MBA Timeline: Key Target Dates for MBA Applicants

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, Apr 12, 2021

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  • Spring and summer of your application season is for research, test-taking, and application strategy and development
  • September and October—Round 1 deadlines
  • Early January—Round 2 deadlines
  • Late March/early April—Round 3 deadlines. Spring deadlines are ideal for deferred MBA admissions for college seniors, part-time and EMBA programs.

Are you planning to apply to business school in the fall? Once you’ve decided to pursue an MBA, you’ve got your work cut out for you. MBA applicants need to fit studying for the GMAT or GRE and developing essays in with other personal and professional commitments. That's where an MBA timeline comes into play.

Having a game plan for completing the admissions components within a schedule means you won't deal with undue stress and sleepless nights. The best way to do this is to put together your MBA application timeline months before your target deadlines.

MBA Timeline: Getting Started

Early spring of your MBA application season is when we recommend starting the research on schools, finding the right fit, estimating admit odds, checking application requirements, and learning what each program has to offer.

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“Attend as many admissions sessions and events as you can to get to know the program better and hear from the MBA admissions team, who may provide updates on their requirements given current times," advises Sherry Holland, who has been with SBC for over ten years after a tenure at Duke Fuqua Admissions.

"Talk to current students and/or recent alumni to become more familiar with the program. Hear their stories, and discuss your short and long-term goals to determine if they are realistic based on their knowledge of the program,” she adds.

Spring is also the time to check the average reported statistics online to calibrate and bolster your academic record. But know there’s always a range with respect to test scores and GPA for every MBA program.

How Much Time for Test Prep?

MBA hopefuls often ask how far in advance before applying should they take the GRE or GMAT. Also, how much time should they spend on test prep? Our clients usually need 3-4 months for test preparation, depending on how much time they have to study if they're still working.

Test scores are one variable that allows us to rank potential MBA programs into reach versus reasonable categories. So, we prefer to have several diagnostic test scores or even the actual test score—ideally not later than two months before the application deadlines. Get the test done early to optimize your efforts and to decide whether to engage an MBA admissions consultant.

“In an ideal world, separating your test prep from your essays/applications work allows you to fully focus on each and helps to minimize the stress of trying to do everything all at once as deadlines loom," says Sara Archer, SBC's lead test prep tutor.

Test scores are good for up to five years. When thinking about your MBA timeline, the earlier you start studying and secure a satisfactory score, the better. Keep in mind, there often is some overlap between studying and working on applications.

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"Depending upon your goals, I usually advise taking 3-4 months to prepare for the GMAT or the GRE (EA preparation can often be done in less time). Studying a bit each night throughout the week will help you to retain your learnings," Archer notes.

The weekends are a great time for practice tests or more intensive studying. Candidates shooting for top scores usually study around 100-150 hours.

"But remember, quality is better than quantity. Work to understand each problem and why you got it right or wrong," she adds. "The goal is to study productively—not just to do a lot of practice problems!”

What to Know About the Different Application Rounds

By now, you know business schools have two or more application deadlines, or rounds, by which candidates need to submit their application materials. So, does that mean there's an optimal time to apply?

Round 1 takes place in the fall, either September or October, whereas round 2 takes place in early January. Round 3, meanwhile, hits in March or April. Some schools have slight differences such as Early Action deadlines. For top US, full-time MBA programs, we almost always encourage candidates to apply in rounds 1 or 2. That’s because there are simply fewer spots open in round 3.

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That said, round 3 is perfectly acceptable for some MBA program types. This includes part-time and EMBA programs, EU-based programs, as well as some lower-ranked full-time, two-year US MBA programs. College seniors applying for deferred MBA admissions programs are almost always aiming for spring deadlines (late March and early April).

How to Submit a Quality Application On Time

To achieve this goal, frontloading tasks is a key tool of a successful MBA timeline. Our best admit outcomes are from clients who have plenty of lead time before MBA deadlines to assemble thoughtful and high-quality application materials.

We need a minimum of 4 weeks prior to deadlines. But it’s ideal to have 2-6 months of lead time before application deadlines. Most of our clients begin work with us on average of 4-5 months prior to the deadlines.

One of our HBS admit clients emphasized that the application process is a journey. “One thing that helped give me an extra boost of confidence to apply was telling myself that even just the application process itself was a tremendous growth opportunity—a chance to reflect and figure out my future goals," she said.

"And it truly was a fantastic experience. I feel like a more self-aware person now than before I applied.”

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Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. If you are looking for guidance on your MBA application, we can help with hourly and comprehensive consulting services. Contact us to learn more.