MBA Application Timeline: When To Submit Your Business School Applications


The MBA Application Timeline

A lot of people ask me about the MBA application timeline and when they should submit their individual applications. Almost always, the answer is: “as soon as you can submit a high quality application.”

If you haven’t been procrastinating, this will mean submitting your applications in the first round. And on that note, your countdown to applying to business school needs to start early. However, there are a few wrinkles to this simple piece of advice, which are the focus of this article.

How the MBA Application Timeline Works

In case you are new to the MBA application timeline, it is important that you understand the unique multi-round application system. Rather than have a single deadline for all applicants, business schools have three distinct “rounds” during which applicants may submit their applications. Needless to say, this causes a great deal of worry among applicants.    

While numbers vary year-to-year and school-to-school, most business schools tend to get around 30% of their applicants in Round 1, slightly more than half of their applicants in Round 2, and a small proportion (usually around 10% to 15%) in Round 3.

When Should You Apply?

As you’ve probably guessed, applying in Round 3 (or “R3”) is not the wisest decision if you’re applying to a competitive business school. At that point, much of the class has already been filled, and admissions officers are just trying to “fill in the pieces.” Thus, unless you are a truly unique and standout applicant – more of a rarity than you would think – chances are pretty good that R3 is not for you.

Even if you were such an applicant, you stand to gain very little by putting off your applications until that final round. To an admissions officer, it would look as if you decided to apply last minute, or that an MBA was not a part of your long-term plan. You need to make sure that your MBA application timeline begins early enough to avoid this potential problem.    

Round 1 Versus Round 2

What about R1 vs. R2 of the MBA application timeline? Well, here is where it gets a little more complicated. For a long time, admissions offices stuck to the hard-and-fast line that R1 and R2 were roughly equal. Recently, they have started expressing a slight preference for R1, which is probably consistent with reality. That is, while R2 is perfectly fine, R1 is probably your best bet if you want every advantage you can get.

You might be wondering, “Why is R1 better?” – this is a good question. A colleague of mine who worked in admissions at Kellogg and Booth put it bluntly: “When your application is assessed, you are compared to the applicants in your round. Thus, if you apply in the second round, there are more applicants to compare you to. If you are a strong candidate but not an obvious “shoo-in,” then you run the risk of fading into the crowd if you apply in R2.”    

If you work in banking, consulting, or finance, these words are especially salient. The truth is that the “big hitters” of R1 are typically individuals applying from jobs in consulting and finance. After R1, there are only so many spots remaining for another McKinsey consultant or Goldman investment-banker. Thus, if you are one of the many applicants applying from these jobs, you would do well to apply as early as possible. You should many times rework - i.e. shorten - your MBA application timeline based off of the nature of your job.    

The Bottom Line

If you are a strong but otherwise unremarkable candidate, R1 is your best bet. This is especially true if you’re applying from jobs in finance and/or consulting. Unless there are some highly extenuating circumstances, it’s almost always best to avoid R3. 

In general, regardless of which round you apply to, you need to focus on building a business school list to give yourself the best chance of admission. Also, starting your MBA application timeline early can never hurt!  

Good Luck!


This article was written by Joel Butterly, Co-Founder and CEO of InGenius Prep. Joel graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth, and then went on to Yale Law School.

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