The Best Round to Apply to Business School

When should you apply to business school to maximize your chances of getting into a top MBA? Some say round 1, some say round 2, we say round 1, but does anyone say round 3? And why?

But hitting that round 1 deadline for MBA admission isn’t always possible and there are some VERY good reasons to defer a round (or year). In this video, Angela Guido talks about all the reasons you might defer and decides once and for all that round 1 = best round.

Now that the argument has been put to rest, consider subscribing for more free MBA application advice!

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Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

MBA round strategy, when should you apply? I am Angela Guido, the founder of Career Protocol. Are you sick of hearing me say that? I feel like I say it exactly that way in every video. The founder of Career Protocol, Angela Guido, I am. Today I'm talking about which round you should apply for when you are seeking to gain MBA admission to a top program. The short and simple answer is round 1. You should apply in round 1. As far as I'm aware of, there is no real advantage to applying in a later round. Just think about it: in round 1, the class is fully open, at a few schools they've already got a few spots filled from their deferred class from two or three years prior (the people who applied out of college and secured their spot early), but otherwise, the class is wide open. This means that you're competing with the applicant pool in round 1 for the total number of available MBA spots. This means a couple of things. First of all, that if there is an advantage in gaming the system, it's going to be in round 1. That's not because there's less competition, it's that there's only part of the competition. And if for any reason the school isn't quite sure about you in round 1 — if you're a no, you're a no and if you're a yes, they're going to interview you and ideally admit you — but if you're a maybe, they're likely going to hold on to your candidacy and make a decision later in round 2 when they see the rest of the applicant pool. Round 1 is really the only round where you get a bonus chance. You get two shots for the price of one. When we're giving our clients advice, we're always encouraging people to go for the round 1 deadline unless there's a really good reason why you need to go for a later round. So let's talk about what are the good reasons to go for a later round.

You Are Ready, Your Test Score Is Not

  • Check out mbamo.com to calibrate your scores
  • Especially if the test score is crucial for your candidacy in particular

The number 1 most important reason to go for a later round is your test score. We talk a lot about the GMAT and the GRE on this channel because we've learned from painful experience that it can be the reason that you are rejected from schools that you should otherwise be admitted to based on the strength of your candidacy. The GMAT and the GRE never got anyone into school, but those two tests definitely did keep people out. So it's really important that you submit a test score that is at least in line with your demographic and with the average and with the expectations of your target programs. If you want to understand how your test scores currently calibrate against your schools, go to mbamo.com, enter where your test scores are at, choose your target school, and Mbamo will spit out not just a discussion of your test scores, but a lengthy discussion. Twenty pages of your entire candidacy, how you stack up against that school, and how you might want to move the needle on one or more aspects of your candidacy before you apply. But in our experience, the most black and white, most important thing to get squared away before you apply is the test score. So it happens every once in a while that we have clients who begin working towards round 1 while they're trying to improve or complete their test, they take the GMAT close to the deadline and it's just not good enough and they know they can do a bit better, so they wait. They just kick their application to round 2, they get the test score squared away, and they submit their application in round 2 with a strong score. This is going to be your best strategy, especially if you come from a large demographic pool, you have any other weaknesses in your candidacy of any kind, you have no undergraduate background in business, or your GPA is on the weaker side. If you're in one of those vulnerable categories where there's extra pressure on the test score, then do not apply in round 1 if you can't submit your best test score. Wait until you've got the test score in hand and then apply in round 2. We really try to discourage people from applying in round 3 because at that point, the class is mostly full. They've admitted the majority of the people that they're going to take for the year and your ability to get in will not just hinge on the caliber of your candidacy, but it will also hinge on what the other admitted applicants choose to do. So you're hanging around hoping somebody like you who was admitted decides to go to another school or doesn't matriculate at this program to open up space for you. That's a little bit how the round 3 game works. So you should really only be applying in round 3 if there's also a career-related reason why applying in round 1 and round 2 is inappropriate.

Career-Related Reasons

  • You’re new here
  • You’re nearly at the big leagues

So the number 1 reason to go for round 2 instead of round one is the test score. The number 2 reason is something related to your career. Now, I talk a lot about this on this channel. You really don't want to be making decisions for your life based on what the admissions committee thinks. I'm talking about career factors that impact you and what matters to you in your career. So for example, you just got a new job and you need time to develop an experience base in that job before you even know if this is the right year for you to apply or if you want to wait a year and stay in your current job and apply later. Or you are expecting to get a promotion, and it's not just the optics of the promotion that are important, but it's actually the substance of what you'll be doing in that new job that's going to give you a lot more interesting things to talk about in your application and a lot firmer foundation to build your post-MBA career off of. Or you've recently gotten laid off, you're going through a job application process, and you know you're going to get something that you love and again, you want runway to build experience in that role before you can submit your best MBA application. That's the way to think about career as a factor in determining your round choice. Every year we have a few candidates who they're going in their career, things are great, and all of a sudden in February, they realize, crap, this is the year I need to go get an MBA. I'm really ready for it right now. Those people could potentially submit a really compelling application in round 3 because there's a legitimate reason why they're applying late.

But for most people, most of you have been watching my videos for a while, you've been thinking about business school for a while, so it's not going to be a snap decision to apply to business school. You're really trying to lay the groundwork so that when you apply, you're submitting your very best application. So for most of you, the right answer is to apply in round 1. In fact, depending on when you're watching this video, there's probably still many months remaining before the round 1 deadline. If you have time to get your test score in order and submit all of your applications, then you probably still want to aim to apply in round 1 and then only pull up, don't land the plane at the last minute if you realize, okay, I need more time to get my essays in order, or I need more time to get my test score in order. Then you can go for round 2. That's probably the correct decision tree for most of you watching this video. If you're coming across this video at a time when the upcoming deadline is round 2 or the upcoming deadline is round 3 and you're asking yourself, should I go for it or should I not? First of all, I want to put your mind at ease that it is not bad to apply in round 2. In our experience, there are slight advantages to round 1, but there are no huge disadvantages to applying in round 2 either. So if you're coming up against the round 2 deadline and you feel like you can really submit a great application for round 2, then go for round 2. If you're going to miss round 2 and your only option is either round 3 or wait a year, then that's the decision you want to think really carefully about because of what I said about round 3. For most people, you're going to be in a much better position both to submit your best candidacy and to give yourself every competitive advantage that can be had in the process if you apply in round 1 as opposed to round 3. But again, there are exceptions. If this is really the right moment for your career to apply in round 3 — we've had clients get into great schools in round 3, even clients that were not fulfilling a diversity requirement for the schools. People who are applying from big, crowded applicant pools. They had a really good reason why they were applying to this school and they were applying in round 3. Schools are willing to take great candidates in round 3 but for most people, that's the round — round 3 or round 4… Whatever's the last round, some schools have four rounds — whatever's the last round for the school that you're applying to, and take Harvard out of the mix because they only have two rounds. For most people, you want to avoid the last round, but round 1 or round 2 is probably going to be okay.

So if you missed round 1, don't freak out, you can still hit round 2. But make sure you've got your test score in order and you're really ready to give those applications all you've got. This is probably a good time to let you know about my MBA 101 course. It's free, you can sign up at careerprotocol.com/MBA101, and in five days, I will walk you through all the core pieces of the application and everything that you need to know to submit your best application on whatever timeline you're working on. In fact, in the course, we have a free download of our recommended MBA application timeline so that you can submit your very best application on time. Best of luck. I'm rooting for you! See you next week on MBA Monday. Bye!

Picture of Angela Guido

Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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