When to Punt to Round 2

HBS is due in less a week. Kellogg, Stanford, Booth and LBS – just two weeks later. This is the time of year when many applicants realize that the crazy project from work, your wedding planning, or whatever else has been a major time commitment has left you with only a few weeks left in what is actually a longer process than you thought. As such, this is also the time when many applicants start wondering whether they should push their round one applications to round two. If you’re one of them, and are seriously asking yourself that question, then the answer is probably yes…but here are some things to think about.

While there’s no conclusive or reliable data to support it (notice all of the heavy caveats on any “data” you find), many applicants believe that their chances of admissions in R1 are higher than in R2. The logic (which I believe in) is pretty straight forward – in R1 you are starting with a blank slate more or less; and by R2, admissions committees have already started to build-out their classes. The reality is that the R1 vs. R2 acceptance rates probably fluctuate from year to year (we know clearly that R3 is always a very low acceptance rate round for most US schools). I like to be very conservative, so if you have the ability to apply R1, I say go for it, but not if you’re going to submit a second rate app.

For your mental health, by this point in the application process, we know there’s a strong desire on the part of many applicants to ‘be done with it already.’ We get it. Like so many applicants, I remember cramming my own applications through to the finish line and breathing a sigh of relief (or was it resignation?) when I hit ‘submit’ on my last application.

That said, please allow me to talk you off the ledge. Because you’re tired or frustrated isn’t a great reason to force an application through, even if you believe that there is a slight advantage of R1 over R2. You’ve worked so hard to this point – don’t submit anything but your very best. If you’re at the burnt-out, ‘I can’t do it anymore’ stage, take a look at your essays before hitting that submit button. Before you decide to anything drastic (like applying to business school) ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your essays as strong as they can be? In fact, instead of asking yourself this question, ask two friends to look over your essays. Did they both have the same takeaways regarding your story and goals? Did they find your story inspiring? If not, get back to writing.
  • Have you addressed any major weaknesses in your application? For example, for those with weak undergrad GPAs, have you completed (and gotten an A in) an extra finance or accounting class?
  • Are you comfortable with your GMAT score? If not, do you believe you could meaningfully improve it if given the time to focus on it (and balance writing essays etc)?
  • Did your recommenders have enough time to put thought into what they were writing?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, don’t do it – you may want to wait until round two. On the other side of the coin, if you answered ‘yes’ to all of those questions, don’t panic and punt to R2 simply for the comfort of time. Once you can say ‘I’ve done everything I possibly could’, then go for it.

If you decide to wait, 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 get ready to 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 R1, feel free to reach out. We can give you some feedback and/or you can run your application through our Trial Run process so that a former top 10 adcom member can simulate your application review before the real thing.

Best of luck to everyone!

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