As you enter application season, what kind of strategy do you have in mind? More than a few candidates, having likely read about the supposed advantages of applying in Round 1 on various Web sites and discussion boards, plan to submit all their applications in that first round—with the idea that if no acceptances are forthcoming, they will just submit another set of applications in Round 2. If this is your plan, we would like to explain why it is probably not your best course of action.
Most Round 1 deadlines are in October, and even though often applicants may receive a kind of “progress report” in the form of an interview invitation in November, this is no guarantee of eventual acceptance. Ultimately, then, applicants will not know for sure whether they have won a spot at any of their target schools until mid- to late December. So let us imagine the worst-case scenario: you submit all your applications in Round 1 but are not accepted at any of your target schools. Now, feeling discouraged and unsure of your application strategy—not to mention dealing with the hustle and bustle of the holidays—you must quickly research and select new schools, rethink your approach, and crank out still more applications in the space of just a few weeks to be able to submit in Round 2—to schools that you may not even be that enthusiastic about. And do not forget that you will also need to pressure your recommenders during this busy time of year to produce more documents on your behalf on a very tight deadline! Are you rethinking your strategy yet?
We recommend that instead, you change your mind-set from “If I don’t get accepted in R1, I will apply in R2” to “I am applying to some schools in R1 and some in R2, and hopefully I won’t have to finish my R2 applications.” With luck, you will not need to complete the applications you have slated for Round 2. But if you plan ahead, do not overload yourself with too many applications in the first round, and work steadily on your applications over several months, you will be in a much better place both mentally and with your required workload should you have to move ahead with your Round 2 submissions. And if, in the end, you get accepted early or receive multiple offers of admissions from your first-round applications, you will have lost nothing more than a little time!