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September 28, 2008

A great year not to apply to B-school?

In this post, I provide some guidance on whether it is better to apply for Fall 2009 or to wait for the market for MBA admissions to improve. All trends (see below) indicate that Fall 2009 entry will be one of the most difficult for applicants, so it is worth considering whether it is better to apply now or to wait.

You have 2-5 years of work experience, are between the ages of approximately 22-27, like your job now, and have GMAT score in the 80% range for those admitted to the schools you want to attend. Should you apply for Fall 2009 or wait till Fall 2010 or later?

Answer 1: It depends. Let's assume your dream schools are HBS and Stanford GSB.

Of course, if you are over 25 and specifically focused on HBS or Stanford GSB where age seems increasingly to be a factor and youth is an advantage, I would not advise waiting in most cases if your TOEFL score meets the minimum and your GMAT is at least 650 (HBS's minimum score). According to BusinessWeek for Fall 2007-2008 admission, the average age of admits at HBS is 27 (mean and median), with the 80% range for months of work experience being 35 to 62 months, while Stanford does not report the average age, the 80% range for work experience was 23 to 66 months. By comparison, Wharton's average age was 28 (median) and 29 (mean) with the 80% range for work experience being 48 to 96 months, Chicago GSB's was 28 (mean & median) with the 80% range for work experience being 35 to 85 months, Kellogg's was 28 (mean and median) with the 80% range being between 41 and 96 months, Columbia's was 28 (mean and median) with the 80% range being between 31 and 88 months, and MIT Sloan's was 28 (mean and median) with the 80% range being between 24 and 120 months.
BOTTOM LINE: If you want to get into Stanford for HBS, it is optimal to apply by or before age 27. At the other top schools mentioned, it is optimal to apply by or before age 28, but their greater age ranges (as indicated by 80% range for work experience) indicate that they are more welcoming to those who will be as old as 30-32 upon entering. I don't suggest waiting till your 29, 30, or 31 to apply, but the admissions outlook for doing so is significantly better at such schools as MIT, Wharton, and Kellogg.

If you fit into the criteria I mentioned at the begining of this post, even if your test scores are low (but meet the minimums for GMAT and/or TOEFL), if you can put together a strong application, it would be rational to apply to HBS and/or Stanford. For some 26 or 27 year olds who are generally happy with their present work situation, but who want to go to HSB and/or Stanford, I think it would be perfectly rational to only apply to one or both of those schools for Fall 2009 admission. Such individuals can always apply to a greater range of schools the following year, even as their age begins to be a negative factor for entry into HBS and/or Stanford.

From US News and World Report, 9/27/2008:

Due in large part to volatile markets, the business school business has been very hectic lately, a climate that could—if conventional wisdom holds—create one of the most competitive admissions cycles in history.

Business school recruiting events are often standing-room only, and test prep companies are fielding dozens more phone calls a day from nervous prospects. The organization that administers the Graduate Management Admission Test, the business school admissions exam, reports that the number of tests taken worldwide the past two years has increased far faster than in previous years. Although some of the growth can be attributed to interest in business schools rising overall, the numbers speak for themselves. GMAT growth for August was 24.5 percent from 2006 to 2008, compared to 16.5 percent growth from 2004 to 2006.

This is consistent with what I have previously stated (See here) and should come as little surprise to many well-informed applicants. All I can say is that based on my experience as an admissions consultant since 2001, Fall 2008 entry was hard, but I fully expect Fall 2009 entry to be miserable with many candidates who would in previous years have obtained admission at top schools, finding themselves either accepted into their safety schools or nowhere. Like with any investment, there is a time to enter the admissions market and a time not to.

If you are passionate about making a major career change OR
If you have suddenly become unemployed or otherwise need a new career option
If you are passionate to get an MBA education
If you have scholarship
if you are sponsored by your company
if you are getting too old to get into the schools you want to go to..

ON THE OTHER HAND, if you are happy with your present work situation and will still be at an optimal age for another year or more, I would suggest either only applying to the very top schools you want to attend or simply waiting.
While it is possible that Fall 2010 entry will be worse, if over the next year you can enhance your application through improved test scores, further work accomplishments, and/or valuable extracurricular experience, I think you might find Fall 2010 or later entry a better option in terms of your ability to obtain admission. Again, you might to test the waters by simply only applying to a school or schools that will not be a compromise choice. The clear implication of this is that you might need to apply again as reapplicant. Please note this is not a good option for schools like INSEAD or IE which have restrictions on reapplication. For US schools reapplication is common and in my experience reapplicants can get into HBS, Stanford, Wharton, and other top programs.

Whether you are applying for Fall 2009 or later, I think it is especially important to have a school selection strategy that fully accounts for the difficulty of admission. Please see my earlier post on a portfolio approach to school selection.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant." If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.

-Adam Markus
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