The whole notion of a zero-sum game is one of the most depressing ideas out there – and it’s not actually a philosophy we subscribe to in the context of MBA admissions.
In case you’re not familiar with this idiom, a “zero-sum game” is one where players compete, and for every winner, there is a loser. It’s the opposite of today’s “You’re all winners!” culture of raising kids in America where everyone who participates gets to bring home a special ribbon or trophy. In a zero-sum game, one person ends up happy and one person very very sad.
Many people in MBA admissions claim that this is the situation at hand. After all, there are a finite set of seats in the incoming classes of the top business schools. If there’s a limited supply, and seemingly ever-increasing demand, then let’s face it,
you’re f#cked— no, sorry, that’s not what we meant at all!!!!
Here’s how EssaySnark looks at it:
1. We are particularly fond of 16 American business schools that we’ve identified as “the best.” (It’s the ones that we post MBA essay questions for, and that we – try to – publish app strategy guides about every year.) The order or ranking of which school should be at the top of that list does not matter. Yes your opportunities (and income) are likely to be quite different if you graduate from Harvard, vs Ross, but really, if you graduate from Ross you are going to do A-OK. So, 16 schools. We’re not going to add up how many seats are available at these but it’s somewhere around 8,000.
If you don’t make it into one of those programs, then:
2. The European schools are GREAT and are often overlooked by many BSers, Americans and otherwise. We can easily expand our list of “best” business schools to 19 – and could go even higher without much effort – simply by including Europe in the mix. Those programs tend to be somewhat smaller than their U.S. counterparts but we probably bump up to the 10,000+ open seats range by pulling them in. (PS: We now have an application guide for European MBA programs, too.)
That right there should tell you that there’s a spot for everybody. Harvard gets around 9,000 applications per year. Everyone applies to Harvard – OK no not really, but we’re betting that a large percentage of people who apply anywhere in a season have submitted to Harvard. We work with a big group of level-headed folks who also realize that HBS isn’t for them and submit to other schools without wasting their time on Harvard, so certainly it’s not like Harvard volumes represent the entire universe of applicants. But how many more can it be? A thousand? Two thousand? Three?
Now clearly, this analysis is flawed because there are countless applicants who try for bschool every year and don’t make it in anywhere, and end up not starting their MBAs when they want to. Yet there are not seats that the top schools want to fill that end up going vacant. Demand > supply in this world. There are clearly more people who want a high-end MBA than there are high-end bschools to provide it. (Not everyone who wants it is automatically qualified of course.)
Nobody has come up with a way (yet?) to optimize the equation and make sure that everyone who wants to go to bschool is appropriately matched with an open seat at a good school. Now THAT would be an algorithm to build.
But the reason we claim that it’s not a zero-sum game is, just because one guy gets in and another does not does not mean that the one who didn’t is a permanent loser. There’s something called a reapplication and there’s lots and lots of BSers we know who simply require two rotations of the merry-go-round before they land their spot.
And, for the highly motivated and/or impatient, there are part-time programs – more and more of them these days, including hybrid MBAs that have a blended curriculum offering online plus realtime (on-campus) components. We cannot even begin to count how many of those are out there. At the top schools alone, we’d wager that there’s easily 4,000 to 5,000 seats available in non-full-time MBA programs. They’re still teaching you MBA stuff and awarding you an MBA degree at the end – in fact, it’s literally the same MBA as the full-time programs award. It’s just earned through a different program structure.
So yes, if you have a very limited view of the world, and you tend to be a pessimistic type, we can understand why you might see this as a black-and-white win/lose zero-sum game. That’s just not the outlook that we subscribe to, and it’s also not a relevant assessment anyway. Because even if it is a zero-sum game, what we know is that the individuals who do the work and don’t lose focus and present a pitch that convinces the adcom of why they belong in their school… well, those people make it in.
And that can be you. And then it doesn’t matter what label you put on the odds of admission.