School selection is the first and one of the most important steps in maximizing your chances of MBA admissions success. You’re much more likely to be welcomed at those schools which are good matches for your background, interests, learning style, and personal and career goals – provided you understand how to present yourself in a way that highlights your good fit with that school.

However, the task of identifying your best-fit schools may be easier said than done. Much of the data that schools make available to prospective students can seem irrelevant or confusing.

Take, for example, these statistics for the undergraduate majors reported by students who began the MBA program at Stanford in a recent year:

  • 44 per cent majored in humanities or social sciences
  • 37 per cent majored in natural sciences, mathematics, or engineering
  • 19 per cent majored in business

What are you supposed to conclude from that? Does it mean that your chances of winning admission to Stanford are poor if you majored in business? Or does it suggest that quant skills don’t really matter that much in Stanford admissions?

You’d be reading far too much into a small set of numbers if you tried to base any conclusions about Stanford admissions on that data alone. (And you would be completely wrong about Stanford if you tried to draw either of the hypothetical conclusions mentioned above.)

For most people, statistics like these are more useful when you compare them to similar data from other schools. For example, compare the Stanford undergrad major statistics with those from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business:

  • 9 per cent majored in humanities or social sciences (including economics)
  • 51 per cent majored in science or engineering
  • 34 per cent majored in business or economics

And now look at the same information for Chicago Booth:

  • 17 per cent majored in liberal arts
  • 25 per cent majored in economics
  • 20 per cent majored in engineering
  • 28 per cent majored in business

You still can’t draw any hard-and-fast conclusions about admissions at any of those schools from just that data – but you can start getting an idea of what the different communities and student bodies tend to be like, and of how comfortable you might be at each school.

You can also start to get some ideas about how to present yourself in your applications. If you’re an engineer, for example, and you’re applying to Stanford or Chicago, you might want to stress that your interests and abilities go beyond those normally associated with engineers. That’s probably not as much of a concern if you’re applying to Tepper.

Applicants sometimes complain that school selection turns out to be more time-consuming than they thought it would be. That’s usually because there are so many factors to consider in deciding which b-schools are the best fits for you. But the difference that careful school selection can make to your application outcomes makes it well worth the time and trouble you need to put into it. That’s all the more reason why it’s smart to get started on this step of the application process early.

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