Beating the Competition, Gaining MBA Admission: Macro-Numbers

May, 09, 2014

Categories: Admissions Consulting | Advice | Rankings | Chicago GSB | HBS | Kellogg | MBA | MBA留学 | Michigan Ross | MIT Sloan | NYU Stern | Ross | School Selection | Stanford GSB

Clients frequently ask me to assess their chances for MBA admission.  They want to know how they compare with their competition. They want to know how to beat their competition.  This is an extremely reasonable request.  After all, admission to top MBA programs or other competitive graduate programs is a zero sum game: You get admitted and win or don’t get admitted and lose.  I will not sugarcoat loss by suggesting that somehow the act of applying is such an enriching experience that competing is its own reward. Some people might get such a benefit as a by-product of a process that requires introspection, but the primary benefit in making an application is to get admitted. The time and energy required are often great. Greater, in fact, then many realize when they begin the process.  So, it is perfectly natural that clients want to know how they stand against the competition.


Given the global nature of my client base and my experience over the past twelve and half years, I am able to assess the competition from a variety of perspectives.   In this series of posts, I will discuss some of the ways to assess your competition and beat your competition. 


In this first post, I look at Competition from the macro-level of Acceptance Rates, Number of Applicants, Number of Enrolled, and Yield. It is important to learn how to assess your chances for MBA admission in terms of publicly available data rather than what your friends say,  ranking lists, where your parents want you to go, or vague feelings.  My data is from US News & World Report for Fall 2013 entrance. I have calculated all Yield rates, which are rounded up.  I could taken data from other sources and this is in no way outright endorsement of the US News & World Report rankings. 


My goal in this post  is that you gain insight into macro-level data reveals about top MBA programs and how such insights can be used to help develop a school selection strategy.  Future posts in this series will address other ways to understand and beat your competition.


1. Begin by looking at the popularity of the program.  In general,  after taking account of the number of available seats, the more popular the program, the more difficult it will be to enter. Popularity is always relative, that is, you must compare programs to determine their relative popularity. Popularity is measured in two ways:


Number of Applicants: While some programs may indeed be self-selecting (based on factors like curriculum, program length, and location) because of the uniqueness of the program, the absolute measure of popularity is the number of applicants to a program.  HBS is the most popular US MBA program because it receives the most applications (9315). Stanford is second most popular program because it receives the second largest number of applications (7108).  Wharton is the third most popular, etc.


Yield is the number of applicants enrolled divided by the number admitted.  Yield reveals the popularity of a program amongst  MBA admits to that school.  Yield is the number that tells that on the whole, more of those that get admitted to HBS  would rather go there than do anything else (Go to another school, stay in the workforce,  travel the world, etc).  If you compare the yield between schools that admit similar types of applicants, it is a good bet that you can predict what an applicant will do when faced with choosing between schools.



Comparing Yield

Business School  HBS Stanford Booth  Ross
Number of Applicants   9315  7108 4300 2647
Yield (Enrolled÷ Accepted)  89% (932 enrolled/1050 accepted) 84% (406 enrolled/483 accepted) 63% (581 enrolled /929 accepted) 51%  (455 enrolled /893 accepted)

I have had never had a client who was admitted to HBS and Booth or to Stanford and Booth,  and went to Booth.  Maybe such a person exists, but a comparison of the yields tells us that this is unlikely.  Yield also tells us Michigan is likely to be a safety school for many who apply there because so many admits go somewhere else.


A high yield indicates that early round application is critical because those that are admitted are more likely to attend, creating less available seats in subsequent rounds.  A low yield program is one where last round admission is much more likely because the program needs every round to fill build their class. This is why I have had many clients admitted to Ross in Round Three,  a fair number admitted to Booth in Round Three, and very few admitted to HBS or Stanford in Round Three.  So, if you are applying for a late round and want a better shot at admission, apply to some schools with relatively low yields (around 50% or less).


2. Next, look at the Acceptance Rate.  While the acceptance rate is surely the absolutely most important number to know, it only tells part of the story.  If you don’t know a school’s yield and number of applicants you will lack the full context for making sense of the acceptance rate.


Comparing  Acceptance Rate to Yield and Number of Applications Based on US News & World Reports Top 20 US MBA Programs.  Listed in Acceptance Rate Order.

B-School Acceptance Rate Number of Applicants Number Enrolled Number Accepted Yield (Enrolled÷ Accepted) US News Rank
Stanford GSB 6.8% 7108 406 483  84% 1
Harvard Business School 11.3% 9315 932 1050  89% 1
Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology 13.1% 4529 406 593  69% 5
Haas School of Business at University of California–Berkeley 14.3% 3422 251 488  51% 7
Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University 16% 3661 313 587  53% 10
Columbia Business School 18.1% 5765 749 1044  72% 8
Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania 18.7% 6498 837 1217  69% 1
Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College 20.8% 2680 277 588  47% 9
Booth School of Business at University of Chicago 21% 4430 581 929  63% 4
School of Management at Yale University 21.3% 2826 291 601  48% 13
Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University 21.6% 5453 646 1177  55% 6
Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University  22.1% 2356  289  521  56% 17
Anderson School of Management at University of California–Los Angeles 22.3% 3124  356  697  51%  16
Darden School of Business at University of Virginia  25.1%  2721  316  682  46% 11
Fuqua School of Business at Duke University  26.5% 3150  433  834  52% 14
Goizueta Business School at Emory University  31.2%  1168  157  364  43%  20
Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University  32% 1411  201 451  45%  18
McCombs School of Business at University of Texas–Austin 32.6% 1951  275  637  43%  15
Stephen M. Ross School of Business at University of Michigan–Ann Arbor 33.7%  2647  455  893 51%  11
Kenan-Flagler Business School at University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill 43.8% 1494  278  655  42%  19

Note:  I am using the US News & World Report data and rankings as an example.  Other publications rankings could have been used and other schools could have been included, but for purposes of understanding how to analyze the difficulty of admission, this data set is sufficient for my purposes. While I wish that I could cover European programs here, given that many of them don’t provide the same or even similar data as US B-schools, I  thought it best to put them to the side for the moment. 


Look at Acceptance Rates in Context. If you just look at acceptance rates, you will see that they are a relatively poor predicator of a school’s US News ranking, which is one reason why rankings should never be taken at face value.  But, then again, acceptance rates cannot be understood without greater context: 


Size Matters: Stanford GBS is the most difficult MBA program to get accepted to, but it is less popular than HBS both in terms of total number of applicants and yield.   It is also a much smaller program in terms of number of enrolled, which is one critical reason why the acceptance rate at Stanford is so small compared to HBS. The other top big programs (Over 500 students in each year’s class), Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, and Booth like HBS, have higher acceptance rates than top smaller programs.   Size also matters at the lower end as well,  a program with a relatively small number of applicants and large number of seats is easier to get into.   


Popularity with Admits Matters:  Just because the acceptance rate and number enrolled is low does not necessarily mean a school has limited capacity to take students in late rounds. Applicants sometimes assume that a school’s acceptance rate is also an indication of the difficulty of gaining admission in 2nd, 3rd or subsequent rounds.   Haas with a 14.3% acceptance rate (Forth highest) and a small enrollment (251) and 51% yield  has the same yield as Ross where the acceptance rate is 33.7%.  In other words, while Haas is difficult to enter, it tends to be a second choice school for many who are admitted there and a relatively good school for gaining R3 admission.  Amongst the Top 10, Tuck is the least popular with those admitted there and therefore another good late round option.  Kenan-Flagler UNC is both the easiest school on the table above to get admitted to and the least popular.  They have four application rounds and you be sure that they need to accept applicants in four rounds to fill their class.


Different scenarios justify different school selection approaches in order to beat the competition:


-If you want to maximize your chance of admission to a Top 10 MBA program, the best thing to do is focus on Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, Tuck and Booth and be very cautious about applying to HBS, Stanford, MIT, Haas, and NYU.   Tuck is the only small Top 10 MBA program with an acceptance similar to a bigger program, so it is a much better bet than the other smaller top programs. 


Applying only to Stanford GSB and HBS is a very high risk strategy.  Even adding a few additional schools (especially Tuck, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, and/or Booth) is a great way to hedge the risk in a Top 10 only selection strategy.


-If you are willing to consider programs ranked 11-20, Michigan is the absolute bargain because of its high acceptance rate and ranking.


-If you are applying in late application rounds, go for schools with low yields (around 50% or less)  and high acceptance rates (25% or more) to increase your chances for admission.


 -If you prefer or at least willing to live in small towns or less popular localities, you will find it easier to get admitted.  Simply avoid New York City (CBS, NYU), Philadelphia (Wharton, an easy train ride to NYC!),  the Silicon Valley/Bay Area (Stanford and Berkeley), and Cambridge (HBS and MIT). Chicago (Booth and Kellogg)  and Los Angeles (UCLA) could be the most popular cities you focus on, but if you really want to increase your chances focus on Southern Schools plus McCombs and Ross.


-The highest risk strategy is to apply in last rounds to schools with high yields and low acceptance rates.  While I have had clients succeed at R3 round strategy to HBS, Stanford, Columbia, Wharton, etc., I always make it clear from the outset that the chances are poor even if both the applicant and application are strong in all respects. And unfortunately more often than not, they lose.


-Don’t underestimate the difficulty of gaining admission to Wharton or Columbia. Both schools have relatively high rates of acceptance, but this can be very deceiving.  If you are applying in R2 and especially R3 at Wharton, you will be faced with the fact that while Wharton is the second largest program, it also has a relatively high yield (Only HBS, Stanford, and Columbia have a higher yield. It ties with MIT).  That is why R2 and R3 waitlisting is common enough there.  Also, the acceptance rate numbers are impacted by the Lauder Program, which is a highly self-selecting program, so it can be assumed that proportionally more Lauder applicants are admitted than regular Wharton admits, meaning that the actual rate for gaining admission into the two-year non-Lauder track is actually harder that the overall acceptance rate.   Columbia is even more complicated because of Early Decision.  ED boosts Columbia’s yield because most of those accepted to it will not abandon their $6000 deposit, which would be paid prior to other school’s R2 results coming out.  While I have no data, I can say, based on extensive experience for over a decade, that ED is easier to get into, so the Regular Decision acceptance rate is much worse.  In addition, applying to Columbia after the January Fellowship Deadline (What I think of as the actual R2 deadline there) really reduces an applicants chances. Since Columbia has a rolling admissions process,  you can assume that the chances for RD admission decline constantly.



Looking at other data will generate other conclusions.  Different rankings would alter your perception of acceptance rates.  Putting these schools in order of post-MBA starting salary  (Something I have done elsewhere) might also alter your perceptions.  My hope is that you have seen how such data can be used to analyze potential school selection choices in order to develop a winning strategy. 


Finally, Getting the Interview 

One very interesting function of  a school’s  acceptance rate is that it is a good indicator of what percentage of applicants will get invited to invitation only interviews. Double the acceptance rate at programs with invitations only admissions and acceptance rates less than 50% and you have a pretty good idea about what percentage of applicants are being interviewed. This is is critical because only those who are interviewed have a chance to gain admission.  Stanford is difficult not only because the number of applicants far exceeds the number of available seats, but because the chance even to interview is so small, 13.6%. Things get a bit easier at HBS, where approximately 22.6% of applicants will get interviewed, and significantly easier at Booth, where about 42% of the pool will get an invite.To varying extents these programs are rejected outright many applicants who surely fit within the 80% range.  Fortunately, they are not necessarily rejecting the same people.  For instance, I have had clients rejected without interview from HBS, who were admitted to Stanford and vis a versa. I have even had clients rejected outright by Booth and admitted to HBS.  Ross must interview the majority of their applicants in order to get enough admits. In other words, they schools are easy to get interviewed by as long as you fit within the 80% range. The 80% range and averages is the subject of the next blog post in this series. 

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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