MBA Admissions: Applying in Round 1

Photograph by Andrew Howe/Getty Images

In my last post, I covered the reasons why application timing is not as important as the quality of the application in the admissions selection process. With Round 1 just around the corner, however, I’d like to share my take on the advantages of applying early, especially for those wrestling with whether to make those finishing touches for an early submission—or wait until Round 2. Here are my thoughts about the advantages of applying early:

Early Decision Release: Since most MBA programs release their Round 1 decisions prior to the new year, you would know your status by mid-December, providing you with time to react to that decision before Round 2 applications are due at other schools. If you’ve been rejected, you’ll have time to apply to additional programs. If you’re accepted at more than one program, you can begin the decision-making process to determine which school best fits your needs. A secondary advantage for those admitted in Round 1 is that you are given a longer period of time to make your decision before matriculation decisions are required (typically eight to 10 weeks, vs. five to six weeks in Round 2).

Smaller Applicant Pool: Most MBA programs typically receive a smaller pool of applications in Round 1—about half of what will be submitted in Round 2. While quality will always trump timing, Round 1 applicants often set the bar for subsequent rounds. In addition, there are rarely constraints around having too many admissions with similar profiles in Round 1, since this is the first group of students considered for admission. This blank-slate factor can definitely offer an advantage in a competitive applicant pool.

Scholarship Availability: While most students are expected to fully fund their MBA studies, certain schools provide merit-based scholarships to a range of student profiles to encourage students to enroll. Many of these decisions depend on the availability of funding; in Round 1, fund availability should not be a factor.

Is there a statistical advantage? In my years leading admissions offices, I’ve been repeatedly asked if applying early confers a statistical advantage. The answer is “no”—and “yes.” As I mentioned above, the blank slate can grant an advantage. However, I am not aware of any school that targets a set number of admits—or even a percentage to be admitted—as the defining reason behind making Round 1 decisions. Quality and fit to the institution are the driving factors. So while it may seem that there is a statistical advantage, don’t get caught up trying to calculate precisely your odds for admission. Focus on quality and fit.

If you feel your application is nearly complete, it might be worth your while to push to complete everything in time for a Round 1 submission. Nothing trumps quality, but there certainly are good reasons to apply early if you’re ready. Good luck.

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