Round 1 vs. Round 2 MBA Applications

HBS is due in eight weeks! This is the time of year when many applicants realize that the crazy work project, wedding planning, or some other major commitment has left them feeling pressed for time in what is a longer process than they originally thought. As such, this is also the time when many applicants start wondering whether there is a difference between Round 1 vs. Round 2 MBA applications. Is one round less competitive than the other? Should they sprint for Round 1 or wait until Round 2? 

Right now, you still have plenty of time to get your act together; but here are a few other items to consider when making this decision over the coming weeks.

Round 1 vs. Round 2: Which One Is ‘Better’?

While there’s no conclusive data to support it – notice all the heavy caveats on any “data” you find – many applicants believe that their chances of admission in Round 1 are higher than in Round 2. The logic (which we believe in) is straightforward – in Round 1, admissions committees are starting with a ‘blank slate’ when it comes to class composition. By Round 2, they have already started to build-out their classes.

Our team of former admissions committee members recommends Round 1, especially for those with 4+ years of experience and/or who are coming from overrepresented industries like consulting and finance. The reality is that the Round 1 vs. Round 2 acceptance rates fluctuate from year to year (we do know clearly that Round 3 is always a very low acceptance rate round for most US schools). 

Round 1 vs. Round 2: Which One is Right for Me?

We say be conservative and, if you can apply in Round 1, go for it; BUT not if you’re going to submit a second-rate application. We get it, by this point in the application process, a big part of you wants to be done. You’re ready to submit your applications and know the outcome one way or another so you can start planning the next year of your life. Please do not sacrifice one ounce of quality just to apply Round 1. This is a competitive process – you must bring your ‘A game’.

If you are still working through two or more of the items in this article under ‘What You Should Have Done Already’, you may want to start thinking about a plan B. Our advice for people having this internal debate right now is to keep marching forward but focus on quality over speed. 

Round 1 vs. Round 2: What Is My Plan B?

It’s also not ‘all or nothing’. Your plan B might be splitting schools between rounds – for example, applying to two or three of your five schools in Round 1 and holding the others until Round 2. If you do this, prioritize your top choice schools in Round 1. If you don’t apply to your top choice schools in Round 1 and are accepted to a lower-priority program on your list, you will likely have to commit before Round 2 decisions are released. Said another way, if you are splitting your applications across rounds, don’t leave any schools for Round 2 that you wouldn’t be wondering ‘what if’.

If you attempt to march forward but ultimately decide you won’t be in a good place to submit any applications by the Round 1 deadline, give yourself a break. You’re making the right decision to put yourself in the best position for success but deciding to do so is hard and can feel a bit like defeat. So go ahead and reward yourself with a week or two off. Reconnect with your friends and family. Go to the gym. See a movie. Do whatever you need to do to clear your head and come back to your applications with a fresh set of eyes and a renewed focus.

If you’re wondering whether your application is ready for Round 1, feel free to reach out. We can give you some feedback and/or you can run your application through our Adcom Trial Run process so that a former top 10 admissions committee member can simulate your application review before the real thing.

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