Which MBA Application Round Should I Apply In?

At most top business schools, aspiring MBAs apply in one of three application rounds: Round 1 in September, Round 2 in January, and Round 3 in March or April. As an applicant, you might be wondering when the ideal time to apply is. In this video, we explain the differences among the MBA application rounds:

Round 1 is generally considered the best time to apply for several key reasons.

  • The class is wide open, and the MBA admissions officers have fresh eyes.
  • Applying early indicates your interest in your target MBA program.
  • If you are an overrepresented applicant (e.g., consultant, private equity analyst), or if you have a weak point in your application (e.g., a low GPA or GMAT/GRE score), getting your application in front of the admissions committee as early as possible can help you stand out.

We recommend that you apply in Round 1 if you are ready to submit your best possible application by your target school’s deadline. However, if you believe you can significantly improve your application in some way, such as boosting your test score or earning a promotion, if you had a little extra time, then applying in Round 2 is also a solid option. Similarly, if you got a bit of a late start on your application and do not want to rush, opting for Round 2 would be a prudent decision. If you would be a strong applicant in Round 1, you should still be a strong applicant in Round 2.

Round 3—or the last round at MBA programs that have more than three application rounds—is what most schools refer to as a “shaping” round. This is when the admissions committees are more targeted in their evaluations because they are looking to fill certain “holes” in the class. For example, they might say, “We need a few more countries represented” or, “We usually have a higher number of women in the class, so let’s be thoughtful about balancing things in this final round.” Because most spots in the MBA class have been filled by Round 3, we generally advise against waiting until this round to submit your application. However, if you are a truly exceptional candidate or can offer a unique professional experience to the class, you could find success in Round 3.

We asked a few MBA admissions officers for their thoughts on applying in the different application rounds. Here is what they had to say:

“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 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.” – Bruce DelMonico, Assistant Dean and Director of 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 Full-Time MBA Admissions and Program, University of Michigan Ross School of Business

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