Tiktock, tiktock, tiktock…with almost exactly one month to go until the Round 1 deadlines for business school applications, many of you might be thinking, Am I really ready to apply? Will I be able to hit those deadlines?
For some, the answer might be obvious, varying from “Of course I’m ready—my applications have been done for a month!” to “Oh yeah, my business school applications. I should probably think about getting started on those.” For most, though, the answer is probably murkier.
So, here are a few things to consider as you try to decide whether to apply to business school in Round 1 or wait until Round 2 or 3.
First, have you done all the foundational things that are necessary for your application to even be considered? These include taking your required standardized tests and identifying recommenders. If you have not done either, then you might have no choice but to push your applications to Round 2.
With regard to your GRE or GMAT score, the key question is whether it is high enough to get you accepted at your target school. Although you can really never predict this for sure, the first step in figuring this out is checking what the average GMAT/GRE scores are for your desired programs. Are you above or below the average? If you are below, by how much?
I generally tell my clients that if they are 20 points below the class average at their dream school, they are going to have a tough rowad to hoe to get in. Admittedly, a candidate’s exam score is just one factor the admissions committee considers in its assessment; nevertheless, if your score is substantially below average, you better compensate for it in some way, perhaps by demonstrating your academic abilities in another context (e.g., highlighting that you were a straight-A math major in college) or revealing an unmatched level of community involvement (e.g., you work at your local soup kitchen every Sunday without fail).
Although some schools grant test waivers, that is neither an automatic nor a short process. And at this point, if you were to be granted a test waiver, it might not happen in time for you to apply in Round 1.
Another part of the MBA admissions process that trips people up is recommendations. My old joke about recommendations is that if you give a recommender two weeks to write a recommendation, they will write it in two weeks; if you give a recommender two months to write a recommendation, they will write it in two weeks. So, yes, you still have plenty of time for your recommender to write you a recommendation, but do you have enough time for them to write a great recommendation, a recommendation that you could have some input into (but not too much), a recommendation that is polished and shows a real commitment to you and your MBA goals? That might be harder to guarantee. And another dimension could also come into play: do you really want to press your boss to write a recommendation for you over their vacation because you failed to get your act together in time? Only you can decide.
So, if your scores are where you want them to be and your recommenders are ready to go, what else do you need to consider as MBA deadlines draw closer and closer?
How strong are your essays? Are you sure? These days, Harvard Business School can fill its class three times over with candidates of the same high caliber, so differentiating yourself from applicants who are similar to you is absolutely critical. Recognize that there is always going to be someone who is just a little better than you: you work at consulting firm B, while they work at consulting firm A; your GPA is 3.7, while theirs is 3.8; your GMAT is 720, while theirs is 730; and so on. The most effective way to distinguish yourself is through your essays. They must be unique and authentic to you. When the admissions committee reads them, they need to come away feeling that they have really gotten to know you. Your essays must clearly answer the three “whys” that the schools want to learn: Why do you need an MBA? Why now? And why do you need one from their program in particular? Frequently, that last “why” is where many applications end up lacking. Every school thinks it is different from every other school. Do your essays demonstrate that you are aware of and appreciate these differences? Can you articulate why you want to attend one program over another one? If your essays convey these crucial messages and information, then you can check that box. If not, they probably need more work.
How did you arrive at these career interests? How have you or how will you position yourself to pursue them? (250 words maximum)
Is 250 words really a short answer? Yale seems to think so. And that is just one example of the many gems you will find as you start completing your online applications. You will need to fill in information about your extracurricular activities, your career path, your most significant volunteer commitments, and numerous other elements of your candidacy. And crafting these answers takes time. This is not something you can rush through 15 minutes before the deadline. With that in mind, have you left yourself sufficient time to respond to these questions effectively?
In the end, the question becomes when should you shift your focus to Round 2 rather than pushing to apply in Round 1?
First, let us provide some background. At practically every business school, the acceptance rate for Round 1 is higher than for Round 2—that is just a fact. However, what is equally true is that a great application will beat a good application every time, regardless of the round in which it is submitted.
So, now is the time to ask yourself very openly and honestly, Have I really done my best? Have I achieved my highest possible GMAT/GRE score, leaving no points on the table? Are my recommenders excited for me? Have I taken every part of the online application seriously, even the smallest questions? Are my essays great? (Not good, but great!) Do they reflect who I really am? If your answer to each of these questions is yes, then go ahead and hit that submit button. If not, you should pump the brakes instead.
Now consider this one last, and possibly best, indicator: how earnestly have you been reading this blog post? If you have been reading it like it was an issue of Us Weekly at the dentist’s office, just skimming through and thinking it interesting, if pretty irrelevant, then a deadline about a month from now is probably not a big deal for you. However, if you have been reading this article the way you read instructions for putting together an IKEA table—for which no detail is too small, and each one is critical to the final outcome—I would guess that Round 2 might be the better choice for you.
This is when I generally tell my clients to give themselves a break, and I encourage you to do the same. Take the time you need to create the application you want, whether you ultimately submit it in Round 1 or Round 2.
Unsure whether you should apply in Round 1 or wait till later? Start getting answers to this and all your other application-related questions by scheduling a free 30-minute consultation with an expert from mbaMission’s consultant team.