Submitting Your MBA Application in Round 1 or Round 2

which roundMaybe you think you’re too old, or too young for an MBA. Maybe you need more extracurricular activities or to increase your quant skills. Or maybe the stars are aligned and you’re ready to apply this year for entry in Fall 2018. Regardless of your situation, if you’re starting your application now, one of your first decisions is whether to try for Round 1 deadlines or wait for Round 2.

Take a moment to consider our former client Michael, who was working with one of our experienced consultants on his Stanford Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School applications when I was asked to take a look at his essays and provide a second opinion with approximately two weeks left before his round one deadlines.

Michael had several great stories about his achievements at work, his unique family background, and his extensive volunteer activities. He had a lot of great raw material in his essays, but it needed a bit more polishing to really shine. After conferring with Michael’s primary consultant, we decided that though Michael strongly preferred to apply in Round 1, our professional advice was to apply in Round 2.

If you can apply in Round 1 there are definitely advantages for you personally. You have more time to prepare for school. You have less uncertainty around winter vacation time. And you can start networking with your classmates early. If you have a solid application ready to submit in October, it’s an excellent time to do so. One advantage we don’t necessarily see is an increase in your chances of admission.

It’s true that less people are ready to apply in Round 1. At the same time, the most prepared applicants are applying in Round 1. These are the people who beat the GMAT months ago and have been prepping their recommenders all summer. Or, they might be reapplicants who have already been through the process once. In our experience these factors tend to balance themselves out, and so we advise that our clients apply in the round that allows them to put together their best possible application.

Michael took our advice and spent another three weeks polishing his essays and preparing his recommenders to write great letters for him. That extra preparation paid off; he was admitted to HBS in Round 2.

The truth is that the admissions committees know what they are looking for. They’ve become pretty good at estimating numbers, and evaluating and accepting applicants that fit their criteria. The best strategy is not to play the game of which round, but to submit your application as soon as, but not until, it is ready.

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