Which MBA Application Round Should I Apply In?

Many MBA admissions officers will tell candidates that if they can complete their applications and submit them in Round 1, then they should do so. Most MBA programs will also tell candidates that they should try to avoid Round 3, because the majority of the places in their classes will have been filled by then. So, what does that say about Round 2?

Candidates sometimes contact mbaMission to ask whether submitting an application in Round 2 is worth the effort or whether the opportunity has passed at that point. Unfortunately, when one is being compared against a group of unknown competitors, being concerned about every perceived difference or deficiency is only natural. Some candidates grow concerned if they are a year older than the average at their target school, while others fret if they are a year younger. Many applicants worry if their GMAT score is ten points below a school’s average. And, of course, some worry if they submit their application in Round 2. However, the overall strength of your candidacy, which is a measure of many factors, is far more important than where you fit in relation to any single statistic—not to mention whether you apply in Round 1 or 2.

So, we too would encourage candidates to apply early, if they are ready, but we do not believe anyone should give up on their MBA dreams for a year if applying in Round 1 is just not practical. You may be surprised to discover that admissions committees encourage early applications but also concede that the difference in selectivity between the first and the second rounds is very small. To back up this statement, we offer a small selection of quotes from mbaMission’s exclusive interviews with admissions officers:

“My stance has been and will continue to be that candidates should feel comfortable applying whenever they are ready. I can appreciate that candidates, especially when applying to highly selective schools, look for any strategy that might be beneficial to them. But the truth is, at Kellogg, we really do offer a similar number of admissions in [Rounds 1 and 2] and a similar number of scholarships. So, when I say I prefer students to apply when they’re ready, I mean it. There is not a strategic advantage to one round over another.” – Melissa Rapp, Director of Admissions, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

“We really don’t [recommend that candidates apply in any specific round]. 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. We have three rounds, and we’re also part of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, so we do receive applications that come in through the consortium and that are referred to us. But in terms of our three direct application rounds, 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 one and two, 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.” – Bruce DelMonico, Assistant Dean for Admissions, Yale School of Management

“[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 … 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.” – Soojin Kwon, Managing Director of Admissions, University of Michigan Ross School of Business

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