Am I One of the Top 4,653 Applicants? (Quantifying My Chances at Getting Into a Top Business School)

I’m a planner. I like to know what’s going to happen. One way I do that is by estimating the chances of something occurring and setting my expectations accordingly. This is especially the case with the nebulous world of business school admissions, as I figure out what my uncertain chances are at getting into somewhere.

As an initial matter, to have a reasonable chance at admission, my entire candidacy has to be competitive (i.e., admissions committee could visualize me attending their school). I believe that’s the case with each school I have applied to, given my grades/scores, work/extracurricular experience, recommendations, reasons for getting an MBA and essays. Plus, I’m not completely socially awkward. So, I think it is more likely that I would get into at least one business school than not. But, you never know until it actually happens. Thus, I thought it would be a reassuring exercise to look at what the admissions statistics alone tell me about my chances.

First, I’ll state the obvious: if someone enrolls at one school, they can’t enroll elsewhere. That’s important, because the admissions process works almost like a trickle-down effect (more like simultaneous decision-making, in game theory parlance). The top applicants may get multiple admission offers, but they can only accept one, which means an unclaimed spot at other schools. Schools know this. That’s why, to yield a right-sized class, schools admit more people than there are planned spots, either during the regular decision cycle – knowing their historic yield rates – or via their controlled waitlist. In any case, I need to make the cut with the total number of seats available among the schools I am planning on applying to.

Turning to the numbers, the six schools I am planning on applying to are looking to fill a total of approximately 3,361 spots (i.e., total number of enrolled students from last year’s application cycle for the Class of 2012).

For each business school that I plan to apply to, the raw data for their incoming two-year MBA Class of 2012 (i.e., for the school year beginning in 2010) is listed below:





MIT Sloan:


~621 (13%)

335 (~54%)

NYU Stern:


~585 (13%)

392 (~67%)



1,023 (15%)

~639 (~62%)



~1,159 (~17%)

817 (~70%)

Chicago Booth:


~945 (22%)

~590 (61%)



~1,001 (19%)

588 (~59%)





*Includes both January/September two-year MBA intake.
**Includes include both two-year MBA and MMM class, but not JD/MBA statistics.

In addition, Harvard and Stanford are looking to fill another 1,292 or so seats (903 and 389 students enrolled in the Class of 2012, respectively). Although I am not applying to either, many of the people who apply to the schools I am applying to will also be applying to Harvard and/or Stanford. As both schools have a yield rate of about 90%, that indicates that most people who get admitted to one of the two will go, so those schools are relevant to this exercise via their apparent position at the top of the trickle-down admissions pyramid.

So, the fundamental question becomes: Am I one of the top 4,653 (give or take) applicants?

In other words, instead of wondering if I’m among the 13% who get admitted to MIT or NYU or 15% who get admitted to Columbia, I just need to wonder if I’m in the top 4,653 or so applicants. To me, that sounds like a much more reasonable proposition.

There’s a group of applicants out there who would likely be admitted to any school they apply to. I’m probably not in that group, so I hope that group is small and that they all enroll at a school I’m not applying to. I am hopeful that I fall into the next group, which are not automatic “shoe-ins” but would likely excel at any school, given the chance. As long as the size of that group is not greater than the number of available spots at the schools I am applying to, I should get in somewhere.

If I do not get admitted to one school, that means that school has filled up with applicants that aren’t taking any spots at another school, which may open up a spot for me. Also, the above is a “worst-case” scenario, because it does not take into account the possibility that top applicants will choose to attend other peer schools not included in this list (e.g., London Business School, INSEAD, Tuck, Haas, Ross, Fuqua, Darden, UCLA, Cornell, Yale, among others). So, it’s likely that I only need to be among the top five or six thousand applicants. It might end up in a down-to-the-wire admission off of a waitlist, but the raw numbers show that I should get in somewhere.

I’m sure I’ll be looking back at my thought process and data to make sure I’m not missing any major assumptions or details, but for now, I feel more positive about my chance of getting into at least one of the schools I have applied to. By applying to a sufficiently large pool of seats, it increases my chances of making the cut to one of those seats. In the end, I only need to get into one of the schools I’ve applied to (but will gladly accept multiple offers of admissions).

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15 Responses to Am I One of the Top 4,653 Applicants? (Quantifying My Chances at Getting Into a Top Business School)

  1. I really like this post (and your others)! Do you mind if I post a link to it on from my blog? ( I’m not just putting the URL there for SEO purposes, but I couldn’t find a button to email you from here… Good Luck this year – I’m in the same boat, albeit different schools.

  2. Hello JustShip,

    I just came to know about your blog courtesy money9111.
    This was a good way to quantify your chances…awesome logic.
    All the best for your remaining apps and for your NYU interview.


  3. DC says:

    Just as a clarification to your numbers, Columbia has a class of 739 for this upcoming year making the yield around 72%

  4. DC says:

    columbia stats are tough because of early decision and january intake. basically those applications yield 100% because of the binding nature of early decision and the lack of options for january starts elsewhere. it would be nice to see the application data for just regular decision because my guess is the yield on those applications are much worse on their own

  5. Jon L says:

    Interesting way to think of it. One way I thought of it was assuming that I am an AVERAGE APPLICANT (which may or may not be a good assumption), what are the chances that I do not get into ANY of my schools. Since I’m applying to all the same schools as you Plus two others (Berkeley + UCLA), I thought I’d do the calc for you even though you have already gotten into one school:

    31% (1-acceptance rate at school 1)*(1-acceptance rate at school 2) …

    • JustShip says:

      Thanks for doing the calculation. Reminds me of a GMAT probability question. Also, it makes intuitive sense that the more schools you apply to, the better your chances of getting in somewhere (or conversely, the lower your chances of not getting into any school). Good luck with your applications.

  6. Gosh – came here by way of some lovely gmat blogs and gotta say, you laid out my back of the envelope calc in a really elegant way! Can see why your essay-ing must be pretty slick!!
    Congrats on the admit – I’m waiting on an R1 and half a dozen R2 schools!

  7. Pramod says:

    There might be slight problem with this analysis. An Average student applies to 3.2 schools. Even if it is 2 schools among the list you are considering, looking at the yield rate there is considerable overlap. So one has to be among the 4653/2 or roughly 2300 lucky students who get an admit to these schools. See my point?

    • JustShip says:

      Hi Pramod, thanks for your comment. Please note that the analysis is based on the number of matriculating students at each school that I planned to apply to, rather than the number of admitted applicants. It’s true that some applicants may be admitted to more than one school, but in the end they may only accept at most one spot at a school, which would free up a spot for another applicant at other schools.

      The analysis is based on simple logic, really: If there are X number of spots to be filled (and any given person can only fill one of those spots), then X number of people are needed to fill those spots. It doesn’t matter if someone can fill the Xth spot, or the Xth-1 spot, etc., they can only fill up one of those spots.

  8. Pingback: 2010-2011 Best of Blogging Results! « Clear Admit: MBA Admissions Consultants Blog

  9. Pingback: 20,000 Miles Later | Just Ship.

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