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Updated: Jun 17

There’s a lot of mythology that surrounds the admissions rounds. As Round 1 admissions deadlines are upon us (many top schools have just passed!) particularly for many American MBA programs, let's dive into the topic.

**Deadlines listed below are from the previous cycle but will be updated once they are released**

As a general rule, earlier is often better than later; however, a more nuanced answer to this question bears further discussion. While this definitely will vary from school to school, the reality is that these business schools have created the various admissions rounds for a reason, so you should feel free to use the one that’s best for you. That means you shouldn’t necessarily be afraid to apply in the later rounds; it does not mean that you’re a bad candidate. The only absolute truth here is, you should apply when you are fully ready to apply and your application is at its absolute best. This can avoid having regrets and wondering if you’d just taken the time to _____ before submitting, if you’d have made the cut.

Typical Admissions Rounds Deadlines for US MBA Programs:

  • Round 1: September or October

  • Round 2: January

  • Round 3: March

  • Round 4: May (not all schools have a 4th round)

You will find in your research that even in the US there is a lot of latitude when it comes to the timing of each admissions round deadline. Of course schools are free to do as they wish, but there are some general trends, as mentioned in the box above. Some American schools only have two rounds, while others have four or even five throughout the year. It’s essentially part of the marketing strategy of each business school to leverage just the right timing to attract the best candidates over their competition. As always, be sure to check the websites of each school you shortlist.

If you are fully ready to apply for an early admissions round or the Round 1, then there may be some advantages, such as additional scholarships. Remember that schools have targets to reach, and the sooner they can know how many students to expect for the next intake, the sooner they can start planning around that. So if your research and preparation is properly done and you’ve got a competitive GMAT score, there’s probably no reason you shouldn’t apply early.

There is also a feeling among Admissions Committees that some of the best candidates apply earlier. That sentiment is usually linked to the idea that such candidates are thinking ahead, highly motivated, have done their homework and preparation well in advance, and are perhaps among the most competitive. Expect a lot of type-A personalities in the earliest rounds, which can also mean that if you apply early, you may be measured against some of the fiercest competition. At the same time, if there is a cap on how many total candidates the school can admit for a given intake, the early rounds naturally have many more openings still remaining, compared to during the later rounds. This is exactly why your individual readiness is the best indicator as to whether or not you should apply early.

On the flip side, applying in the later rounds might feel like a better option for you if you need more time to ensure that your application is in tip-top shape or you want to have a more competitive GMAT score before applying, or if you’re concerned that your application might be less competitive for one reason or another. At the same time, with some of the most popular MBA programs that may impose limits on how many students they’ll enroll, there may be fewer seats still open if you apply in the later rounds. It’s worth mentioning that most schools use their waitlist strategically to ensure they don’t miss out on any great candidates that apply in the later rounds. In other words, if they think you’re a great fit for their program, they’ll be sure to have room for you regardless of when you apply.

If, on the other hand, you find the timing is a bit too tight for applying for the next intake, you may decide to take some pressure off, slow things down, and go for the following intake. Of course, that all depends on where you are in your career. If you’ve already got significant professional experience, and you’re starting to be outside of the target age group for a full-time MBA, you may be compelled to accelerate things and do your best to be as strong of a candidate as possible in the shortest amount of time. Fingers crossed.

In your research, you’ll find that some business schools use an open, or rolling, admissions process. This may feel more comfortable for you, there are no rounds, and you can apply when you want, any time before the final deadline when the school no longer accepts applications. This also requires a bit more self-discipline to pace yourself accordingly to ensure you get each component of the application done on time and done well. Rolling admissions doesn’t mean, however, that you should wait until the very end to get everything submitted. Not only will it feel good for you to get your application done and out of the way early, but waiting until the last minute could run the risk of being rejected simply because the program has filled to its capacity, or missing that deadline due to technical difficulties or other unforeseen circumstances.

As an international student, it's important to consider the visa factor! If you wait untilt he later rounds to apply, things get increasingly complicated for those applying from a foreign country. Some schools will descide at some point to stop accepting applications at some point for non-nationals, knowing that obtaining the visa could become too challenging in such a short window of time. In general, there isn't too much difference between Round 1 & Round 2, in terms of seats available, but Round 3 and later gets really tricky. As an international student, I would definitely plan to aplying in the 1st two rounds only.

Let’s not forget that sometimes life circumstances can get in the way. It’s not at all uncommon for MBA candidates to have sudden changes in work or family situations that force them to delay their MBA application. Sometimes an opportunity at work, such as a promotion to a managerial role, could be a great experience not to pass up, which would look fantastic on your MBA application as well as on your résumé post-MBA. It can be a hard decision to delay your MBA by a year, but in all likelihood, you’ll eventually need to get your MBA to advance your career to the level you’ve been targeting.

Finally, it’s worth discussing the idea of an alternative timeline for applying for your MBA, a deferred enrollment option offered by many top business schools, known as a 2+2 program. Essentially, this pathway targets highly motivated university students in their senior years who are sure that they want to do an MBA in the near future. The way it works is, you apply for the 2+2 program before you graduate, and if admitted, are promised a seat in the program upon completion of two to five years of professional experience. Students admitted by these means join participants in the same cohort of the MBA who applied through the traditional application process. The obvious advantage to business schools is securing some of the brightest and most ambitious young minds, guaranteeing a certain stream of tuition-paying students who they predict will shine brightly as future alumni.

The advantages to students are numerous if you have a clear enough visibility on your career in the years ahead of you. Firstly, you’ll be admitted prior to even those applying for Round 1. Secondly, you’ll be preparing your GMAT and application materials at a time when your mind is already accustomed to test-taking and dealing with the glorious world of administration in higher education. Finally, you won’t be bogged down by the sometimes excessively long hours in the office while trying to prove yourself during your first years in the workforce. Managing the MBA research process, GMAT and TOEFL prep, and multiple program applications while you’re also juggling work, maintaining your apartment, relationships, social life, potentially children and/or parents who need care, and more... There’s certainly a weight off your shoulders if and when you’re able to start your first job, knowing that in two or three years you can resign and casually walk onto the campus you’ve been sure about for years in advance, to begin your MBA with no stress.

Of course, this comes at a bit of a cost during your college years to manage the application process at such a young age, and being truly one of the best and brightest candidates, showing the maturity and leadership potential required of MBA participants. This means of course that applying for a 2+2 is highly competitive; however, if rejected, you can always apply a few years down the road, the more traditional way.

To sum up, early is usually better, but IF AND ONLY IF, you are truly 100% prepared and polished to do so. That said, best of luck on your applications. Candidate Coach is ready to support you in developing a highly competitive application for your MBA admission in this highly competitive market and the life-changing steps your about to take in your career.

Written by: Eric Lucrezia, creator of Candidate Coach, author of the book series "Getting into an MBA", and co-host of the weekly vidcast, MBA Waves.

The 2023 intake Round 1 Deadlines to Remember:

INSEAD - Sept 6

HEC Paris - Sept 15 (R7)

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