Round 1 vs. Round 2 vs. Round 3: When Should I Apply?

At most top business schools, aspiring MBAs apply in one of three application rounds: Round 1 in September or October, Round 2 in January, and Round 3 in March or April. As an applicant, you might be wondering, When is the ideal time for me to apply?

Round 1 is generally considered the best one in which to apply. The schools’ classes are wide open, and the admissions officers have fresh eyes—no application fatigue from reading thousands of applications just yet. Applying in the first round also emphasizes your interest in the program. You are showing the admissions committee that you are committed and really want to be admitted to their school. Round 1 is also particularly beneficial for candidates from overrepresented groups, such as consultants and private equity applicants. Because the programs can accept only a certain number of applicants from these crowded pools, anyone in these groups will want to grab their place in the class before the schools no longer have the flexibility to make them an admissions offer.

Does that mean you should throw in the towel after Round 1, then? Absolutely not. Most MBA programs actually admit the most applicants in Round 2. So, if you are a very strong applicant in Round 1, you should be just fine in Round 2, when the dynamic changes imperceptibly but not that substantially. And if you can use the time leading up to Round 2 to improve your profile in a meaningful way—such as by pushing your tests scores up significantly or earning a promotion—then waiting to submit until then can be very much worthwhile.

What about Round 3, or the last round for those MBA programs that have four rounds? This final round is what most schools refer to as a “shaping” round. The admissions committee has given out many offers by this point and is starting to see how the class is taking shape. So when Round 3 comes around, they might say, for example, “We need a few more countries represented. Be on the lookout for international candidates!” or “We usually have a higher number of women in our class. Let’s take steps to balance out the class in this round.” While an absolutely remarkable applicant can get accepted in any round, Round 3 is almost never the right time for an overrepresented candidate to apply. The final round is really for applicants who can help the admissions officers create a diverse class or who offer unique professional experience (e.g., an ER doctor) that might otherwise be lacking.

One last round to mention is Early Decision, which is not broadly used in MBA admissions but is available at a few top programs, including Duke Fuqua and UVA Darden. Early Decision is a way to get preferred consideration and to know your outcome much earlier in the process, but it comes with a nonrefundable financial commitment. Plus, if you are accepted, you must rescind all your applications to other schools. So, if your target school offers Early Decision, make sure that you are 100% certain you want to commit to that program before you decide to apply in that round.

To view the upcoming application deadlines for approximately 30 top domestic and international MBA programs, you can visit our deadlines page here. And if you have any questions about which round you should apply in, we encourage you take advantage of our free, 30-minute consultation to discuss your options with one of our experts.

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