If you’re asking this question, you are likely already halfway to submitting your applications. This means you have considered all the pros and cons of each business school, compared them, and made a list of priority schools – congratulations, you have done already a great job! You have probably even started working on your application essays, and now find yourself wondering, “How many schools should I apply to in Round 1?”
What Is Round 1?
Typically, American schools have three application rounds (periods when they receive applications by the deadlines and then start reviewing them): fall, winter, and spring. Round 1 usually lasts from August to early October. Foreign applicants are highly encouraged to apply during Rounds 1 and 2 due to possible visa issues. However, some schools have 6 Rounds, or even rolling admissions. There are no advantages given in the selection process based on the round in which an application is received. Applicants submitting by the different deadlines have the same chances of gaining admission if their profiles are strong enough and if they fit well into the student cohort.
Why Should You Apply in Round 1?
When advising on which round you should apply in, any admissions consultant or Admissions Officer will tell you to apply at the earliest possible opportunity – Round 1 – with a small caveat: only apply if you are 100% ready. Even though the Admissions Office evaluates the applications during each round on the same basis, there are a few benefits of being an “early bird”. These are presented below.
Round 1 has a slightly higher rate of acceptance. “Slightly” here signifies around 1-2%. This caused by the fact that a “first come, first served” advantage still exists.
By applying in Round 1, you demonstrate yourself to be a strongly motivated applicant. Starting your preparation far before other candidates, who are still thinking about where to apply, shows that you are a highly-motivated and determined person who can plan well.
In Round 1 there are no admitted students yet. This means that the Admissions Office starts the selection process from scratch – your application will be compared only to those who apply in the same round, while applications from Round 2 get compared to those that were successful in Round 1. During the second round, the Admissions Committee looks to accept applicants either of the same level as those from first round or even stronger.
On average, fewer students apply in Round 1. The smaller numbers of applicants in the first round can be explained by the fact that not everybody is ready by its deadlines. Some applicants are not happy with their test scores, and some are late with their application process. In analyzing our 15 years of experience, we can confirm the statistics of the higher number of applications during Round 2 – approximately 60% apply in Round 2, while about 30% apply in Round 1. This leaves only 10% for Round 3.
How Many Schools Should I Apply To?
Our answer here is: apply to each and every school on your list, or at least apply to those for which you are 100% prepared. The answer is simple: apply in one round, choose 2-3 “stretch” schools and 2-3 “safe choices”, and make your submissions when your application is as good as it can get. Remember that in general, Admissions Officers are pleased to see “early bird” applicants, often giving them an additional “plus” for their early preparation.
Develop Your Strategy
If you want to read that much-desired “Offer” letter as soon as possible, you need to develop a strategy for the application process. First of all, plan to devote a sufficient amount of time to your application. We highly encourage you to start your preparation process around a year in advance – this will help you to prepare everything without rushing through it. It also ensures you have more than enough time to prepare for your GMAT and/or TOEFL/IELTS tests. One important consideration to bear in mind is that even if you have outstanding math skills, it is unlikely that you will pass GMAT with your target score without proper preparation. These test results reflect diligent training as well as aptitude. Moreover, with this timeline, in case you are not satisfied with your first results, you have left yourself time to retake these tests.
Second, create an application form and study it inside out. Sometimes, in the form, you can find hints on how to write the essay(s). At the same time, double check that it does not include any additional questions that require further efforts. Verify that everything is clear and you know how to answer each and every question.
Third, think about your referees. Sometimes, this is not that easy as it seems; you may have a few good potential referees to choose from, or you may not have one at all. Remember to choose somebody from your professional environment, such as a supervisor, mentor, client, or partner. Never base your decision on the title of the referee; always opt for the referee who can provide the most accurate information about you, who knows you the best, and who has observed first-hand your professional progress, achievements, etc.
Fourth, start thinking of ideas for your essay(s). You need to provide a clear explanation for the Admissions Office to the questions “Why you?”, “Why now?”. A good motivation letter cannot be written in a couple of hours, it needs a lot longer time to brainstorm and write down the ideas. Think well about your motivations and your advantages over other students. Consider your post-graduate plans and how the program will help you to achieve them.
Fifth, it is highly recommended to contact the Admissions Office and ask them questions about things that are not fully clear to you. Do not spam with emails or calls – just clarify any issues or ask for advice. Getting in touch with the Admissions Officers may help demonstrate your high interest in the program and school. This can add a small “+” to your profile.
Create a Calendar
Let’s assume you are thinking of applying in the first round (Aug-Sep). In order not to prepare your application package in a rush, here is the example of your possible timeline:
Sep - Feb: test preparation period (English proficiency test + GMAT/GRE).
Feb: test results are released. If you are not satisfied with your results, there is still plenty of time to retake the test(s).
Mar: compare different school profiles. Identify your “dream schools” and “backup schools”, contact the Admissions Committees, and keep in touch with them until the deadlines.
Apr-May: think about your referees. Contact them to get an agreement that they will support your application. Also, prepare the translation of your academic credentials (e.g. diploma) and the transcript, if necessary.
Jun-Aug: create an online application form; start working on your CV and the essay(s).
Sep - submit your application.
This is a brief breakdown of an effective preparation strategy. Of course, this timeline can be condensed – especially if you have already taken GMAT or need less time to prepare. If you are applying for a few schools, you should obviously start working on your written content earlier than June. It is also important to have everything prepared and filled in on the online application form a few days before the deadline (ideally, one week prior). Review every document, check the data in the online form, and submit. You do not want to be stuck on the last day when suddenly you cannot attach a document or your application form is not loading because there are too many users on the website. Remember, a good strategy increases your chances of a successful application. If you need any help with the process, MBA Strategy will be always glad to help you to navigate the admissions process of your dream school.
MBA Strategy is an admissions consulting company with over 15 years of experience assisting talented candidates to become students of the world’s top business schools. Our achievements:
1,000 customers with 700+ GMAT scores
Over 500 students admitted to top US and European business schools
Anna Tokarieva is an MBA Strategy consultant. She is an expert in school selection, profile assessment, brainstorming, and polishing application essays.