Which MBA Programs Should I Apply To?

Which MBA

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Pursuing an MBA is still a great investment – but if you go full-time, go only for the best.

At Prep Zone Academy, we work with 75 – 90 Elite MBA applicants every year. Those applicants’ approach to choosing their program is very different from the standard MBA applicants.

Generally speaking, you have fewer options when it comes to Elite MBAs. While typical MBA applicants can pick among the top 100, an Elite MBA applicant will exclusively look at a set of maximum 21 schools: Magnificent 7 (M7), Super 7 (S7) and European 7 (E7). If you intend to work in Asia, then the Asian 5 (A5) should also be considered.

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Magnificent 7 (M7)

Harvard Business School – Stanford Graduate School of Business – Wharton – Columbia Business School – MIT Sloan – Kellogg – Chicago Booth


The M7 is a self-selected group of business schools created with the purpose of collaborating closely. Key members – including the deans, admission officers, career teams – meet regularly to share knowledge and experiences. The network convenes twice every year to share information and chat about some of the most pressing issues in graduate business education. Rankings vary every year across different publications. On the other hand, M7s remain constant. Schools are neither added to nor removed from this list.

More About The M7 MBAs

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Super 7 (S7)

Berkeley Haas – Cornell Johnson – Duke Fuqua – Michigan Ross – NYU Stern – Darden – Yale SOM


The S7 was formed in 2008 as a response to the M7 and does around 40 admissions events every year. Their place in the rankings and their admissions and employment data make them world-class business schools. Today, though they are not part of the S7 network, schools like UCLA, Tuck and Tepper are considered to be on par.

More About The S7 MBAs

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European 7 (E7)

INSEAD – LBS – HEC Paris – IESE – IMD – Cambridge – Oxford


The E7 is an informal group of elite business schools. It stands more as a classification than as a network. Those are Europe’s most Elite MBA programs.

More About The E7 MBAs

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Asian 5 (A5)

CEIBS – NUS – NTU – HKUST – ISB

Asia’s economic growth has resulted in the emergence of top MBA programs in the region. Being Asia’s premier Admissions Advisory firm, we thought it important to create a classification for Asia’s best MBA programs, and created the Asia 5. Over the last few years, we have seen a sharp increase of applicants looking at programs in China, Hong Kong and Singapore, and have listed the best 5 programs in the region.

More About The A5 MBAs

How Do I Choose Which MBA Program To Shortlist?

To choose the right MBA program for yourself, you will need to answer the following questions:

  • What’s the maximum number of schools you plan to apply to?
  • What is the risk exposure you wish to have?

The answers for those two questions will help to refine your list further.

While you can technically apply to an unlimited number of schools, you need to think of your referees.

While schools have tried to make the process smoother with initiatives such as the Common LOR, it will take at least 15 to 20 minutes per school for your referees to fill each form.

Also, applying to schools has an associated cost – think US$200 per school. In other words, if you were to apply to 21 programs, you would need to allocate US$4,200 just for application fees.

The typical recommended number when it comes to Elite MBA programs is to look at  5 to 8 programs. The number of  reach programs will also determine your final number. If you are not risk averse, you might apply to just a few reach programs and no back-ups.

You also of course need to consider:

  • What are my goals?
  • What am I aiming to get out of the MBA?

If your goal is to switch industries, you probably want a 2-year program so that you can do an internship and have more career development support from your business school. On the other hand, if your company is sponsoring your MBA and you’ll be returning to the same company, or if you simply want to be away from work for a shorter period of time, you might consider schools that offer 1 year MBAs.

You might also be looking to go to a program with particular strengths – be it in tech, consulting, finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, product management, data analytics, or others. This can also of course influence your list. On the other hand, if you are simply looking for a recognized global brand to boost your credentials, that will of course influence your school list as well.

Sample MBA Shortlists

Meet Lucy and Laura. They are both Elite MBA applicants (with identical profiles) looking at very similar programs (M7 and S7 only), and yet are going to end up with a different number of schools.

Lucy wants to apply to Harvard, Stanford and Wharton, and wants to make sure she starts her MBA at a top school next Fall.

As she already has 3 schools in her list, it would be advisable for her to add 4 or 5 programs to her list with a mix of M7 and S7.

Her final list could be looking like:

  • Harvard
  • Stanford
  • Wharton
  • Kellogg
  • MIT
  • Booth
  • Yale
  • NYU

This list of 8 schools will maximize her chances of getting into one of the M7 while ensuring that she will secure at least one offer at either Yale or NYU. In total, Lucy applies to 8 schools.

On the other hand, Laura doesn’t believe much in her chances of getting into one of the top 3, and decides to only include one of those in her list.

As a result, following the same logic as above, she will only have to apply to 6 schools to achieve an outcome similar to Lucy’s. Laura’s final list could look like this:

  • Harvard / Stanford / Wharton
  • Kellogg
  • MIT
  • Booth
  • Yale
  • NYU

That's Fine And All, But Which MBA Programs Should I ACTUALLY Apply To?

This is a hard question to answer because all of MBA programs have similar strengths and positionings:

  • They all foster entrepreneurship and innovation, and
  • They all have strong and similar placements in Consulting, Finance and Tech.

Naturally, there are some differences. For example:

  • Because of their location, Stanford and Haas are more tech-oriented than Kellogg or Booth
  • Wharton, Booth and Columbia are more finance-oriented than Haas
  • However, Stanford – with strong placements in VC/PE – is one of the best schools for Finance, too.

Confusing, right? That is why looking at employment reports is important to escape misconceptions.

You can also pick a company you hope to work for, and see which schools most of their MBA graduates come from.

Another tip is to reach out to students and alumni; each of them will not only be able to tell you about their own experience but they can also connect you to other students and alumni they feel would be relevant for you to speak with.

At the end of the day, you are about to invest close to US$200,000 for your education and you want to do your due diligence on such an investment.

While all Elite MBAs can take you where you want to go, there will be optimal choices and you don’t want to miss any of those.

For example, I worked with an amazing applicant (a surgeon) who was applying to Harvard, Columbia and Cambridge only.

Working on his applications, we discovered a couple of very strong aspects in his profile and advised him to add Stanford to his list.

Harvard and Columbia rejected him. Cambridge (as expected) made an offer and, 24 days later, Stanford made him an offer as well. Talk about what could have been a missed opportunity!

Get Into Top MBA Programs With Us Today!

Founded in 2006 by a team of MBA graduates, Prep Zone Academy has remained one of the top GMAT preparation centre and MBA admissions consultancy in Singapore. With the help of our veteran consultants, many professionals have gotten into top MBA programs around the world.

Our MBA consultants have helped more than 1,000 candidates securing admission offers at top MBA programs.

Over the last 8 years, around 40% of our MBA applicants have secured at least one admissions offer from an M7, maintained a 96% acceptance rate to INSEAD and LBS, and a 100% acceptance rate to local MBAs.

Keen to see how we can help you? Sign-up for a free consultation session with our top MBA consultants today to get started! For any urgent inquiries, contact us at [email protected] or call us at 6812 9999.

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