Building Your List of Business Schools

InGenius Prep

Building Your List of Business Schools

If you plan to apply to an MBA program in the coming months, you will want to ideally submit your applications before the Round 1 deadlines in September and October. This means that you will need to utilize the start of the year to work on your essays and other admissions materials. But before you can begin, you need to decide which programs to put on your list of business schools. You should not only be looking at the rankings, but also think about different factors that matter to you.

MBA programs are competitive - acceptance rate for the top 50 programs ranges from about 6% (Stanford) to 53% (Brigham Young) with the average hovering around 25%. With rare exceptions, most students who apply to MBA programs have strong transcripts, substantial work experience, and persuasive reasons to attend. To help you decide which institutions to put on your list of business schools, we’ve outlined the top institutions in the country with their statistics for admitted students and elaborated on various factors that might play a role in which programs you choose.

Top Ranked Business Schools

As you think about which options to include on your list of business schools, you need to know whether your GPA and test score(s) are on par with those of admitted students. For a bigger picture look, it also helps to know how selective each school is, so we’ve collected all that information for the top 30 business schools and included it in the following table:

Rank School Acceptance Rate Average GPA Average GMAT Score Average GRE Score
1 Stanford University 6.1% 3.73 732 330
1 University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) 20.7% 3.60 732 324
3 Northwestern University (Kellogg) 21.9% 3.60 732 Not publicized
3 University of Chicago (Booth) 22.9% 3.58 731 168 (quantitative section only)
5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) 13.1% 3.57 728 324
6 Harvard University 10.4% 3.71 731 326
7 University of California — Berkeley (Haas) 15.4% 3.67 726 325
8 Columbia University 14.5% 3.60 736 Not publicized
9 Yale University 20.4% 3.67 724 329
10 New York University 23.2% 3.45 716 323
11 University of Virginia (Darden) 32.9% 3.50 718 323
12 Dartmouth College (Tuck) 23.3% 3.49 722 319
12 Duke University (Fuqua) 22.4% 3.49 704 321
12 University of Michigan — Ann Arbor (Ross) 27.1% 3.48 720 320
15 Cornell University (Johnson) 33.1% 3.41 699 322
16 University of California — Los Angeles (Anderson) 24.3% 3.52 716 328
17 University of Southern California (Marshall) 28.2% 3.50 705 319
18 University of Texas — Austin (McCombs) 33.6% 3.48 702 316
19 Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) 35.4% 3.40 690 321
20 University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler) 46.6% 3.34 702 316
20 University of Washington (Foster) 35.1% 3.31 696 318
22 Emory University (Goizueta) 40.8% 3.30 686 Not publicized
23 Indiana University (Kelley) 38.3% 3.33 675 317
23 Vanderbilt University (Owen) 61.8% 3.30 678 Not publicized
25 Georgetown University (McDonough) 55.2% 3.34 693 Not publicized
25 Rice University (Jones) 39.7% 3.32 706 321
27 Georgia Institute of Technology (Scheller) 34.5% 3.40 681 320
28 University of Florida (Warrington) 18.8% 3.55 685 Not publicized
28 University of Minnesota — Twin Cities (Carlson) 47.9% 3.43 675 Not publicized
30 Brigham Young University (Marriott) 59.2% 3.55 675 Not publicized
30 University of Notre Dame (Mendoza) 47.8% 3.36 671 315
30 Washington University in St. Louis (Olin) 33.4% 3.30 693 Not publicized

When building your list of business schools, be sure to include a range of options. 

There are different approaches to building your list of business schools. It is always a good idea to include three kinds of schools: reach schools, schools that seem like a good match for your grades and scores, and a couple of “safety” schools that should accept you based on your academic record and accomplishments. The acceptance rate, GPA, and GMAT score columns can be effective indicators of deciding which schools make up the reach, fit, and safety spots on your list. But your list might also not have tiers, depending on your willingness to leave your job and current income. If you’re someone who wants to attend business school only if you get into a top institution, you may only apply to a handful. 

It’s interesting to see the variety in the range of GPAs and GMAT scores students bring to these top schools. Of course, if your stats are on a similar level to the admitted students’, you’re academically in a good place. But numbers can’t be the only deciding factors. You must keep other points of consideration in mind when making your list of business schools.

Other Aspects to Consider When Choosing MBA Programs

Amount of Workload Per Application

Applications for the various business schools often differ significantly from each other. Most of the time, especially if your list isn’t very long, there may not be any overlaps between essay topics. Wharton, Harvard Business School, and Yale School of Management all ask different prompts, so you have to spend a significant amount of time writing each response. While working a full-time job, balancing many applications is a hard task. So, when putting your list of business schools together, you must consider the amount of work per application, and whether you’ll be able to handle all of them and submit quality documents on time.

Academic Specialties and Campus Offerings 

After you finish the initial evaluation phase of going through current student data, your list may still be long. This is the time to head to the school websites. Most MBA programs will provide you with concentrations in common topics such as e-commerce, economics, entrepreneurship, etc., but look carefully through the pages to find unique academic offerings. For example, Stanford’s program offers a sports business concentration while Wharton doesn’t. Harvard has a special opportunity known as “FIELD Global Immersion,” which allows students to spend a semester abroad working with a global partner and its consumers. Similarly, other schools might have specific availabilities that can spark your interest.  

From there, spend a few minutes getting a sense of the student environment. What courses are required? Does the program’s mission align with your interests and character? Are there many clubs and other organizations? Can students take classes at other schools within the university? If you can imagine walking around a school’s campus and sitting in the classrooms, add that institution to your final list of business schools.

Class Size 

The number of students in your cohort - and even separate courses - could vary depending on which business school you attend. The biggest programs—Harvard Business School and Wharton—offer dozens of electives for second year students, whereas the smaller schools do not. With 800-900 classmates, you are sure to start building your network. That being said, you are also less likely to meet most of your classmates and will get less individualized attention from faculty and staff. At the other end of the spectrum are programs like Fisher (Ohio State) and Mendoza (Notre Dame) that enroll 120-150 students in each class. You will know everyone by name, have an easier time building relationships with professors, and you may find that the alumni network is stronger. Where you apply should depend on how you learn best and whether you thrive in small or large classes.


Do you want to experience the vibrancy of New York at a school like Stern (NYU) or Columbia, or enjoy the tranquility of Tuck (Dartmouth)? Is weather a consideration? Last fall I worked with an applicant who rode horses every day, an activity that she used for exercise as well as introspection. Since she needed a program with stables nearby, geography played a serious role in building her school list. Think carefully about where each school is located. Consider the kind of networking opportunities you’re hoping for and what kind of weather you prefer. If you’ve got a firm that you really want to work for, you may want to apply somewhere close to it. The location can indeed make a big difference. 

Work Experience and Future Prospects

Your next consideration should be your career goals. Though you can get a job in any industry after earning an MBA, different programs have different strengths: If you are interested in energy, you want to add Jones (Rice University) to your list. Ross (Michigan) is becoming increasingly popular for MBAs heading into tech careers. Smith (Maryland) is top-ranked for student satisfaction, and students obtain real world experience by helping manage the university’s endowment fund. Olin (Wash U) consistently ranks near the top of the list of entrepreneurial programs. Look for schools whose specialties are aligned with your career goals!

Not everyone wants the same things out of their business school experience. Think about what matters to you – do you work best in a small cohort? Are you hoping for a program that will gear you up for a successful career in the energy field? And while it’s great to have a dream school, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and just apply to a couple, because each year, admissions committees look for different things out of the incoming class. Make a balanced list, ensuring you’ll be happy no matter where you end up going. Good luck!

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