As Round 1 MBA decisions start rolling in for both acceptances and interview invitations, now is the time to think about a Plan B—including which MBA programs you might wish to target for Round 2. Remember that to land a seat at your dream business school, you need to be a strong applicant AND submit a strong application.
Let me begin by reassuring you that there is still time to create a compelling application for nearly all the new programs you will be looking at, but the time to start is now.
So, here are some things to consider:
1. Is Plan B just Plan A for next year?
If you don’t have to be in business school in 2022 and are comfortable starting a year later, figure this out now. Being a reapplicant can be an advantage (roughly 10% of Harvard Business School [HBS] students didn’t get in on their first try). But remember that you need to have something new to say to each school you are reapplying to, so make sure you are an improved candidate in a meaningful way. Perhaps this means getting a higher test score. Alternatively, you might be up for a promotion early next year and would be taking on new projects through which you will be managing people and budgets. Or maybe you recently accepted a board position or leadership role with an organization you are working with outside of your day job. Any and all of these will strengthen your profile for next year. See 12 Tips to Enhance Your Business School Profile.
2. Maybe you should fix that fatal flaw.
If your GMAT or GRE score is less than stellar or your GPA needs some work, there is still some (though maybe only a tiny amount of) time to fix that weakness before the deadline for Round 2. Beware, though; if you aren’t able to work on both addressing your fatal flaw and writing stellar applications, one will have to go. If your fatal flaw is possibly a lackluster recommendation that was thrown together on Labor Day, consider revisiting your recommender strategy.
3. Try a different mix.
For many, Round 1 means applying only to their dream MBA programs. If that’s the case with you, then Round 2 is your chance to broaden your list of schools to include a healthier dose of “target” and “likely” or “safety” schools.
At Stratus, we recommend applying to six to nine schools: one-third reaches, one-third targets, and one-third likelies. Is this what you did in Round 1? If not, maybe this should be your Plan B for Round 2.
Every applicant has their own risk tolerance and approaches the mix on a different timeline. Some of my clients opt to submit applications to a combination of target and likely programs to dust off their writing and interviewing skills with more achievable schools.
Assuming you have applied to programs you would actually WANT to attend next year, you might find yourself in a situation where applying to your DREAM (and possibly stretch) school(s) in Round 2 creates total upside because you already know that you will be enrolled in business school in 2022. If that is you, go ahead and submit an application to HBS and/or the Stanford GSB! I can guarantee that if you don’t apply, you will NOT be accepted!
4. Do more research.
Whether you are applying to an MBA program in Round 1 or Round 2, you must really get to know each school well so you can explain why it is the right one for you and why you are a great fit for it. Now is the time to do this.
Don’t stop at reading the website. Connect with some students and recent alumni. The insights you can glean from several one-on-one conversations will provide you with a very nuanced understanding of the program. See Nine Tips for Reaching Out to Students to Learn More about MBA programs. As we head into the end-of-year holidays, be mindful of recruiting and academic schedules when asking for time on a student’s calendar.
The most compelling applicants are the ones who are dying to go to a particular MBA program and can explain why. Be that applicant. Trust me, if it isn’t you, it WILL be someone else!
5. Find other schools.
Although you might have focused on your dream schools in Round 1, a ton of other great programs are out there waiting to be found. See How to Find the Best Business Schools for You. These programs share a lot of the same characteristics as your number one choice and will provide everything you need from a business school education but aren’t quite the same reach for you. These are what we call the “doppelgänger” MBA programs, and we discuss them in this blog post. By the way, a doppelgänger is a double or twin—though for our purposes, it might mean the perfect business school for you.
Want a quick summary of top MBA programs? Download Stratus’s free guides to the top MBA programs.
6. Consider Alternative MBA Formats
A two-year, full-time MBA program might be the most popular format and the one most talked about in the media. However, depending on where YOU are in your career, there could be other options that will allow you to develop the skills, knowledge, and relationships necessary to achieve your goals. See Full Time, Part Time or EMBA: Four Steps to Choosing Your B-School Journey. If you are looking to stay within your current industry, you might take a look at part-time or even online MBA programs. If you are more advanced in your career, perhaps a mid-career, full-time program or an executive MBA program would be appropriate. If you want to pursue a role in tech, maybe a Tech MBA would be a great option. See Is a Tech MBA for Me? If you position yourself well, you might even be able to attend your DREAM school, just in a different format and on an adjusted timeline.
No matter which of these next steps you want to follow, the bottom line is the same: now is the time to get started.