Round 1 or Round 2: When Should I Submit My MBA Application?

The early bird gets the worm, but the late mouse gets the cheese. Which one are you, and which one should you be?

Okay, you might not care about worms or cheese, but you probably care about getting into your top MBA school pick, and the same question applies. Should you apply during Round 1 or Round 2?

It might seem like a simple question, but it’s one we get asked a lot. Timing is everything. Students worry that if they apply too early they’ll get regulated to the wait list, but, on the flip side, they worry that if they apply too late their spot and scholarship money will already be taken. So, what’s the best approach?


Round 1

Round 1 applications are typically due in the early fall or late summer, which can be rather early for many applicants, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many Round 1 applicants got an early jump on business school and so have impressive backgrounds that include high GMAT scores, great extracurricular activities and examples of leadership. In fact, many MBA programs view Round 1 applicants as “serious and well-prepared.” So consider applying during Round 1 if those adjectives would be useful to your application.

The reality is that there are more spots available in Round 1 and more opportunities to be placed on a wait list. According to U.S. News:

  • The Chicago Booth School of Business accepted 65 percent of its applicants during Round 1.
  • The Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business gave more scholarships in Round 1.
  • The Tuck School of Business and Columbia Business School looked more favorably on Round 1 applicants.

When to Apply in Round 1

  • If your application is complete and as “good as it can be” before Round 1, then submit your application then. There’s no reason to wait. Schools generally receive one-third of their applications in Round 1 and 55 percent in Round 2, so if you want to be a part of a smaller pool, apply early.
  • If you’re part of an over-represented group, then you want to apply early. The more quickly you can get ahead of other applicants similar to you, the better.
  • If you have a low GMAT score, apply in Round 1. By the second round, most schools don’t have many, if any, spots left for applicants with low GMATs.
  • If your MBA program specifically states that there is an advantage to early application, apply during Round 1. You can use every bit of help.

Round 2

When you apply to Round 2, you apply alongside the general population, which is good news if you have an application with a few weak points. However, that also means that you’ll have the most competition for a few open slots. Your application might not stand out as much as you want if you have a common profile during Round 2. Round 2 is also when the most seats fill up, so you’re more likely to be accepted or rejected instead of placed on the wait list.

On the flip side, one of the biggest benefits to waiting until Round 2 is your ability to visit campus—a major help when writing a compelling essay and performing exceptionally well in an interview. Round 2 applicants also tend to submit better applications. Applying is a learning experience, and if you make mistakes during Round 1, you can learn from those by the time you apply to Round 2.

When to Apply in Round 2

  • If you need more time to make a decision, Round 2 is your best bet since it will give you a chance to visit your top school and gain a better understanding of what it’s like.
  • If you want to sharpen your application for your top MBA pick, then it’s a good idea to apply to a comfort school in Round 1 and use it as a learning experience to apply to your top school in Round 2.
  • If you have a “less than perfect” background, then you might want to consider applying during Round 2 when you’re surrounded by the most other applicants.

Round 1 or Round 2?

In the end, there’s relatively little difference between applying during Round 1 and Round 2. Most schools view applicants similarly no matter the round. Eliot Ingram, the co-founder of Clear Admit with 21 years in the MBA admissions field, had this to say.

“If you are admitted in Round 1 to your first choice school, then there is often no need to submit applications in Round 2,” he said. “Of course, getting an early acceptance to your top choice school in Round 1 may also give you the confidence to apply to schools you hadn’t considered before in Round 2. In this case, applying to a top school as part of the first round may inspire you to extend your list of ‘reach’ schools. Either way, getting an admissions decision from your top school as part of Round 1 can reduce cost and uncertainty in the application process. If a candidate waits until Round 2 to apply to her top school, then the experience of applying in Round 1 should sharpen the application for the top school, increasing the chances of admission at the top school.”

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