Today we explore the question of whether you should apply to business school in Round 1 or Round 2, and whether this decision really matters at all. Every year we get a lot of questions from applicants in late September and early October along the lines of, “Here’s where my application stands today. Does it make sense to apply now, or [insert some way of improving one's application here] and apply in Round 2 instead?”
As long as there are some things in your application that can be significantly improved between October and January (and we’ll explore ways to improve your application in a moment), it’s almost a no-brainer to wait.
Here are three reasons why applying to top MBA programs in Round 2 is probably a smarter bet than applying in Round 1:
The “Numbers” Advantage is Slight, If It Exists at All
“Wait,” you ask. “I read that more people apply in Round 2, and that applying in Round 1 means that you will have less competition in the early going, so it make sense to apply as early as possible.” While it’s true that more applicants tend to apply in Round 2 (in a traditional three-round admissions schedule), admissions officers know this as well, and they plan accordingly. Do you really think that, for Harvard’s class of about 910 students, the admissions committee will gorge on Round 1 applicants, leaving no room for Round 2 and 3 applicants? Of course they know that more people will apply in Round 2, and they have been doing this long enough that they can plan accordingly.
Further, as we wrote previously, the number of applicants in a given time period really affects your chances less than you might intuitively expect. We’ll let you read that post for more details, but suffice it to say that what you submit matters FAR more whether 3,000 or 3,500 other applicants apply when you do.
You Still Have Time to Erase or Overcome Weaknesses
Yes, fall is upon us, and the MBA admissions season is officially upon us, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still significantly improve your application in some way. As we’ve written before, if your GMAT score takes any sort of explaining, why not devote yourself to a few weeks of serious preparation and try again? (Schools really only care about your highest score, so you have nothing to lose, other than the $250 GMAC test fee.)
If your work stories are underwhelming, you still have three months (that’s a lot of time!) to take on a new project and make a significant impact on your organization. The same goes for your extracurricular activities — while you want to avoid the appearance of expediency, that’s still a lot of time to lead an event, raise some funds, or otherwise positively impact the community around you.
By this time of year it’s easy to think these parts of your profile as being set in stone, but the fact of the matter is that, for someone who’s only been working for several years, you still have a chance to make some significant moves that will shape the story of your career and your community involvement. If you can even think of some ways that you might be able to make something happen between now and January, it very well may be worth a shot.
Your Recommenders Could Probably Use the Additional Time
Admit it, you’ve already said to yourself at least once this month, “I wish I had gotten my recommendation writers started earlier.” Or, just as likely, “I’m sort of sorry that I chose Bob to write one of my recommendations for Stanford. I wish it weren’t to late to choose again.” Well, this is your chance to give them more time, or to get a second chance.
There are many ways a business school letter of recommendation can go wrong, and they normally boil down to the recommendation writer not knowing what to do or not being invested enough in the process. Both of these can usually be fixed by giving them better preparation. If that doesn’t work, you can always pull the plug and move on to someone else.
While that may be an uncomfortable conversation to have, it’s better than the empty feeling in your stomach that comes with a ding email from Stanford. Of course, switching gears and asking someone else to do it means that new person may not have enough time, unless you delay to Round 2. We’ve seen many applicants’ chances torpedoed by lackluster letters of recommendation…It’s far better to submit GREAT ones in Round 2 than so-so ones in Round 1.