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In which round should I apply for business school?

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This is a great question and we have conducted a study to show that in fact, timing is crucial when applying for MiM or MBA programs in business school. Admission rates are lower than ever before for prestigious business schools and universities. In 2017, Harvard took in less than 5% of its applicants. Of course you need the necessary grades, test scores and extracurriculars to get in. But timing matters too, and thanks to this article at least you’ll be confident about that part.

In this article you will learn about:

– The importance of timing

– The difference between rolling admissions and round-based admissions

– When to apply in case of rolling admissions

– When to apply in case of round-based admissions


The importance of timing

There are 2 real reasons why timing does matter.

On the one hand, it really comes down to yourself and whether you are actually ready to apply. The longer you wait before submitting your application onto the application application portal, the more time you give yourself to perfect your application materials. We always count about 3 to 5 months for GMAT preparation in order to secure a 650+ testscore. And keep in mind that you may want to retake the test if you don’t meet your school’s minimum testscore requirement.

On the other hand you can be sure that the sooner you apply, the better your chances will be. Admission rates decrease over time as the latest application approaches. This is the case for every school out there.

The difference between rolling admissions and round-based admissions

The difference between rolling admission processes and round-based admission systems is very relevant when deciding on the ideal timing to apply.

Rolling admissions can be interpreted as a first-come first served system. The academic recruiters receive applications through the portal and they start treating these one by one. For each of the cases they handle, they make a yes or no decision before moving on the the next candidate. Now obviously, they are curious to find out if better applicants come along later on, so the recruiters may put you on some sort of waiting list.

Round-based admission processes are essentially the same thing, only the inflow of cases is broken up into 2 to 4 rounds. This obviously changes the rationale behind application timing, as you will learn in the next section.

You can always figure out which of the 2 systems your target school is using by looking for the application requirements on the school’s website.

When to apply for business school  in case of rolling admissions?

In case of rolling admissions, the ideal application timing is very clear. You should apply as soon as possible. This means that you have to trade off the readiness of your application materials against playing safe and being early submitting your application.

For rolling admissions, the admission rate decreases over time. You can see this in the graphic above, where we have discovered a non-linear negative relationship between the passing of time and admission rates. This effect will only grow stronger in the future, as schools are looking for more and more diverse profiles. You have to keep in mind that when someone with a similar profile as your own has already been admitted to the program, the individual admission probability decreases even more than it would have in the past.

When to apply for business school  in case of round-based admissions?

Round 1 – Deadlines around September/October

The main advantage of applying in the first round is the high admission rate. Even for top business schools, the admission rate comes close to 20% on average in this round. This obviously does not mean you have a 20% chance of being admitted to the interview stage. Statistically speaking, it means that candidates with a good profile are still rejected 80% of the time.

The disadvantage in this stage is that you may have rushed your application materials. We would only recommend applying in this stage if you feel like like you have a safe margin on the deadline.   

Round 2 – Deadlines around December/January

If applying in the first round was tricky or close for you, the second round is perfect. Admission rates are 5% lower on average (benchmarked on top business schools for MiM and MBA programs).

However, you usually get more opportunities to visit the schools in October and November. It makes a lot of sense to reach out to the recruiters to schedule a meeting and a guided tour.   

Round 3 – Deadlines around March/April

The third round is tricky. We notice how a lot of institutions are scrapping this last-minute round. Not only are the admission rates much lower, you also lose your chance at deploying a pivot strategy when you don’t get in. You won’t have the time to re-take your GMAT test and you have no time to apply to other schools.

We highly recommend you apply in the first round if you are as ready as you will ever be. Otherwise, the second round is a must. As for the third round, give yourself some peace of mind and avoid it at all cost.

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