After taking the GMAT exam, MBA aspirants often get confused when it comes to submitting their applications to MBA programmes at their targeted business schools. One of the main reasons is that business schools offer future students 2-3 rounds to submit an application all around the year, often students find themselves in a difficult position to evaluate which round is a better choice. Although the first round seems logically correct, given that business schools prefer early applicants and may hand out scholarships at the earlier rounds, the subsequent rounds seem a more viable option to applicants because of fewer number of applications that may come in the subsequent rounds. Hence, the question arises – What is the best time to submit an MBA application? Whether to submit your application in round 1 or round 2. This article will help you decide between MBA application round 1 vs round 2 and cover all the necessary details you should consider when choosing between both rounds.

Difference between Round 1 and Round 2 MBA 

If you’re an MBA applicant you must be aware that most business schools follow two admission cycles:

  • Round-1 or what is known as Fall Cycle.
  • Round-2 or what is known as Spring Cycle.

Business schools offer several rounds for submitting an application for a particular academic year because of the intense admission requirements. However, this feasibility offered by business schools often put students in the following dilemma:

  1. “If I apply in the Fall Cycle, will my application lose out on account of the competition from several better applicants applying in the same round?”
  2. “If I apply in Spring Cycle, will I be too late?”

To help clear this confusion for students, GMAC admission officers provided counselling stating that there is no major difference in the admission criteria for Fall or Spring intakes. Hence, irrespective of the intake, you should strive to submit your profile as early as possible to be an early recipient of scholarships.

Understanding Round 1, 2 and 3

Round 1 or popularly known as the Fall admission cycle begins as early as August and the results are declared in November.  Round 2’s deadlines fall in the months of January or February of the subsequent year. These are basically the two rounds open to international applicants. The third round, however, is an application process that is not available to international students.

Advantages of Applying in Round 1
  1. Being an early bird applicant always has its advantages, particularly if you have a strong application ready. This is because you get the opportunity to show your application to the admissions committee at the earliest in the admission cycle. Being at the beginning of the cycle means the admissions committee has reviewed fewer applications, read fewer essays, and spoken to fewer candidates. Hence, you have a better advantage.
  2. If you’re not confident about your candidature either because of your profile or your scores, again, applying early is still an advantage because the admission committee has not yet come across many profiles and you retain a competitive advantage.
  3. Many schools subtly or overtly state that scholarship chances are definitely higher in Round 1. Check your target schools’ websites to make sure you know their scholarship policy beforehand.
Drawbacks of Applying in Round 1

One of the major drawbacks to applying early is the fact that you will need to plan your application in advance and be prepared to take the GMAT at least 2 months before the deadline so that you have enough time to work on your essays and letters of recommendation. Hence, you need to ensure that you do everything as soon as possible to be ready to apply the moment the admission cycle begins. So, you cannot afford to put things off for too long or be a last-minute applicant.

An important point to note is that there is the possibility of your application not going as well as you’d want it to in the first round. In case you score lower than you expected in your first attempt, you will need to give yourself about a month’s time to retake the test. However, if you still want to make it to Round 1 with a retest, you might have to submit your first attempt in advance.

Advantages of Applying in Round 2

Round 2 of the MBA admissions process offers you the opportunity to submit your best application. If you’re someone who is doubtful of any of the admissions requirements, then you should take the opportunity of the 2nd round of admissions. You have the chance to  strengthen your application here.  Here are a few advantages of round 2 over round 1:

  1. Gives you the time to improve on your GMAT scores or essays if you feel you can improve in either of the two areas. 
  2. Allows you sufficient time to serve the notice period at your current organization and complete all due procedures to enable a smooth exit.
  3. If you feel you can gain some leadership skills and experience over the course of the 3-4 months, you can strive to achieve that and further strengthen your application. This is something you may not be able to accomplish had you opted for round 1 of the admissions cycle.
Disadvantages of Applying in Round 2

Although round 2 of the MBA admissions process has its perks, it also has certain drawbacks that you should take into consideration, they are as follows:

  1. If you think round 1 of the admissions process is going to be competitive, then let us inform you that round 2 has the most amount of applicants submitting their applications. Hence, you can expect more competitive admissions in the 2nd round than in the 1st.
  2. Furthermore, your application will not be compared exclusively within the pool of applicants submitting their profiles in the 2nd round. Rather, you will be compared with the total applications a business school receives in both rounds. So, expect tougher competition because by now the number of seats available is going to be fewer. 

All in all, while round 2 offers a strategic advantage to improve your profile, the competition that you may find yourself in is slightly more than the first round. Hence, you need to evaluate based on the strength of your profile which is a better time for you to apply. 

To help you decide when to apply it is essential to evaluate yourself on the following parameters:

  • Prioritising Business Schools

If your list of targeted business schools comprises institutions such as Harvard Business School that has an acceptance rate of about 9%, then you have to be proactive and must ensure to submit your application in round one or only in exceptional matters try round two. Applying for admissions in round 1 implies that the college you’re applying to is your first priority. Sometimes few MBA programs refuse to admit meritorious and experienced professionals due to applying at later rounds, hence, it is essential to be proactive and try to apply in the first round. Therefore, when deciding which MBA round to apply to, choose on the basis of your priority and the importance of the business schools you’re targeting. 

  • How Strong is Your Profile?

Often MBA aspirants assume having a high GPA or GMAT score will increase their chances of getting into a top-ranking and prestigious university abroad. However, global business schools and universities never admit a candidate solely on the grounds of GPA and GMAT score. Therefore, you should ensure you try and meet all the necessary admission criteria as far as possible. In fact, you can try and achieve even more.

 For instance:

  • A good GMAT score. Try to aim for a score above the college’s average requirement.
  • 4-5 years of considerable working experience that demonstrated leadership experience.
  • SOPs that clearly demonstrate set goals and a long-term vision. 
  • Demonstrate confidence in your personal interview

All these criteria are an integral part of the admission procedure and if you fail to succeed in any of the requirements, it could hamper your application. For instance, let’s say your GMAT score is below the average score required by your targeted business school or you only have 2-3 years of work experience, then do not apply yet! Rather, strengthen your profile by scoring higher or performing better on your job by leading a project or achieving above and beyond your objectives. Since there is no age limit for GMAT, practice well and take as many tests until you get an acceptable score before applying to your targeted business schools. 

  • Are You a Returning Applicant?

As a returning applicant you have to be more careful when choosing rounds after having been rejected in the past. When reapplying you have to provide the reasons why you failed in the last attempt, what are the improvements you have made to your profile this year and, more importantly, you have to specify the level of determination and your motivation to study the course. Furthermore, you should reiterate that you have lost a year already, so you have to make your candidature stronger than before.

  • Expert’s Advice

If you are planning to apply to around 10 business schools, then you have to write around 25-30 different essays as well as manage to get effective recommendations from your evaluators for each of these schools. Hence, it is advisable to split your applications between Rounds 1 and 2. Shortlist the schools you want to apply to and categorize them as Dream, Stretch and Reach.

Dream schools are the ones you aspire to be in but are probably so highly ranked and selective that it’s going to be a challenge to make it. Stretch schools are those that you have a good shot at, but not without effort. Reach schools, on the other hand, are safe options, where given your profile and scores, you’re very likely to get in.

Apply to your Dream and Stretch schools in Round 1 so that you’re giving them your best shot. Plus, if you make it to one or more of them, you won’t have to apply to any of the Reach schools. On the other hand, you’re creating a safety net for yourself as you will have these as a backup if you fail to make it to the ones on the top of your list.

So does it matter what round you apply to for MBA? Then the answer is yes it does in many certain ways. Having said that, no matter which round you apply to, its essential to have a strong profile, a good score and more

Now that you are well informed about MBA admissions round 1 and round 2, you’re better positioned to plan your application process. Remember to strengthen your application, prioritise your business schools and strategize your application based on the expert’s tip we’ve provided you with. 


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