When is it advisable to apply to business school? I have seen a huge number of candidates face this question and go through the process which makes or break their mission. When you have taken a decision to earn an MBA, and drawn up a list of schools, you are regularly faced with the deadlines of application submission. Regardless of the claims made by business schools that there is no perfect time to apply, deciding on when to apply to the business school play an important role in getting an admission offer.
Whether a school has a ‘rolling’ admission process or a series of application deadlines dates, if you apply early in October/November, there are lots of places to fill whereas if you apply late by March to April, there are almost none.
Most schools encourage candidates to apply ahead of the deadline, but not so early as to compromise the quality of the application. Schools like Indian School of Business which has different start date will have different schedules, but the similar rule applies.
It is a common knowledge that majority of business schools follow three or four rounds of deadline approach. November, January, and March typically form the three rounds of deadlines. The Admission Committee typically decides in advance what percentage of the class will be taken from the each round. Generally, about 45% of the class is taken from the first round and a similar percentage is taken from the second round and the remaining 5 - 10% of the class is taken from the last and final round. You may have come across few schools which divide more equally among these three rounds; however, this is not very common.
A general principle that schools follow is that they keep each round separate from the other round: candidates who fail to meet the standard criteria don’t go ahead to the next round. The school decides on the quota of seats it has to offer in a particular round and based on that it make admission offers to the candidates to fill those seats. It also releases list for the waitlisted candidates and rejects the rest. Sometimes, waitlisted applicants from the first round are assessed again in the second round, but generally, they are reviewed only after the final round. Once an application is rejected, it is not considered again for that admission year.
But, before the Admission Committee gets the opportunity to decide who to give an admission offer, each application is examined to ensure that they are complete (Academic transcripts, GMAT score, Essays, Letters of Recommendations etc.). If any part of your application is missing, it might get neglected. So make sure that you have submitted all required documents and ensure that your recommenders have given the school all they need to make a decision.
So what exactly you are trying to pull together to complete the application
Schools are searching for diverse set candidates with various accomplishments, goals, and aspirations. There is no magic formula for getting admits although you might have heard that schools are looking for a ‘leader’ or high potential candidates. Typically, schools look at following three areas in an application:
Keep in mind that MBA is a Master’s program. Do you have the academic fitness to get you through this program? Schools look for:
- Undergraduate academic record
- GMAT Score
The top business schools require at least two years of professional experience. They look for:
- Your career growth to date
- Essays that showcases you professional accomplishments
- Letters of recommendation
For personal achievements, school look for:
Essays that exhibit your personal achievements
Putting all aspects of your applications together require you to be well prepared right from the beginning. However long the process of choosing schools, certain candidates put in months, sometimes even years, refining their profile for the resulting application, while other finish the process within a month. Whether you are applying to one school or a few, you will need to give sufficient time and resource to market yourself as a complete product.
So which rounds of the deadline, should you go for? The main criteria must be to apply to a school when you have completed all aspects of application with proper care. In order to meet the November (for some schools September) deadline, many candidates do not prepare for the GMAT test well enough or their essays are not well written. In such situation, it is always better to wait to apply in the next round. However, if you have prepared all aspects of your application much earlier and final dossier is as strong as it can be, apply in the first round itself.
The field is completely open in the first round. All aspects of the class profile - nationality, industry, functional skill-sets and female students - are under-represented in the first round. Here schools generally select the best candidates, without keeping in mind the class profile. The second round is when the decision to get the right class profile is taken seriously. By the second round deadline, the school receives all the serious applications it is going to get. It is in this round that schools decide on balancing those categories which are under-represented and sets about offering admissions to candidates from such category.
By the third or final round, there are only a few places left, which are given to candidates who have an extraordinary or unique profile: the school holds these seats back so that it is in the position to offer to genuinely outstanding applicants who have applied late. Normally, it is very difficult to get in this round – you might be the best consultant in the whole group, but if a school has enough consultants in its incoming class, you do not have a great chance to make to that school.
When to apply?
The common wisdom is that if you are from a common and potentially oversubscribed background, for example, consulting or investment banking and you meet all the academic requirements, you should apply in the first round.
If you are a conventional candidate (from industry such as consulting, banking or IT), and you decide to apply in the second round, you might lower your odds of getting in as the ‘informal’ quota for your professional background might already be full or almost full before the second round. On the other hand, if you have lower academic credentials and you come from a unique background, it is typically better to apply in the second round, when the Admission Committee is looking for candidates that provide diversity to the class.
A basic timeline
If you are making a calendar to complete everything on time, it should look something like this (for a Fall start):
18 months before the start date: Prepare for and take the GMAT. The GMAT score will outline your selection of schools and it is practically futile to get too far into school selection before you know where you stand in the GMAT score. Additionally, an early GMAT gives you an opportunity to retake it, if it is critical.
June to July: Start work on your essays. Brainstorm achievements, strengths, and weaknesses. Define your goals and objectives in choosing to do an MBA. Retake the GMAT, if necessary.
August to September: Do intense research on the schools you have selected – go to the school’s websites, attend MBA fairs, visit campuses, meet current students and recent alumni.
October to November: Request your undergraduate transcripts, get your letters of recommendations, complete your first set of essays and submit your first set of applications by the first round.
December to January: Work on your other applications. Complete each application and submit before you move on to the next. Submit all applications by the second, January deadline.