Determining Which Application Round Is Best

Determining Which Application Round Is Best - mbaMissionEvery MBA candidate naturally wonders how to determine the best time to submit his/her business school application. Inevitably, we find that applicants typically have two main concerns:

  • If they apply in Round 1, their application will get lost and forgotten among those of all the exceptional, type-A candidates.
  • If they apply in Round 2, they will have missed their chance at making an impression and gaining admission.

For many years, MBA admissions officers repeatedly asserted that Rounds 1 and 2 were virtually equal with regard to one’s chances of gaining admission, but things now appear to have changed a bit. The recommendation today is more often that if candidates can complete their applications in time to submit them in Round 1, they should do so. Occasionally, an applicant will ask us, “Shouldn’t I apply in the second round, to avoid competing with the best and most prepared candidates who typically apply in the first round?” The simple answer to this question is no. If an applicant is prepared to do so, he/she should apply as early as possible. In Round 1, no places in the class have been offered yet, so the greatest number of opportunities still exist, and the admissions committees are still “fresh” and can likely read the incoming applications more attentively. MBA programs do not set limits on how many candidates they will accept in each round, so if a school’s Round 1 includes a large number of strong candidates, the admissions committee will simply accept more of those superior candidates—or possibly place some on its waitlist to reconsider in Round 2.

Sara Neher, the director of admissions at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, explained to us that her team follows just such an approach: “We reevaluate all the people from Round 1 that were waitlisted before we send out Round 2 decisions. So, if somebody who applied in Round 2 is similar to a waitlisted applicant from Round 1, I’d rather have the Round 1 person than the Round 2 person. That’s partly why I tell people to apply in Round 1, because you have a chance to improve your application. And the same thing happens in Round 3 and in June, when we have our second deposits, and in the summer.”

That said, you should not push yourself to apply early, if doing so comes at the expense of quality—submit your application only when you believe it represents your best. And do not be concerned that if applying in Round 1 is ultimately not possible for you, that you might as well wait until next year to try again. Although admissions representatives encourage early applications, they also concede that a strong candidate is a strong candidate, regardless of the round, so timing alone will not definitely exclude an applicant from serious consideration.

Soojin Kwon, the director of admissions at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, explained, “[We] get about a third of our applications in Round 1, about 55% in Round 2, and the remainder in Round 3…. We encourage people to submit their application when they feel that they offer their best possible applications…. So, if you can get everything lined up and completed and you feel really good about it by October 10, then I would encourage you to apply in Round 1. But if it takes you a bit longer, and you want to take the time to look at your application again and maybe have somebody else look at it, then Round 2 is fine, too.”

When asked whether he recommends that candidates apply in any specific round, Bruce DelMonico, admissions director at the Yale School of Management, told us, “We really don’t. We model to admit the same quality of students in each round, so it’s not as though there’s an advantage to applying in one round versus another. … Like a lot of schools, we counsel people that if they can avoid the third round, they should try to do that. That’s not because it’s inherently any more difficult, but just because it’s more variable. It depends on how many people have already been accepted into the class in the first two rounds, so you just don’t know. It could be more than we were expecting, or it could be less. It’s that uncertainty that can make it more challenging. The main piece of advice we give everybody is to apply when you have your strongest application ready. Don’t rush to get it in earlier if it’s going to be less strong. And especially between Rounds 1 and 2, as I said, we model so that the quality of people we’re admitting stays constant throughout, so there’s no advantage in applying in one round versus another.”

The reality is that gaining admission at virtually any of the top schools in Round 3 is more challenging, though it is not impossible. By the time Round 3 rolls around, most admissions committees have been inundated with applications and are probably exhausted, yet they not only continue to review new candidates, but they also still grant acceptances. Otherwise, they would just do away with Round 3 and move ahead with other business. So, if you find yourself unable to submit your application earlier than the third round, do not worry that you have missed your chance. If you feel confident in your candidacy, go ahead and apply, and see what happens.

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