Round 1 vs Round 2 vs Round 3 - MBA Admission

MBA Applications: Round 1 vs Round 2 vs Round 3

Most business schools have multiple rounds of applications, Round 1 applications are typically due in September or early October, Round 2 applications are typically due in January, while Round 3 can vary between March and April. Some schools even have a Round 4 due in May or look at applications on a rolling basis post the first 3 rounds. There is a method behind this madness, especially when we view it from the admission committee’s angle. It helps them admit the best possible students for their program while maintaining the required diversity. As an applicant, you will face the question of when to apply, which can be a difficult one for many MBA aspirants to tackle.

Here is an overview of the many rounds of admission you will hear about:

MBA Application Round 1

The September round, or round 1 is generally considered to be the best time to apply for top-tier business school programs. This is due to a couple of reasons, some of the key ones being, the class is wide open, that is, all the spots are open. Getting your submission together by the Round 1 deadline shows that you are a proactive individual, and possess the focus, drive, and ambition, it takes to succeed. Another advantage is, the applicant reviewing board has no application fatigue, that is, they are not reviewing your application after already going through N number of them previously. This is again true if you want financial aid, as all the money to be distributed among the students is on the table. Also, by applying in the first round, you are conveying a keen interest in the program. It shows the said business school was not a mere afterthought, because you did not get in elsewhere.

While Round 1 is not for everyone, it is important for people who come from an over-represented group. This can include consultants, private equity applicants, or in the Indian context, male engineering graduates! If you have a stellar GMAT score, enjoy the good faith of your recommenders, and are certain that you’ll be able to post a solid application way in advance of the deadline then this round is for you. Lastly, if you are not admitted to this round, you will have sufficient time to apply to other business schools in the same academic year. At the same time, keep in mind, that Round 1 witnesses’ strong applications, so there is a greater chance of getting waitlisted or rejected.

MBA Application Round 2

Just because you did not make it in Round 1 does not mean you should throw in the towel. A vast number of applicants are admitted during the Round 2 or the January round. If you were a strong Round 1 applicant, you should be fine in round 2. This is a good opportunity for those who are willing to work towards improving their test scores, earning a promotion, or gaining international experience. If you are unsure about your application strength, have a low GMAT, GRE, GPA, or insufficient work experience, then this round is for you. Also, use this time to connect with as many admission committee members as you can to exhibit your interest in the program. You must also exhibit a clear sense of your relative strengths and weaknesses as an applicant, and a challenging yet realistic post-MBA career goal.

Most, if not all the strong applications are done in Round 1, and there is less chance of getting waitlisted or rejected in this round. If you believe your GMAT is not up to the mark, and you believe you can do better then you can utilize the time between round 1 and round 2 to ramp up your score. At the same time, candidates should know some schools receive massive applications in Round 2, which spikes up the competition. You will not only be compared to Round 2 applicants but also those waitlisted from Round 1. The idea is to make the best out of a competitive application round. The financial aid in this round will be capped since a lot of it would have been exhausted in Round 1, not to say that deserving candidates will not get their dues.

MBA Application Round 3

Most top business schools do not accept students after the first two rounds. At the same time those who do it is to round off the diversity bracket. If applying in this round, you will have to strongly present your uniqueness, as well as a good reason for not applying in the first two rounds. This round is advisable only if you have an extremely non-traditional candidacy and want to attract the admission committee’s attention positively.

In a nutshell, the following factors will determine what round you should apply to:

  1. Application suitability: Are you satisfied with your GMAT score? Is your profile ready? Do you have letters of recommendation in order?
  2. Program selection: Many top business schools have only Round 1 and Round 2 of application rounds and do not have Round 3. It becomes imperative to plan your application accordingly. This is especially true for the top 15 business schools, in fact, Harvard Business School has done away with its third round of application. Or take Columbia Business School for example, which encourages people to apply in its early decision round.
  3. Are you an international student? If yes, then you will need extra time to plan out your visa documents and other formalities. In this situation, it is best to apply in the first two rounds.

Business school is not a one-size-fits-all scheme. In addition to working on an optimal GRE or GMAT score, you should also work on your strengths and weaknesses and decide what works best for you. MBA admissions are a busy calendar, and you must find out what round works best for you and plan out your calendar accordingly. 

Our experts at The MBA Edge will help you identify and work around your profile to get the best possible outcome of this complex question.