Should I apply to my top choice MBA programs in Round 1 or Round 2? A few tips to help you make that decision.
Over the next three weeks, Round 1 deadlines for many of the top schools will start piling up. Applications for UVA Darden, Harvard Business School, INSEAD, London Business School, Michigan Ross, Stanford GSB, Wharton, Yale SOM, and Northwestern Kellogg are all due, at the latest, by September 16th. Those for Chicago Booth and Berkeley Haas are due the following week.
So if you are wondering how you are going to get everything done in time for Round 1 and whether you should consider waiting until Round 2 instead, here are some things to consider.
How far is your application from perfect?
The acceptance rate at this cohort of schools is about 15%. What this means in real terms is that not only do you need the right test scores, GPA, and work experience to get accepted, you need a great story about who you are and why business school is the right next step to help you achieve your goals. Have you written this story? If you hesitate in answering “yes,” then best to hold your application until you have something closer to perfect.
Do you know the school?
As deadlines approach, one thing that always seems to fall by the wayside is the school-specific research you need to do to write a convincing essay about not just why you want an MBA but why an MBA from this particular program. The result is frequently a cut-and-paste job where different schools essentially get the same essay with only marginal changes. Read the essays you are considering submitting. If your essay for one school is appropriate for ANY school you’re targeting, then better to wait and apply in Round 2. Take your time to do your research and really understand the nuances of one school versus another, and then communicate appropriately.
Do you have time for the small stuff?
Frequently, where good applications are lost is in those small things that are easy to skip over. Examples include never doing a final read on your essays and short answer questions together, so you never pick up on any unwanted duplication; running out of time to proofread, which also means you certainly have no time to have someone else proofread. Good proofreading involves printing out a final version of the PDF form of your application from the school website and painstakingly reading it through for the truly dumb stuff. And dumb stuff exists. Ask me about the client who spelled Columbia “Colombia.” Or the guy who misspelled Iowa as his place of birth on the first page of his application. There’s no recovering from those sloppy mistakes, even for the best applicant.
Finally, you’re reading this.
If, at this point, with fewer than 20 days to go (at most), you are still debating whether you should apply in Round 1 or Round 2, the answer is almost certainly to go for Round 2. A good application ends with a slow descent, not a crash landing. Better to take a deep breath and create a really strong application for Round 2. The result will almost certainly be better than you would get by submitting a “rough and ready” version that doesn’t reflect your best effort. Such an approach won’t get you into a top business school, and isn’t that what your application efforts are all about?