By Russell Davis, MBA Prep School
For many MBA candidates, one of the most challenging questions to answer in the interview is the dreaded, ‘So what other schools are you applying to?’ Or some variation on that theme.
Of course, like all of your answers, it must come across as authentic, while at the same time you need to convince the interviewer that their school IS your dream school.
MBA applications are like courting …
Going through the MBA application process is much like courting. You are trying to impress the school, or more specifically, the Admissions Committee; and at the same time they are trying to put forward their best foot and impress you. But all the power is in the hands of the school … until you are admitted!
Admissions Committees and schools are like you and me, they want to feel wanted. They want to be your first choice. Hey, you know you are a strong candidate with a wonderful story, great statistics, you’ve been high impact in the community … why do they care if they are your first choice? You’d make a great addition to their cohort, clearly bringing value through your unique perspective and, oh by the way, your GMAT and GPA would help those averages!
The Importance of ‘Yieldability’
The bottom-line is, for every seat in a top MBA program there are anywhere from 7 to 20+ applicants. Odds are, there is even someone who looks like you. Ultimately, schools want to admit applicants who they believe there is a high probability will accept their offer of admission. In the AdCom world it is called ‘Yieldability’.
When your application is being presented in committee, two words you want to hear when your file is being discussed – High Yield! This means you have convinced the AdCom through your application, including your interview, you are clearly interested in their program and will likely accept the offer. Schools want to receive as many applications as possible, and then admit as few applicants as necessary to fill the class, ultimately maintaining their selectivity.
Like the GMAT and GPA averages of an incoming class, selectivity factors into many business school rankings and is something the AdCom keeps a close eye on. In fact, you may notice that the class size at a school varies from year to year by a few percentage points. One common reason for this is, schools pay such close attention to their selectivity that they monitor how many applicants they can admit off of the Waitlist as they approach the start of the program, before it moves the selectivity dial. Selectivity is so important that some schools would rather have a class that is 10-15 students smaller if it means maintaining a certain percentage of applicants admitted. Put a dollar amount in tuition on that and you can see how important it is.
Be strategic in how you respond
OK, back to the question of how do you respond when your interviewer asks you to what other schools did you apply. Interviewers – whether they are alumni, current students or admissions officers – know you most likely didn’t apply to just one school. As with the rest of your application it is important to be strategic in how you answer this question.
Share with them 2-3 schools you applied to that ideally make sense based on your goals and interests. If they ask you why you applied to the other schools, your answer should make sense, but you can include a concern. Maybe you are worried a little bit about the class size, it’s too big or too small. Maybe you have concerns about the location, it’s in a small town or big city.
Upon answering this question, you can then turn the conversation back to their school and highlight those features that make it the best school for you. And don’t be too general, bringing up features that could be applied to any number of schools. Be specific, mention resources, strengths, culture or career opportunities, and bring up things like the amazing alumni community that you really connected with in your research and want to be a part of. Let your passion come through!
Prepare … don’t be surprised!
When I was the Associate Director of Admissions at Duke University, I asked every candidate I interviewed this question. How they answered this question was noted, and had the potential of having an impact on their candidacy and final decision. So make sure you are not surprised by this very common question when it comes up!
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