There are plenty of opinions about which application round is the best one to apply in.
The straight answer is that there is certainly an advantage to applying in the first round, but never enough of an edge to make up for an application that is even a few degrees below the best one you are capable of given more time to prepare.
Round 2: Pros and Cons
Round 2 in early January is when most applicants apply. While it’s a competitive round, consider that admissions offices are now working at full-capacity and are very motivated to fill the class with the best candidates available. They too are competing and now they have a complete picture of the applicant pool they will be drawing from; a position they weren’t in when reviewing applications in Round 1. In addition, to the extra time to perfect your application, one of the advantages of applying in Round 2 is that you will have more time for school research, and you will be able to conduct a school visit while classes are in session.
Round 3: Mainly Cons
Which brings us to Round 3. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but 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 pretty much already over. Rather than applying in Round 3, our advice is to start working on your applications in the spring but hold off until Round 1 of the next year to apply.
Round 1: Ideal … But Only If You Start Early!
Taking the preceding guidance into account, if you have a few months until the Round 1 deadlines, then start your application preparation work right away with the goal of submitting your applications in Round 1. That way, if you are not ready by the time the deadlines roll-around, then applying in Round 2 will be your failsafe. This is a much better strategy than putting the applications out-of-sight and out-of-mind until after the Round 1 deadlines. You’ll be glad you aimed for Round 1 even if you don’t hit your target.
Think About Your Target Schools as a Portfolio
Another scheduling strategy that has worked well for applicants who are applying to multiple schools is to apply to your “dream” schools in Round 1 and your “safer” schools in Round 2. That way if you receive an acceptance letter to your dream school in Round 1, you can discontinue your work on your Round 2 applications. Alternatively, if you aren’t accepted or you are wait listed by the schools you applied to in Round 1, you will have applications already in progress to your backup schools.