate shouldn’t be the basis of your decision on whether to apply or not, either positively or negatively. You should apply based on whether the program is a good fit for you, and whether you believe you have a good shot at getting in based on stats such as average GMAT scores, amount and depth of work experience, and your ability to put together a convincing case for acceptance in your application. Use acceptance rates cautiously and as a starting reference point, but focus your energy on differentiating yourself and putting your best foot forward with a great application.