Your MBA application preparation timeline is determined by which MBA application deadline you choose to target.
Most business schools divide their admissions schedule into two or three deadlines, called “rounds.” A few MBA programs employ a rolling admissions process. These business schools review applications in the order received— first-in, first-out. If you are planning for an MBA, make finding out when the MBA application deadlines will be a priority.
The most straightforward advice we can offer is that you should apply for an MBA only when you are confident that you have designed and built the strongest application possible. While there is undoubtedly an advantage to applying in the first round, the first-mover advantage never provides enough edge to make up for even minor shortcomings in your MBA application package.
Let’s review some of the pros and cons of applying in MBA Rounds One, Two, and Three.
MBA Round 1: Ideal … But Only If You Start Early!
Round 1 MBA deadlines typically fall in September or October. As stated above, applying for your MBA in Round 1 presents many benefits. First, submitting an application in this round will demonstrate to the admissions committee that they are among the top programs on your list. When you put the work in to make the first deadline, it shows the admissions committee that their school is one of your favorites. Because programs are motivated by the annual business school rankings, and a healthy spirit of competition, to optimize their yield (i.e., offers made divided by offers accepted), they might consider overlooking a few weak spots in the profiles of a Round 1 applicant if they are reasonably sure that a prospective student will accept an admissions offer.
Secondly, remember that in Round 1, the admissions committee has all of its seats open to next year’s class. Although they will have a target number, they have the flexibility to exceed that number. That’s not the case in Round 2, once those seats are filled.
Lastly, your application can have a longer “lifespan” if you apply in Round 1. Round 1 applicants can earn a spot on the waitlist. That means they can be reconsidered against Round 2 and even Round 3 candidates. On the other hand, there are fewer spots on the waitlist for Round 2 applicants and practically none for Round 3 candidates.
While the positives of MBA Round 1 certainly outweigh the negatives, applying in the first round does present a few challenges. These days some of the strongest candidates within over-represented segments of the application pool (e.g., management consultants) are all applying in Round 1. For that reason, admissions committees must make some difficult choices about which candidates they admit. Consequently, admissions committees may opt to waitlist some of the strong candidates from particular industries or fields to compare them against Round 2 and Round 3 candidates before making an admissions offer.
A final consideration about Round 1 is that the early deadline may make it challenging to apply early. Unless you get a headstart, you will have less time to prepare your written applications than if you wait until after the first of next year. Given the alternative between rushing to submit in Round 1 and taking additional time to put together a sterling MBA application in Round 2, you should opt to wait and devote the extra time to making your MBA application as strong as possible.
MBA Round 2: Pros and Cons
Historically, MBA Round 2 deadlines fell in early January of the following year, which is when the majority of candidates applied. That has changed over time. We pointed out the first-mover advantage of Round 1. However, in Round 2, it’s make-or-break time for filling out their class. That means admissions officers are highly motivated to snap up great candidates.
In addition to enjoying some extra time to perfect your applications, another benefit of applying in Round 2 is that you can invest more time in school research. Specifically, you will be able to visit MBA programs in the fall while classes are in session. That is not true for Round 1 applicants unless they visited campus several months before applying. A school visit is an excellent way to demonstrate your genuine interest in the program. Add to that, firsthand observations taken from your school visit can significantly enhance the quality of your “Why Our School?” MBA essays.
MBA Round 3: Mainly Cons
We are sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but for the vast majority of b-school applicants, Round 3 is like one of the rings in Dante’s inferno — a place of heartbreak and eternal suffering. Unless your profile is beyond exceptional and you are one of the luckiest people you know, you would be joining a game that is more or less over. Rather than applying in Round 3, MBA Prep School’s advice is to start working on your applications in the spring and delay applying until Round 1 of the following MBA application season.
MBA Rolling Admissions … When should I apply?!
At the time of this writing, Columbia Business School is the most popular MBA program to utilize the rolling admissions format. In the rolling process, each admissions round has a starting date and ending date. The admissions officers don’t wait until the end of the submission period; they review those applications as they arrive.
If you are planning to apply for an MBA program that reviews applications on a rolling basis, the pros and cons are similar to the ones we discussed earlier concerning the Round 1 MBA deadlines. In short, apply as early as possible. If a program is accepting applicants throughout the application cycle, that amplifies the first-mover advantage. On top of that early-bird edge, submitting earlier means that you will receive a business school’s decision earlier too. Wouldn’t it be great to know almost a year in advance that you have a seat locked up at a top business school starting next fall?
Apply Early to Your Dream Business Schools
An application timing strategy that has worked well for MBA Prep School applicants applying to multiple schools is targeting “dream” schools in Round 1 and “back-up” schools in Round 2. That way, if you receive an acceptance letter to your dream school in Round 1, you’re done with your MBA application campaign!
There is one caveat to keep in mind, don’t wait to hear from your Round 1 MBA programs before starting work on Round 2 applications! You aren’t likely to know the outcome of your first-round application until mid-December. Because you will learn your fate a few weeks before the Round 2 deadlines, you will need to be poised to submit applications to your second-choice schools.
2021/22 Application MBA Deadlines
|School||Round 1||Round 2|
|Cambridge (Judge)||Sep 13, 2021||Oct 18, 2021|
|Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)||Oct 3, 2021||Jan 5, 2022|
|Chicago (Booth)||Sep 23, 2021||Jan 6, 2022|
|Columbia (CBS)||Oct 6, 2021||Jan 5, 2022|
|Cornell (Johnson)||Oct 12, 2021||Jan 5, 2022|
|Dartmouth (Tuck)||Sep 27, 2021||Jan 3, 2022|
|Duke (Fuqua)||Sep 2, 2021||Jan 5, 2022|
|Georgetown (McDonough)||Sep 27, 2021||Jan 6, 2022|
|Harvard (HBS)||Sep 8, 2021||Jan 4, 2022|
|IESE||Oct 13, 2021||Jan 7, 2022|
|INSEAD||Sep 7, 2021||Nov 2, 2021|
|London (LBS)||Sep 10, 2021||Jan 6, 2022|
|Michigan (Ross)||Sep 20, 2021||Jan 4, 2022|
|MIT (Sloan)||Sep 28, 2021||Jan 19, 2022|
|Northwestern (Kellogg)||Sep 15, 2021||Jan 5, 2022|
|New York University (Stern)||Sep 15, 2021||Oct 15, 2021|
|Oxford (Said)||Sep 1, 2021||Oct 13, 2021|
|Penn (Wharton)||Sep 8, 2021||Jan 5, 2022|
|Stanford (GSB)||Sep 9, 2021||Jan 5, 2022|
|Texas (McCombs)||Oct 12, 2021||Jan 6, 2022|
|UC-Berkeley (Haas)||Sep 23, 2021||Jan 6, 2022|
|UCLA (Anderson)||Oct 5, 2021||Jan 4, 2022|
|UNC (Kenan-Flagler)||Oct 11, 2021||Jan 10, 2022|
|USC (Marshall)||Oct 15, 2021||Jan 5, 2022|
|Vanderbilt (Owen)||Oct 12, 2021||Jan 5, 2022|
|Virginia (Darden)||Sep 9, 2021||Oct 6, 2021|
|Yale SOM||Sep 14, 2021||Jan 6, 2022|
Here you will find the short answer to the question, “Which MBA round should I apply in?”
If you still have a few months before the Round 1 deadlines, we recommend that you get to work and aim to submit your applications in Round 1.
If you fail to complete your applications, applying in Round 2 is your failsafe. Trust us — you’ll be glad you took a shot at submitting in the Round 1 MBA deadlines, even if you don’t end up hitting your target!
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