Higher Acceptance Rates: If Only History Could Predict the Future


Note: This post is by Liza Weale, Senior Consultant at mbaMission

mbamissionThe news is out: as our friends at Poets & Quants shared this week, selectivity at top business schools dropped during the 2011“2012 application cycle, with a few exceptions.

While almost all the top-ranked MBA programs saw a decrease in selectivity, the biggest change was at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Two years ago, Ross reported an acceptance rate of 32%, but for the most recent application cycle, the reported rate was 41%.

So, if you’ve been considering applying to business school, you may be thinking you’d be a shoo-in now, right? If only history could predict the future.

What exactly will the acceptance rate look like at Ross next year? Will the school see a flood of applicants hoping to benefit from the higher acceptance rate”therefore actually lowering the acceptance rate? Or will candidates choose to apply elsewhere? Will Ross see a higher yield (the percentage of admitted students who enroll at the school) and have to ask people to defer their offer, as the MIT Sloan School of Management was forced to do this past summer?

The reality is that you cannot possibly know how many people”or especially, how many qualified people”are applying to a particular program in a given application season.

Business school is a long-term investment; it’s not day trading. If you’re hoping to capitalize on short-term market fluctuations, you are likely going to be disappointed. So, instead, assume that the schools are going to be just as competitive as ever and put together the most compelling application possible. Here are some thoughts to help you get started.

  1.  Get to know the schools in-depth to find the right fit for you”visit campuses, sit in on classes, talk to alumni, scour the information available online. Not only will this firsthand research help you better identify the proper programs for what you are seeking, but it will also come in handy when you are asked to explain in your essays and interviews why Yale/Ross/Anderson/Kelley/etc. is the best fit for you. And a side note: if the MBA programs are feeling pinched for applicants, their students will surely benefit in the end. Whether through new or improved facilities, added courses, star faculty, or other significant investments, the schools are eager to do what they must to attract the best and the brightest.
  2. Invest in the GMAT”follow a plan that builds both skills and endurance over time. All too often, candidates assume that because they did well on the SAT, they’ll do well on the GMAT; as a result, they fail to study properly, are disappointed with their results and find themselves scrambling after their first attempt. Assume that you’ll be studying at least a half dozen hours a week for a few months, and realize that only 10% of test takers achieve that coveted 700 score.
  3.  Be thoughtful about your candidacy. Are you, say, a consultant”as are so many other applicants? If so, think about the stories from your life that highlight your atypical qualities and achievements. Perhaps you traveled to China for two months to work on a start-up or helped your little sister rebound academically after some low grades. Do you come from a nontraditional background like education? If so, focus on showcasing experiences that illustrate your critical thinking skills”skills an admissions committee might not otherwise assume that you have.

Bottom line: do not stress (or relax!) too much about the numbers. Getting into business school is hard work, and it always will be. Gaming the system is impossible, so don’t waste your time wondering about questions you can’t answer and things you cannot control. Direct that energy instead to crafting the best application you can, and you will be fine. In fact, you may even enjoy the process.


  1. Vijay Janakiraman March 28, 2013 at 1:29 am

    Manhattan GMAT is supposed to provide ‘deep’ insights into the MBA admission process. The title of this article is therefore misleading. There were no ‘deep’ insights in this article save the ‘41%’ acceptance rate at Ross. The link says ‘an investigation into drop in selectivity”. I am yet to see it. What exactly are the results of the investigation? I was expecting some incisive comments on what exactly b-school admissions panels are looking at THIS year. Instead, all I get to read is stuff that any self-respecting b-school aspirant already knows.

    Banal articles like this are dime-a-dozen on the net. It is sad indeed to see MGMAT slip into that morass as well. If driving traffic to the MGMAT site was the objective, you have achieved that objective. But now I feel cheated.