Over the next two weeks, we will hit the Round 1 MBA submission deadlines for Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, Wharton, Yale SOM, Northwestern Kellogg, and NYU Stern. In addition, UVA Darden and Duke Fuqua have Early Action deadlines within the week. And before the end of September, applications are due at Michigan Ross, Berkeley Haas, Chicago Booth, Dartmouth Tuck, and MIT Sloan. You may be asking yourself, “Should I apply to my top-choice MBA programs in Round 1 or wait until Round 2?” Although the standard response might be “It depends,” inevitably, you should apply in the round in which you can put forth the strongest possible application. Furthermore, if you are up for a promotion or working on a project that will wrap up in October or November, you might be a stronger applicant in Round 2—in which case, you should probably wait.
If you are unsure if you’re ready for Round 1, here are a few tips to help you make that decision.
Is your GMAT/GRE score where it needs to be?
There is still some disruption in test preparation and test taking in different parts of the world, including continued hiccups in online testing and limited slots available at testing centers. Therefore, at this point, your test score may not be at the level you think you can attain. If this is the case, you should wait so you can apply with your best test score—because you need to put forth your best application.
How far from perfect are your essays?
The acceptance rate at the top ten US business schools is roughly 15%. In real terms, what this means is that not only do you need the scores, the GPA, and the work experience to get accepted—you need a great story about who you are, what your goals and aspirations are, and why business school is the right next step for you. Have you written this story? If you hesitate in answering “Yes,” then it’s best to hold your application until you have something pretty close to perfect. See Stratus’s “Six Keys to Successful MBA Application Essays” for guidance!
Do you know the school?
As deadlines approach, one thing that always falls by the wayside is the school-specific research often required to write application essays—not just “Why an MBA?,” but “Why an MBA at this particular program?” The result is frequently a cut-and-paste job where applicants submit essentially the same essay to different schools with only marginal changes. Therefore, read the essays you are considering submitting. If an essay is appropriate for ANY school, then you should probably apply in Round 2. Take your time to do your research, connect with students and alumni, and really understand the nuances of one program versus another, and then communicate appropriately. See Stratus’s free guides for more advice!
Do you have time for the small stuff?
Frequently, the small, easy-to-miss things are what turn good applications into bad applications. Do you have time to conduct a final read on your essays and the short answer questions at the same time so you can pick up on any duplication? What about proofreading? Good proofreading includes printing out a final version of the application and painstakingly reading it through to find the truly dumb stuff—and dumb stuff exists! Ask me about the applicant who noted that he was born in Iwoa instead of Iowa on the first page of his application!
A good application ends with a slow descent, not a crash landing. It’s better to take a deep breath and submit a really good application for Round 2 than to deliver a “rough and ready” version that doesn’t reflect your best effort. The latter approach won’t get you admitted to a top business school—and isn’t that what your application effort is all about?