Tips for Deciding on which MBA Admissions Round to Apply to
Slowly but surely, the posts are starting to show up on forums. They come with a variety of titles ranging from “When should I take the GMAT” and “How long do I have?” to “Is X months long enough?” but they usually center around one question: which MBA admissions round do I apply to? It makes sense, after all. This is the time most of you are starting to look out to the near horizon and wondering how this will all play out.
The purpose of this post is to address what I’ve found in more and more of these posts. It’s a watered down version of “anchoring”. At some point, you read in an article or on a forum that round 1 is THE premier round to apply. That round 2 isn’t quite up to snuff and that round 3 is simply out of the question. And that stuck. You’re now cemented in the opinion that, come hell or high water, you need to get your application in round 1. That’s it – end of story. A lot of you are planning for those dates like they’re set in stone.
The fact of the matter, however, is that not all of you are in a position to hit those dates.
If you take anything from this post, it should be this: take a deep breath and a step back. Let’s talk about two things that will help you figure out what’s right for you.
Some of you have taken the test and some of you haven’t. Some of you have started studying and some of you have just started thinking about it. Some of you will only take it once and some of you will take it four times. If you’ve already taken the GMAT and you’re happy with your scores, congratulations! I sure remember that feeling and it does feel nice to have that out of the way. If that’s the case, then start planning now.
For those of you still in the hunt for the perfect score, this next part is for you. You may read this and be tempted to work in parallel on your applications as you study for your GMAT. Don’t! DO NOT begin your online application or send your recommenders invites to the application. Engage your recommenders at a high level and ask if they will support you, but do not have them fill anything out. You need to have a story before you do any of this. Also, the online application is the last component you should fill out. Not because it’s inconsequential (it absolutely isn’t) but because it’s the last part of your story and needs to fill any gaps your strategy may have left along the way. This is a very holistic process and you can’t have anything “start” before you know how every piece is working together. Not to mention, without a GMAT score, how can you even be confident in your school selection due diligence?
Taking the GMAT really comes down to preparation at the individual level. Some people need a few weeks to prepare, some six months. It doesn’t matter which one you are, as long as you’re aware of it. You shouldn’t take the exam until you are good and ready but you shouldn’t push it back later than necessary. If you’ve been studying for six months, the last two weeks will give you diminishing returns from a score perspective but those two weeks could really help you build a stronger application! So understand the opportunity cost of your time and make a balanced decision on when to take it.
Once you have your GMAT out of the way and have an understanding of how that piece of the puzzle will play in, you can turn your focus to the application process. Look to your school list and continue to vet it. Do the schools still make sense? Are you still in contention? How does your story look with your GMAT score factored in? Are there any glaring issues you need to address or is your GMAT exceptional and a differentiator?
Once you have your list of schools finalized, prioritize them. Vary the mix by round and make sure you are strategic about it. Perhaps hit a stretch or two in round 1 along with an aligned or safety. Locking in one of the aligned or safety programs in the early rounds can really be a huge weight off your shoulders. Additionally, by staggering your applications you can make sure you put on your plate only what you can handle at any given point. This will give your recommenders the opportunity to dedicate time to each program and for you to develop excellent applications after the rounds of review that are necessary. Believe it or not, applications take a significant time commitment and applying to all your programs in round 1 is neither feasible nor recommended!
So as you look at the next few months, understand that a great application takes three to five months to put together. That everything needs to come together around a central strategy. That if you try to cram your applications into round 1, you might just be shooting yourself in the foot. Prioritize your efforts, be honest with yourself, and set a timeline that sets you up for success versus one that throws you at dates you aren’t prepared to hit.
Take an honest look at yourself, your capabilities, your calendar, and your commitments. The answer to when to apply is determined by the answer to when you’ll be ready. If you aren’t planning on taking the GMATs until August, then R1 is probably not in your cards. A great application in round 2 (or round 3) is worth more than a mediocre application in round 1.
Figuring out where you stand can be a difficult thing to do and talking it out can help. Good luck to everyone applying and if you want to chat about the path ahead, don't hesitate to [sign up for a free consultation] with us! It's free, awesome, and super useful. We would love to speak to you!