Four Key Tips for Round 2 Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton Applicants

Now that the Round 1 deadlines have passed for Harvard Business School (HBS), the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), and the Wharton School, candidates might worry that their chances for admission have diminished. However, these schools will tell you that they strive to make admissions odds across Rounds 1 and 2 roughly equivalent, and although the admissions committees cannot perfectly predict how many candidates will apply in each round, they always leave ample room in the class for Round 2, which tends to attract the largest number of applicants. If you are planning to apply to one of these programs this year, here are a few tips to keep in mind. 

Take the right test.

Fall 2023 is bringing big changes to the two main standardized tests for business school, the GMAT and the GRE. The shorter, redesigned GMAT Focus will launch on November 7, while the regular GMAT will remain available until sometime in the first quarter of 2024. If you are applying this year in Round 2, make sure you are taking the correct version of this test for the programs you are targeting. Neither HBS nor Wharton will accept the new GMAT Focus in Round 2 this year. HBS will accept it only for 2+2 deferred enrollment applicants, and Wharton will accept it only for Round 3 and Moelis Advance Access deferred enrollment applicants. So, if you are applying to either of those schools in Round 2, make sure to take the standard GMAT. If you are targeting the Stanford GSB only, however, you can take either the GMAT or the GMAT Focus; it accepts both. 

The revamped GRE launched on September 22, and the new version of the test completely supplanted the old one. Because only one version of the GRE is offered, all three schools will accept either the old or new version, as long as your test date falls within the eligible range and you complete your testing before the program’s deadline. 

Do your homework.

Fall tends to be a busy time. Perhaps because things are so hectic, Round 2 applicants often rush through their applications without taking the time to build the critical self-awareness they need for the process. Avoid falling into this trap. Take the necessary time to think deeply about who you are and what you care about. This reflection will be your North Star as you fill out your applications. 

With school back in session in the fall, you have an excellent opportunity to get a feel for your target programs while campuses are active. All three programs offer incredible MBA experiences, but they are very different! Get to know the schools beyond the most cursory research. If you visit campus, try to sit in on classes in action. Reach out to club officers and admissions ambassadors, who are typically far more available in the fall than they tend to be in summer. Review the latest class profile, and check out the school calendars to see what events and speakers are scheduled. Not only will all this research help you refine your interests and preferences, but it will also prepare you to be able to articulate much more thoughtful answers to such essay questions as “Why Stanford?” and “How do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community?“

Differentiate yourself.

All candidates need to assess their strengths and weaknesses in any round, but by Round 2, many seats in the class are already occupied, so differentiation becomes even more critical. Look beyond the basics to identify the other dimensions you bring: your core values, your identity across multiple lenses, and your personal experiences. If you are in an overrepresented category in the applicant pool, consider highlighting the elements that set you apart. However, we are not encouraging you to make hollow statements that you think schools want to hear. You still want to stay true to yourself and steer clear of gimmicks. We simply suggest that you think broadly to be able to demonstrate throughout your applications the individuality you can bring to the class. 

Given HBS’s emphasis on building a “mosaic of perspectives” in its classroom, consider what you might add to your section beyond the norm, and highlight this where appropriate. You might bring this viewpoint to the main essay, in which you discuss “what more” the admissions committee should know; or you might bring out unique experiences in the short answers of the application. With approximately 1,850 potential words in the combined main and optional essays, the GSB gives you plenty of space in which to tell your story. Use the application’s different components to showcase multiple dimensions of your candidacy, avoiding repetition wherever possible. With Wharton, you must leverage a tighter space, but thinking outside the box could make you a stronger candidate. All schools want diverse voices and perspectives. How might you add something different to the Wharton community beyond what others could contribute?

Do not delay.

Whether you slipped to Round 2 from an earlier application round or are just getting started, you will likely find that the early January deadlines come quickly. In the fall, most companies are in “back to work” mode, surging ahead on projects and deals. At the same time, Round 2 is full of holidays, which often demand one’s attention to family or other obligations. Finally, illness becomes more of a factor in Round 2. Whether from a new COVID strain or the flu, applicants are more likely to get sick in the fall and winter months, slowing their application progress. So, start as early as you can, and keep moving forward on all application deliverables. That way, if a delay arises, you will have less difficulty getting back on track. Remember, HBS has no Round 3, and the GSB and Wharton have very small “shaping” rounds in which admission is much more difficult, so missing the Round 2 deadline could force you to delay your plans to the following year. 

To view the upcoming Round 2 application deadlines for these and other MBA programs, click here. And if you have any questions about how to best position your candidacy or approach these challenging applications, we encourage you take advantage of a free, 30-minute consultation to discuss your options with one of our experts.

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