This article continues last week's discussion of the MBA application process. To access previous articles, visit the "Resources" section at www.sl2college.com.
Pick Your Application Round
Schools organize their admissions in stages, usually three or more. Examples of deadlines for the Class of 2011 at Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Harvard Business School (HBS) are given in the box.
This format is not just designed for your convenience; getting your application in at different points says several things about you to the admissions officers, so be strategic about picking your target round for each school.
If there are any universities you absolutely want to go to with no reservations whatsoever, consider applying in the first round. This is very early in the admissions cycle so you need to have all your ducks lined up.
The rewards are that you're competing against a much smaller pool of applicants, and Admissions Officers have more time to examine your application; they are starting with an empty classroom to fill; you are sending a clear signal that this is where you want to study; and you will hear back early from the universities.Second Round Waiting for the second round helps you put more time into your research; gives you time to receive your test scores if you didn't take them early enough or retook them; leaves you more time to get your application, essays and references in order; and perhaps leaves you time to hear back from some first-round choices.
As you can see, there aren't a lot of reasons to wait for the second round if you're absolutely sure you're ready to apply to your top-choice universities in round one. This is also the most common time for everyone to apply, meaning many more applications to be examined, and a wider pool to be compared against. Several seats might have already been filled during the first round, and the Admissions Officers aren't sure as to how badly you want to get in - despite what your essays say.
Third and Later Rounds
There's a procrastinator in all of us, and there are always perfectly good reasons why you may miss the first two rounds. Your scores may not have arrived yet, your former boss hasn't got around to writing a recommendation yet, or perhaps this was one of the universities you had somehow missed in your earlier research. Later rounds also give you the opportunity to hedge your bets with your first-round applications - the deadlines for responses from most universities are unlikely to overlap with anyone else's later rounds.
However there are potential drawbacks to waiting. Some universities, in some years, nearly fill their capacities in the first two rounds. You are again competing with everyone else who waited for this round, for fewer seats than before.
By now Admissions Officers have filled most of the seats in their classrooms and can afford to be picky, holding out for the outstanding individual who they feel will be the cherry on their cake. You most likely waited for this round for a reason - you're not that keen on this university anyway - and Admissions Officers have a sixth sense for this. Finally, many Admissions Officers must surely experience essay fatigue after reading their umpteenth "What Matters Most, and Why" essay - is your essay really strong enough to make them sit up and pay attention?
Interestingly, you might stand a small chance of hitting the jackpot in later rounds. Theories persist that Admissions Officers set themselves rough quotas in different categories. These might include age, work experience, undergraduate degree, social background, country, ethnicity and gender. The theory goes that as the admissions cycle draws to an end, officials start looking for individuals to fill the particular "buckets" that remain unfilled. If your application ticks the right boxes, the theorists say you'll be laughing all the way to the orientation sessions.
Most admissions officers hotly deny such theories (perhaps with potential lawsuits in mind), but this might be some small comfort for those willing to gamble, or with few other choices remaining.
Don't be Afraid to Skip a Cycle
If your application is simply not coming together, or you missed a target round you were dead set on making, all is not lost. Most Admissions Departments advise students that the best round to apply in is the one you are ready in. If you are not happy with any part of your application or with the choices remaining to you, think hard about waiting out the rest of the current cycle and starting fresh next year.
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