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As safety schools, I would take close look at some of the larger state schools in the US. If you aren't particular about where you live, there are some great schools out there that are much easier to get accepted to than the Top Private and Public institutions. Consider the places that applicants don't typically consider.
Remember, these are your safety schools. You should pick institutions where your application statistics meet or exceed the institutions average. Apply to places where you would be happy living & working if (worst case scenario) you weren't accepted by your "A" list schools.
Demand for Business PhD's is very high, and I would expect it to continue to increase in the near future. I would attribute this to two major factors:
1. The opportunity cost for obtaining a Business PhD is very high. Most individuals can make more in the long run with an MBA than with a PhD. The road to a PhD is long and arduous, fraught with stress and poverty.
2. Demand for business PhDs is increasing rapidly in the private sector. Personally, I know of at least three experienced business professors that have recently left academia to pursue private sector opportunities. As private companies become increasingly sophisticated in terms of the data they work with and the analysis they perform, the need for expert opinion is also going to increase. I don't think this is a trend that is going to reverse itself any time soon.
As far as attrition rates resulting from professors retiring are concerned, I think that also sounds like a plausible scenario.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that it is a good time to get a PhD in business. If you can make it through your program you are going to be able to land a good position.
The comfort provided by a safety school is essentially illusory since many students have no intention of ever attending their "safety" school (and often view it with seething disdain).
I basically view applying to a safety school as a type of option contract:
The applicant pays a premium in exchange for the option of attending the school. However, this is a most unfortunate contract for the applicant if she has paid a large premium for an option she has no intention of ever exercising.
Instead of dealing with safety schools, it seems wiser to select a group of schools that you would attend on their own merits and not from some sort of rationalized "second best" perspective
Let the portfolio take care of the probability of admission and select a group of schools that genuinely interests you.
Well put, Hjort! You make a very convincing argument.
It only makes sense to apply to schools that you would be willing to attend. As such, it appears to be increasingly important to be able to determine, with a fair degree of accuracy, the class of schools you will have the best chance of being accepted to, given your educational profile (GMAT, GPA, SOP, etc...).
In the case of Law, Medical or MBA programs this is fairly simple. If your statistics meet some minimum threshold for a particular tier of schools, you need only apply to enough of those schools and you will have a strong chance of being accepted to at least one. This is much more difficult in the case of PhD programs. While it is safe to say that there is a minimum acceptable threshold that must be met in order for a student to be considered for admission, simply meeting this threshold provides no guarantee of acceptance, regardless of the number of programs you apply to. There simply aren't enough spots to accommodate all of the students that are "qualified". Ultimately, it seems like the process is driven by more idiosyncratic factors.
We all know that Adcomms want applicants with high test scores, strong academic records, exposure to academic research, etc... Are there other, non-traditional, factors exist that may have the ability to distinguish an applicant? If so, are there any thoughts as to what these factors may be?