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Which MBA Application Round Should You Apply In?

Unsure whether to submit your MBA application in Round 1, 2 or 3? David White of Menlo Coaching explains what admissions directors are looking for in each application round

Which round should I submit my MBA application in?

Dear BusinessBecause,

I'm unsure whether to submit my MBA applications during round one, or hold off until round two, or even three.

Do some rounds have higher acceptance rates than others, and what should I consider as I decide when to submit?


The Answer


This week's Applicant Question is answered by David White, founding partner at admissions consultancy, Menlo Coaching.

Most of the top US MBA programs offer three admissions deadlines. With a comprehensive list of MBA admissions deadlines in hand, you may be wondering: what are the advantages and disadvantages of applying in different rounds?

Often, your time constraints are a factor. Submitting in Round one means working hard to get an application in before that earlier deadline. 

Submitting in Round two might give you more time to work on the application, but will you come across as a slacker? 

Are there fewer spots available in Round two or three? 

Let’s discuss the perceptions of admissions committees about first, second, and third round applicants and strategize about what your best decision might be under different circumstances.


Choosing a round based on your profile

The truth of the matter is, there is no simple answer when it comes to choosing your application round. 

Instead, you should consider the specifics of your profile as an applicant. Here are some of the most important considerations:

  • GMAT score: If you have a strong GMAT score already, you might be able to apply in Round one. If your score needs improvement, it may be a good idea to delay until Round two to give yourself more time to study and retake the test. It is difficult to balance a demanding full-time job, plus GMAT study, plus writing great applications.

  • Ranking of your target programs: Although it varies slightly, top ranked MBA programs will reliably receive large numbers of competitive applications in Round one, but lower ranked ones will not receive as many. Therefore, there is likely a greater benefit of applying in Round one at highly competitive programs, and smaller benefit of Round one submission at less competitive programs. In fact, MBA programs outside the Top 20 can sometimes become highly motivated to fill their remaining seats in Round two and Round three, occasionally making those rounds less competitive.

  • Your profile: There will be data available about how people in your industry and region fare in different rounds at different schools. If you come from a region, industry, or undergraduate major that’s common in the MBA applicant pool, the Round one advantage can be larger.

  • Networking: You might consider delaying your application until Round two if you have not yet had the time to attend info sessions and speak to students and alumni of your target programs. Taking these actions will give you a leg up on understanding the culture of the school, which can lead to a much stronger application.

  • Work concerns: You are likely employed, full-time, in a competitive industry when applying to MBA programs. Do you have enough time to create your best applications by Round one?

  • Profile Developments: If you are expecting to receive a promotion sometime soon, it might be worth delaying until you can list it officially on your resume


How to admission committees view Round one applicants?

Once you have figured out your own profile and how that might bolster your chances for getting an acceptance letter, you should also consider the structure of the admissions process and how that can make it easier for some applicants to win admission in Round one.

MBA programs thrive on diversity of all kinds: ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, industry, years of experience, undergraduate major. 

When diversity is low in a program, there can be unproductive groupthink in the classroom or lower job placement at graduation. Overall, the MBA experience suffers if the program does not recruit a diverse class.

In turn, this means that there is generally a better chance of acceptance in Round one because the incoming class is wide open across all categories at that point. 

By Round two, the AdCom has to look more closely at which types of backgrounds remain unfilled in the incoming class. 

That doesn’t mean they literally prefer candidates who apply in Round one, but it does mean that Round one may give you an edge if you come from an over-represented applicant group, such as American men in finance, or Indian men who studied engineering in college.


Read another Applicant Question


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When is Round two a better option?

Given the diversity issue, you may think that Round one is always the better choice, but a strong application in Round two will beat a weak application in Round one. 

Raising your GMAT score is essential, because MBA programs must maintain their GMAT averages in order to maintain their MBA rankings. If you can raise your GMAT between Round one and later rounds, even by just 20 points, this is a great reason to apply in Round two or three.

Similarly, networking with schools is incredibly important for writing good essays that make the AdCom feel like you are not just a good MBA candidate, you are a good candidate for their school in particular. 

If you can’t get your networking or campus visits squared away early enough before the end of the summer, you will likely benefit from deferring your application to Round two or three.

An upcoming work experience or promotion is also an important factor. Applying once you’ve already received a big promotion is much stronger than just having your letter of recommendation mention that a promotion might be coming soon. 


Got a question of your own?


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Considering Round two data

It might often look like Round one is inevitably the better decision, especially if you have looked into resources like the GMAT Club and the Clear Admit Decision Tracker. 

The data available there can make it look like Round one always wins. But there are a few caveats attached to these data:

The decision tracker data pool is quite small and it over-represents international applicants, a group that tends to do better in Round one. 

In addition to thoughtful applications from applicants who have good reasons to delay, Round two also has a large number of weaker applicants who made a last-minute decision to apply. 

If you prepare carefully, your Round two application could be much stronger than theirs.


Why You Should Always Commit to One Round

It may seem tempting to split your applications across rounds so that you have more time to do the work of writing your applications, but this is usually a bad idea for a few reasons:

If you have all of your acceptance letters in hand at the same time, you can better negotiate for financial aid and avoid the risk of putting down a deposit at one school and then getting a better offer during a later round.

Filling out multiple applications isn’t as much extra work as it may appear. If you have a solid idea for your career goals, development plan, and personal story, writing school-specific essays is quite manageable.

You may actually cause yourself more hardship and strife. Round one decisions are announced only a short time before the deadline for Round two. 

As a result, it is unrealistic to apply during Round two after you have heard about Round one. A disappointing Round one with no set Round two materials means you will be putting together all of your applications over the end of the year holiday break.

By being strategic about which round you apply in, you can play to your strengths, have a solid plan going into your application year, and maximize your chances of acceptance.


Ask an admissions expert a question 


Next week, you'll have the chance to ask Nupur Gupta, founder of Crack The MBA, anything you want about getting into business school.60b2d2202765956b47bfae6a010764557e04ca1a.jpg

Crack The MBA is India's leading MBA admissions consultancy, first established by Nupur back in 2012.

In her role as admissions consultant, Nupur has guided hundreds of candidates through their MBA application process, helping them into top schools such as Wharton, MIT, Kellogg, and Chicago Booth, every year.

Alongside Crack The MBA, she acts as president and board member for the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC). 

Prior to her work with Crack The MBA, Nupur worked for leading media and financial services companies in the USA and India. She herself holds an MBA from Wharton, where she specialized in entrepreneurship and finance.

Got a question you'd love Nupur to answer? Submit your question

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