A week ago, I visited an event of Said Business School for those applying for EMBA. A little bit late for me, as I had already been admitted, but at the meeting I could ask some questions. One of them was about the acceptance rate. The official version is that they have roughly 200 applications for 70 places, which means 35%. To be honest, I believe that the rate is overstated, and the real rate falls between 40 and 50%. The reason for the doubt is that the acceptance rate of 25-30% is typical for American business schools, and their European peers usually have a higher rate. Even so, Oxford is a fast growing school, and its EMBA programme has a good rating, so that result could be plausible.
The acceptance rate is usually published for the regular MBA in the US. It looks like the publications there are mandatory and audited, as all business schools participate in the process. However, even if the numbers are correct, their meaning can be misleading. To explain that, let’s compare the two cases that I know personally: the CFA exam and entering an MBA.
The person taking the CFA exam passes or gets nothing. There is no alternative result, and in that case for the 40% pass rate there are 60% who lose. The pass rate explains the difficulty rate of the exam for those, who expect to take the exam. In the case of an MBA, you can apply to 2, 5 or 10 business schools, the cost of each attempt is about $100 and one additional day of your time. The admission criteria are deliberately vague and nobody knows their chance, so why not try?
As a result, the average number of applications per student is somewhere between 3 and 5, and the acceptance rates must be multiplied by this number. The acceptance rate of 20% means that 60-100% of the applicants were accepted by one of the schools. Everyone is a winner in this case. Moreover, most applicants apply to at least one of the top business schools, even if they have almost no chance of being accepted. That boosts the visible competition in those schools beyond the clouds. Therefore, those beautiful numbers of acceptance rates less than 10% reflect the business school’s status, but not the level of real competition.