How To Choose The Right MBA Program

Which MBA

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

Every year we work with between 75 to 90 Elite MBA applicants. Those applicants’ approach to choosing their program is very different than the one we discussed in a previous post with the use of primary and secondary filters.

Today, we want to share how to best define your school list when you are an Elite MBA applicant.

First of all, you have fewer options. While typical MBA applicants can pick among the top 100, you will exclusively be looking at a set of maximum 21 schools: Magnificent 7 (M7), Super 7 (S7) and European 7 (E7).

M7 scaled

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.

Magnificent 7 (M7)
S7 scaled

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.

Super 7 (S7)
E7 scaled

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.

European 7 (E7)
A5 scaled

Asian 5 (A5)


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.

Asian 5 (A5)

How do you shortlist the right programs?

Well, it comes down to two main questions you will need to answer:

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

Answering those two questions would help you refine your list.

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). So, how many schools, right?

Well, it comes down to the second question about your risk exposure. The typical recommended number when it comes to Elite MBA programs is to look at between 5 to 8 programs and the number of dream and reach programs will heavily determine your final number.

Case Study

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 while wanting to make sure she starts her MBA at a top school in Fall next year. As a result, having already 3 schools in her list, it would be advised for her to add 4 to 5 programs to her list with a mix of M7 and S7. Her final list could be looking like: Harvard, Stanford and Wharton with Kellogg, MIT and Booth as well as Yale and 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.

On the other hand, Laura doesn’t believe much in her chances of getting into one of the top 3, and decides to only pick one in her list (because she doesn’t want to have any regrets). 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.

So, which programs should I shortlist?

That’s a harder answer to give here because all of those programs are going to have very similar strengths and positioning. They all foster entrepreneurship and innovation and they all have strong and similar placements in Consulting, Finance and Tech. There are naturally some differences between them. Stanford and Haas are more tech-oriented because of their location than Kellogg or Booth; Wharton, Booth and Columbia are more finance-oriented than Haas, but Stanford – with strong placements in VC/PE – is one of the best schools for Finance, too.

Confusing, right? Well, it is, and this is why looking at employment reports is important to escape misconceptions. 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 investment.

Yes, all Elite MBAs can take you where you want to go, but there will be optimal ones, and you don’t want to miss any of those. I think it is best to illustrate it with an actual example. Two years ago, 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!

Still unsure? Schedule for a chat with our MBA consultants 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.

Over the past 12 years, we have helped more than 1,000 candidates securing admission offers at top MBA programs. In 2019, 35% of our 70+ MBA applicants received at least one admission offer from an M7 School – Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Booth, Kellogg, MIT, Columbia.

If you are interested in working with us, or simply just want to see whether your profile is a good fit for a certain MBA program, we do offer a free CV review service, no commitment required. Simply fill in the following form to get in touch with our consultants.

For any additional inquiries, contact us at [email protected] or call us at 6812 9999.


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Top MBA Programs

Magnificent 7 (M7)

Super 7 (S7)

European 7 (E7)

Asian 5 (A5)