Student Question: How many schools to apply to in the US?

Student Question: I want to study in the US. I am still researching schools, but I don’t know how many I should apply to? I want to increase my chances of getting a scholarship (if possible). But each application is expensive. What is the right number?

There is no magic number for applications. Applying to multiple schools could give you a greater chance of securing scholarships. But only if you are applying to the right schools. In general these are schools that are targeting students from Africa, and/or schools where your specific application will be competitive.It’s not as simple as having ‘reach’, ‘preffered’ and ‘saftey’ schools on your list. But thinking about how competitive you are in relation to each school is a good place to start.

The best advice I’ve heard is from Educational Consultant Anthony Nemecek. Nemecek advises students to apply to a vertical list of universities (with different levels of competitiveness) rather than a horizontal list. His Logic? ‘If you apply to 10 universities that have a 10% acceptance rate, you have a 90% chance of not getting into any.’ Nemecek was speaking at the Fullbright Commission’s advisor training conference on a panel with Stanford’s former director of Admissions Bob Patterson.

Patterson says applicants don’t always grasp how competitive the process is. On the topic of undergrad admissions at Stanford, he mentioned there were 150 undergrad applicants, who were top of their classes and had perfect SAT test scores –  who were turned away. This should not put you off applying to the likes of Stanford and Harvard. But it does mean you have to be strategic about your research.

In terms of funding, bear in mind that each school has different priorities and policies.  There are 5 needs-blind schools who will consider your application without knowing your financial position, and will award needs-based scholarships to make up the difference. Schools can offer need-based scholarships,  merit-based scholarships or a combination of both. Some may have a limited budget for international students, or  specific scholarships that you would be perfect for.

There are 51 US Business Schools in the FT’s (top 100) Global MBA rankings. You’ll need to do your research – and keep an open mind about programmes outside of the big brand names.

The good news? Exceptional candidates from Africa are in demand. According to Patterson, there has been a shift away from looking at well-rounded students in isolation, and towards forming a well-rounded class.

Diversity is a huge theme for MBA admissions officers. And with few applicants from Africa (only 1.7% in top programmes), you have an opportunity to show what you can bring to the class.

I can’t emphasise research enough. Over and above the programmes that you can get into, you should be thinking about the kinds of programmes where you can thrive. Be clear about what aspects of the programme are important to you, and the kind of environments in which you will flourish.

You will need to craft each application for each school, so don’t take on too many. If you do your research you should have a good idea of where you should be applying and which schools you are a good fit for.

Lastly, remember that your chances of securing scholarships are highest in the first and second rounds of applications.

Good Luck!


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