Reach Schools: Increasing Your Acceptance Odds
It’s critical to have a strategy when selecting which business schools to apply to. Typically, applicants will apply to a mix of safety, target, and reach schools to better their odds.
“Most candidates feel overwhelmed with applying to more than the average of four or five schools,” Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, says. “Therefore, it’s crucial to think strategically about school selection and develop a competitive mix of MBA programs to target.”
But how do you go about deciding which schools are “safety” and which are “reach” on your list? Ilana Kowarski, a reporter for US News, recently broke down what you need to know about reach schools, and what it takes to get into one.
WHAT QUALIFIES AS A “REACH” SCHOOL?
A reach school is generally defined as a B-school where some of your qualifications—whether GPA or test scores—fall below the average for admitted students.
Prospective students may lack certain accomplishments and experiences, such as impressive extracurricular activities and a track record of leadership, that are typically necessary for acceptance at these institutions,” Kowarski explains.
A big misconception that applicants have about reach schools is that they don’t have what it takes to get in—when in reality, they do.
“It’s common for MBA applicants to misidentify programs as reach schools based on inaccurate assumptions about admissions criteria,” Kowarski says. “Sometimes a personal feature that a candidate perceives as a disadvantage in the admissions process is not viewed as such by admissions officers, who may describe that trait as a plus.”
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR ODDS AT A REACH SCHOOL
If you’re applying to a reach school with below average test scores or a low GPA, your best bet is to be upfront about your weaknesses in your application.
“For instance, someone who had a personal crisis during college that made it hard to focus on school can provide context on this issue in an optional essay or application addendum,” Kowarski says. “Similarly, someone who had an issue at a testing center while taking an entrance exam can explain this to admissions officers.”
Additionally, experts say, it can help to demonstrate other areas where you’ve excelled.
“Think about why a challenge would concern the admission committee and provide evidence to overcome the concern,” Melissa Rapp, associate dean of graduate admissions at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, says. “For example, if you have a low undergraduate GPA the committee may worry about your academic ability or your commitment to learning. Provide examples of your mental abilities through your work experience and directly address a lack of focus when you were younger, what you learned, and ways you have shown commitment more recently.”
Next Page: Tips for getting into Chicago Booth.
University of Chicago, Booth School of Business
Tips for How to Get into Chicago Booth
The University of Chicago Booth School of Business ranks number two in P&Q’s ‘Top Business Schools’ ranking for a reason. The business school is known for having both a mix of ‘Old School’ academics and ‘New School’ flexibility that produces exceptional business leaders.
Fortune recently sat down with admissions experts and spilled the beans on what it takes to get into Chicago Booth’s full-time MBA program.
TEST SCORES ARE JUST ONE COMPONENT
While the average GMAT score for Chicago Booth’s Class of 2024 was 729, experts say applicants shouldn’t place too much emphasis on getting the perfect test score. Colin Davis, senior director of marketing and operations at Booth, says test scores are just one component of the Booth application.
“Other parts of the application, like transcripts, work history, and recommenders, that can certainly speak to your abilities,” Davis says.
Additionally, experts say, test scores aren’t viewed exactly the same across applicants as admissions officers assess individual applications holistically.
“Someone that has a really high GPA from a really tough school and test scores that aren’t as strong might still get in,” Scott Edinburgh, founder of the consulting film Personal MBA Coach, says. “Whereas the next person that went to a low-rated school with just an average GPA might need to get a higher score.”
FOCUS ON THE ESSAY QUESTIONS
The Booth application includes two essay questions: one on career goals and another on who you are as a person. When it comes to essay one, Davis recommends that applicants look beyond simply stating what job title they’re after, or what company they hope to work for.
“It’s helpful to think about the type of impact you want to have in your career and the type of leader that you want to grow into,” Davis explains. “Then, tie that to the experiences you can have at Booth that are going to prepare you and fill your passions.”
In essay two, Booth is looking to understand your personal life.
“What kind of a person are you? What things do you do? What things have you overcome? Are there particular hobbies or challenges that you have?” Edinburgh says. “Often, community impact and leadership are nice to write about here, but it has to connect to you and how you’ve motivated people to do something in the past.”
Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, recommends thinking of a specific story to tell that demonstrates your values, impact, and growth.
“After you tell the story, reflect on the meaning,” she says. “How did these experiences help you grow as a person? And, what does that tell you about your capacity for growth at Booth?”
Next Page: Skills sought by top companies.
The Skills That Top Companies Are Seeking
81% of global corporate recruiters say interpersonal skills—such as compassion and empathetic leadership—are more important than any other kind of skill for business school grads to possess.
Fortune recently spoke to leading corporate executives, who shed some insight into what kind of skills they’re looking for in MBA grads.
GENERALIZE > SPECIALIZE
While specializing in a field or skillset can certainly help you to stand out, some experts say that C-suite leadership positions require a more generalized skillset.
“I’m looking for raw talent that has been trained in the broad aspects of business, including how to think, how to lead, how to relate to people, and how to achieve results,” Brian Napack, CEO of John Wiley & Sons, tells Fortune.
Experts also say the ability to remain both humble and curious can serve MBA grads well once they start working.
“You come out of a place like that, a really good school, you understand discounted cash flows, but you don’t walk out of there knowing you’re just at the beginning of your journey,”
Joyce Mullen, CEO of Insight Enterprises, a Fortune 500 IT services company, tells Fortune. “This notion of humility and curiosity is all part of a growth mindset and ongoing learning.”
At the end of the day, the best leaders are ones who can demonstrate compassion and kindness. And a simple act of kindness, at any level in the company, can pay off.
“A group of kind people will create a different kind of culture,” Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo senior vice president and the company’s first-ever chief design officer, tells Fortune. “Kindness is an amazing glue to keep people working together. The real reason why we should do it is an ethical reason. We’d live in a better world.”