A Timetable for Applying to Business School
So when should I apply to business school? At first blush this seems like a fairly straightforward question: apply by the deadline. Only here’s the rub: most business schools don’t have just one deadline. They frequently have three.
Generally, for US MBA programs round 1 deadlines are in September or October; round 2 deadlines are in January; and round 3 deadlines are in March or even beyond. And, of course, there are reasons to apply in one round or another depending on your needs and what is happening in your life.
So here are some things to think about:
- Easier To Get In: Almost across the board, you have the best chance of acceptance in Round 1, the math is simple. All the seats are available for Round 1 before they have even begun to fill the class. By Round 2, the class has already been partially filled, so obviously that means there are fewer openings.
- They filled your “spot”: It is no secret that business schools look for great geographic, cross-industry, and cross-functional diversity. So if you are a male, IT-manager in the telecom space who hails from Mars, and if they already accepted a male IT-manager in the telecom space who hails from Mars in Round 1, then you are out of luck. Your “spot” has already been “filled.”
- Nothing says love like Round 1: Like people, business schools want to be loved, and are far more interested in applicants who show their love for the program. Applying Round 1 does exactly this. You make it clear to the business school that they are a top choice. This plays particularly well if your candidacy might be below average in some other way.
So you should definitely apply Round 1? Right. But, maybe not. And here’s why:
- If you are just thinking about this in July or August: If you are sitting on the beach on the 4th of July and this is the first time that you are even thinking about which round to apply in, then clearly you haven’t been doing what you need to do to put together a quality application for Round 1. To get into a top business school, your application has to be essentially perfect. Check your calendar. How much time is there until the first deadline rolls around (HBS, September 5). It takes about 100 days to put together something that is near perfect. Even if YOU can do it, what about your recommenders? Have you given them enough time to write a great recommendation for you? Remember they are taking a two-week August vacation (when they’re not thinking about you).
- Great beats good: Getting back to the point that you really must write a great application to have a chance at a top school, think about how much better your application will really be if you wait until Round 2. If you need those extra 2+ months to put together a substantially better application with much better essays and scores, then, by all means, wait. A mediocre application gets rejected no matter the round. A great application always gives you a shot. Don’t push for mediocre, it will not turn out well.
- Is life changing? Another reason to wait to submit Round 2 is that a lot of exciting stuff is going to happen between now and then. Is there a promotion in the works? A big move? A great personal achievement (like doing a triathlon)? An event that shows a different side of you (maybe a charity event you have planned)? If so, wait. And tell business schools about it. Maybe these things can even be the focus of your essays or enhance your resume. If they make you a better candidate, then Round 2 it is.
In the end though, it is up to you to sort through these factors to figure out when to apply. No matter what, apply whenever you feel like you can put together your best application.
But, please don’t apply Round 3. That’s when your chances are really bad. Practically zero.
Stratus Admissions Counseling is a full-service admissions counseling firm distinguished by its team based, multi-step process ensuring each application is crafted for optimum impact. Our MBA counseling team has a representative from virtually every top 20 MBA program, enabling us to provide school-specific guidance.