Which Round Should I Apply for my MBA Application?

Over the past years, competition for admission to top business schools has continued to rise steadily. Each business school has their own application timeline and number of rounds. Top-tier business schools have typically three rounds. Some schools like INSEAD, Cambridge (Judge) have more (seven for HEC Paris!) or a rolling admission process.

Since you are allowed to apply to only one round in any admissions cycle for each school, choosing​ which one to apply can be strategic to maximize your chance of being admitted.

Round 1/Early Decision

Round 1 period typically spans between May and October prior to the next year's Fall entry. Business schools tend to recruit a large pool of candidates that will shape the incoming class profile.

Applying early shows your commitment to the school and may be advantageous for grants, scholarships or on-campus housing preferences. This is especially true if you apply to a school that has an Early Decision round. Decision is released sooner than the rest of the applicants. This option is made for you if the school is your first choice or if you are a reapplicant. Admissions officers look favorably upon these applicants.

Columbia Business School's Early Decision for the August entry is a binding agreement. If admitted, you will commit to attend the school, withdraw all applications and decline all offers from other schools. To secure a spot in the class, you will be required to pay a nonrefundable $6,000 deposit within two weeks of acceptance. Tuck School's Early Action offer is non-binding, giving admitted students the chance to explore other options at other institutions.

Round 2

Admissions committees have a better picture of which profiles they seek based on admitted candidates in the previous round.

There are more applicants (both domestic and international) to compete with. Candidates rejected in Round 1 from top-tier schools may apply to schools as a second choice. So, competition in Round 2 is no less fierce than in Round 1.

This phase is an opportunity to spend some time reflecting on your initial application. Doing school research, getting feedbacks from candidates of Round 1, re-take the GMAT, tweak your essays...will help you perfect your application. As classes start in Fall, it's​ not a bad idea to schedule a campus visit. You will be able to attend classes, experience the faculty and their teaching styles, and interact with current students to learn about the academic and social culture of the program. Your interest to the program will be reinforced.

Round 3

Spring round is the last call to fill remaining seats in the Fall's cohort.

Though there are less applicants at this stage, acceptance rate is lower than the other rounds. If you are a become an international candidate, it may be tougher to secure a visa if you apply late. Unless you have a strong GMAT score or a unique background that stand out from the crowd, your odds of being admitted to an elite school are very low. If you just toss your application without conviction or genuine interest in the program, you should reconsider applying for the next admission cycle.

There are different opinions whether it is better to apply in Round 1 or 2. Although timing is important, you need to apply with the best possible application.

Remember that, during the selection process, admissions committee members review and evaluate each candidacy based on academic credentials, written and oral communication skills, fluency in foreign languages, engaging personality and strength of character, leadership potential, and notable talents. A strong application will shine though in any round.

To avoid a last-minute rush and ensure that admissions officers will review your application, be sure to carefully read every instruction and submit all supporting documents at least 48 hours before the deadline. Servers are often overloaded on deadline day.

Don't miss a deadline and check our list of dates.

Good luck with your application!