MBA Rounds in 2022: Which MBA Application Round Should You Apply?

mba application round apply

After you decide to go to b-school, you’ve still got a bunch of decisions ahead of you. (For one thing, Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs aren’t one-size-fits-all. Have you considered the executive MBA (EMBA) vs MBA question?). In addition to decoding the secrets of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT™) or trying the Graduate Record Examination (GRE ®) instead, you’ve got to figure out when you want to apply, given your profile’s unique strengths and weaknesses. That means figuring out how MBA application round works as a system, and what different application timing could do for your candidacy.

Lots of the top MBA programs accept applications in a series of MBA rounds. You hear talk about applying for Round 1 vs Round 2 MBA application deadlines, and debates about the relative merits of trying for MBA Round 3 vs Round 4 deadlines later in the year.
MBA admissions keep a busy calendar. Check out this year’s MBA application deadlines. Which of the upcoming MBA application rounds looks right for you?

MBA application rounds explained

MBA application rounds form a yearly cycle of different application deadlines. Working with the right MBA admissions consultant at The MBA Exchange lets you benefit from an insider understanding of this calendar, so you time your candidacy for ideal impact.

Conventional wisdom:  Round 1 (September/October) and Round 2 (January) application deadlines are the only MBA rounds that a serious applicant should ever consider. But that’s just the conventional wisdom. Let’s break down how MBA application rounds work to get a better idea of what you’re looking at in terms of your proposed application timeline.

What are MBA application rounds?

In each of the year’s MBA rounds, admissions committees review submitted applications, admitting some applicants to become accepted students in the next MBA class. Typically, MBA Round 1 application kicks off in the fall, Round 2 early in the New Year, with Round 3 and onward finishing out the spring.

What are MBA application rounds used for?

There’s a method behind the apparent madness of the MBA application rounds system. Admissions committees don’t use MBA application rounds for no reason, after all. It’s important to understand how MBA application rounds work from the b-school’s point of view.

This staggered admissions system has proved itself to work effectively as a way to assemble b-school classes full of excellent students with a variety of life experiences and ambitions. You might not realize how much MBA rounds have to do with strategic decisions around funding, as well.

MBA applications Round 1 vs Round 2 vs Round 3

So much for the adcoms’ point of view – now what about you, the prospective applicant? From your point of view, the question of whether you should target Round 1 vs Round 2 MBA application deadlines, or consider MBA admissions Round 3 vs Round 4, may still be unclear. How MBA application rounds work out for you in practice can be a complex question.

Which MBA application round should you apply?

Conventional wisdom urges you to focus on MBA Round 1 application deadlines – but are you conventional? Applying in each of the MBA application rounds has upsides and downsides.

Let’s review and take a look at how MBA application rounds works out for you in practice, in light of some common decision factors.

Application readiness

A key consideration: how close are you really to being ready to apply? A winning MBA application isn’t something you can toss off overnight. If you’re pursuing a moonshot like a top-tier MBA with a low GPA, you might need extra time to strategize – or you might need to wait until you can get in on the ground floor with R1 next year.

Target business school ranking

Are you targeting a top-15 or top-10 MBA program? B-school classes start filling up in the fall during R1, so if you’re aiming for the top of the rankings, getting in at the ground floor with one of the earlier MBA rounds could be an essential need for making it into a competitive field.

International students

International students may have unique considerations for how MBA application rounds work for them, such as visa application deadlines and travel needs. At The MBA Exchange, we have a long history of supporting international MBA applicants with these complex calendar demands.

MBA application Round 1

Round 1, the start of the cycle of MBA rounds, is the preferred option of many. Most MBA programs commence accepting R1 applications in September. Why is MBA Round 1 application so commonly recommended? Let’s get into it.

Who should apply in Round 1 of MBA admissions?

Any applicant who’s well-positioned to apply by the fall should target MBA Round 1 application deadlines. Round 1 makes sense for a variety of reasons, enumerated below.

If you’re not ready by the time MBA Round 1 applications deadlines arrive, you might want to consider later rounds, or wait until the next year.

Why are Round 1 MBA applications usually preferred?

While applicants in all MBA application rounds receive full and fair consideration, getting your submission together by R1 deadlines shows adcoms that you possess drive, ambition, and the focus it takes to succeed. R1 superstars tend to stand out.

Advantages of applying in Round 1

As an applicant, you benefit in several ways from targeting MBA Round 1 application deadlines. Here’s more on how MBA application rounds work well for early starters.

For one thing, all the seats in the upcoming MBA class are wide open. In later rounds, some seats will have been filled by accepted students from among R1 applicants, leaving fewer opportunities for you.

You should also target MBA Round 1 application if you’re concerned about financial aid, as all aid and scholarship resources for the year will be on the table at that point, rather than partially distributed.

MBA Application Round 2

Missed MBA Round 1 application deadlines? If you weren’t ready to apply last September, there’s still hope for your MBA candidacy. Round 2 offers another bite at the apple for motivated applicants early in the New Year.

Who should apply in Round 2 of MBA admissions?

You might not be ready for fall R1 application deadlines, and that’s okay! You’ve got some more MBA rounds available to you. Your next big decision is between Round 1 vs Round 2 MBA admissions deadlines.

Let’s review the pros and cons of Round 1 vs Round 2 MBA admissions deadlines.

You should apply in Round 2 if you:

  • Are comfortable with your target list of schools
  • Current competitive GPA and GMAT or GRE score
  • Communicated directly with students, grads and administrators at your target programs
  • Recommenders who are committed to supporting your candidacy
  • Identified a realistic yet challenging post-MBA career goal
  • Clear sense of your relative strengths and weaknesses as an applicant

Targeting Round 1 vs Round 2 MBA admissions deadlines can make a big difference in your preparedness levels.

When is a Round 2 MBA Application Better?

It’s essential to evaluate, realistically, where you stand in order to get to where you need to be in terms of Round 1 vs Round 2 MBA admissions deadlines. Here are some reasons why you might want to wait for R2 deadlines and take some extra time to polish your application.

You need to raise your GMAT

Having college grades and a test score that are below what a given school has historically considered to be “acceptable” means that school is a long shot for you. With limited time to improve your candidacy AND produce a stellar application, you might want to choose a different target. However, even with just a few weeks until the deadline, there are some guerrilla tactics that can help bridge the gap.

You haven’t researched your target MBA programs

Identifying which schools are the best match for your background and goals is essential. Include only those MBA programs that you would gladly attend if it was the only one to offer you admission. If you’re still not sure where to apply, seek the input of an experienced admissions consulting firm.

You need to connect with your target programs

Taking time to communicate directly with administrators, grads, and students at your target schools helps confirm whether a school is the right fit for you. These connections also provide potential content for essays and interviews. It doesn’t take more than a few such interactions to add value – and it’s easier than you may think.

You need to connect with your recommenders

After you’ve chosen the right recommenders, you need to provide them with appropriate guidance to ensure that their input to the schools complements and reinforces your application. At The MBA Exchange, we help our clients on selection and direction during the “analysis & planning” component of our comprehensive consultation.

You need to clarify your post-MBA goals

Admissions committees want to know why an applicant is pursuing an MBA and how this education could enable him or her to achieve that objective. This can be difficult for some candidates, especially if they’re rushing to apply in the next round. Having the guidance of an objective, savvy admissions consultant can help you identify and convey an authentic, credible post-MBA goal that differentiates your candidacy and resonates with adcoms.

You need to address your relative strengths and weaknesses as an applicant

You need to anticipate how the admissions committee will view your application compared to those of your competitors. Spotting hidden gems and red flags before you apply can make a world of difference in your admissions outcome. The fastest way to do so is with a free, expert evaluation of your candidacy by a professional admissions consultant. This can also help you decide whether the guidance and support of the consultant would benefit you for the entire admissions campaign.

Advantages of applying in Round 2

Round 2 applicants can benefit from the extra time to perfect an ideal admissions campaign, positioning them to impress admissions committee members.

So, Round 2 MBA applicants, as January deadlines approach, keep your eye on the prize! The last lap in a competitive marathon becomes a high-stakes sprint for those who really want to win. Don’t waste valuable time and energy looking over your shoulder. Capitalize on the core traits that can now be your competitive advantages on the track to a top business school!

Round 1 vs Round 2: Myth busting

Each August, thousands of MBA applicants ask the same question: “Is it better to apply in Round 1 than Round 2?” Conventional wisdom says the earlier, the better. In Round 1 every seat is open and there is no waitlist to consider. Furthermore, applying in Round 1 conveys that attending b-school is a true priority for the applicant.

Do we totally buy this conventional wisdom, the myth of R1 inevitability? At The MBA Exchange, we know that not everyone fits the main mold, and that diversity and individuality are key components of b-school and professional success. So, no. Let’s do some myth-busting about Round 1 vs Round 2 MBA applications.

The real difference between Round 1 vs Round 2

Should you target Round 1 vs Round 2 MBA application deadlines? The key term in the equation is “competitiveness” – a metric it’s admittedly difficult to quantify.

Sure, R1 may look like the best of the MBA rounds on paper. But what about situations where the candidacy could be stronger and more competitive by taking another 3 months to add, change or fix key aspects?

If the extra time can be used to improve a GMAT score by 20+ points, achieve an “A” in a rigorous extension course, get a meaningful job promotion, assume leadership of a non-profit, etc., then the applicant may be better off applying in Round 2. That’s one blow to the R1overall myth.

Another consideration is whether the candidacy is “traditional” (e.g., a consulting or PE associate with the above-median GPA and a good GMAT score) vs “nontraditional” (e.g., founder of a cool startup with sub-median GPA and/or GMAT and more than the average duration of the experience.) You have to conclude that b-schools use R1 to capture the best of the traditional applicants, knowing that they can “round out” the class with the best of the nontraditional types in Round 2.

So, determining the ideal time to apply is really a question of competitiveness – when will your chances for admission be highest? And that’s a decision that needs to be made with an understanding of the types of applicants who have been admitted over time, like the perspective you’ll get from the professional admissions consultants at The MBA Exchange.

MBA application Round 3

Some programs accept applications in later spring for Round 3 MBA admissions deadlines and beyond. MBA Round 3 vs Round 4 is likely to be a matter of terminology only, as basically, all post-R2 rounds offer similar diminished odds for acceptance. If you’re applying in the spring, MBA Round 3 vs Round 4 isn’t the question – instead, you should be asking why it makes sense for you to submit in these later rounds.

Who should apply in Round 3?

What are some scenarios in which an MBA applicant would be wise to target Round 3 MBA application deadlines rather than waiting until the following year? They’re rare, but they definitely exist.

You could have a (very) nontraditional candidacy that would attract positive attention from adcoms seeking to build a diverse cohort that features students with a variety of backgrounds. During Round 3 MBA admissions, schools can cherry-pick interesting, unique, unconventional applicants (including some with less-than-stellar professional or academic credentials) to enhance, enrich and energize the cohort. Make sure you’re ready for background verification if you’re pursuing this path.

You could be considering less selective business schools. Did you apply unsuccessfully to only elite MBA programs in Round 1 or 2? Other schools with lower rankings and higher acceptance rates are still likely to have an open seat for you in Round 3 MBA intakes. That includes some highly respected schools ranked among the top 25. Some of those programs have Round 3 MBA acceptance rates of ~30%+, nearly as high as their R1 and R2 rates. And if you’re now considering executive MBA(EMBA) or part-time MBA programs, Round 3 MBA timing is wide open.

You could also be right for Round 3 MBA deadlines if you’re a college senior or a grad student completing a non-MBA master’s degree. Several excellent business schools offer deferred MBA programs for those who want full-time work experience before they begin MBA classes. Round 3 MBA application timing is fine in this case. In fact, the popular “2+2” program at Harvard Business School accepts apps in only the third round.

When is Round 3 MBA safe?

Round 3 MBA application is a safe bet when you want to lay the groundwork for a future application to your dream school. Many competitive applicants assume they can’t get admitted in R3, so they don’t even try. Typically, such individuals feel they lack the full-time work experience that b-schools want.

However, submitting an application this year, even as a long shot, will send a positive message to the school that you are serious about earning an MBA from their program, in the future if not now. MBA Round 3 vs Round 4 isn’t a big consideration, so much as getting yourself out there.

Your R3 application still has to be thoroughly and thoughtfully prepared since it will “anchor” your candidacy if/when you reapply. If you decide to pursue this two-step application strategy, be sure to do it right. And you may surprise yourself by being admitted this year.

When is Round 3 not safe?

Don’t wait for R3 deadlines if you’re facing any issues regarding a student visa. Getting an F-1 Visa to study full-time in the United States is neither fast, easy nor guaranteed.

As an international applicant, you’ll need an appointment with a US consulate official in your home country. He or she may want to examine your background, check your financial capacity, and discuss your post-graduation plans. You’ll need to present a valid passport and undergraduate academic records.

All of this takes time. Some business schools won’t even consider international applicants who apply later than Round 2. Make sure to check application instructions and FAQs before you start preparing your application.

Round 1 vs Round 2 vs Round 3 acceptance rates

While there’s not strong data on acceptance rates for Round 1 vs Round 2 MBA application deadlines or MBA Round 3 vs Round 4 probabilities, there is the basic reality of limited seat availability in future b-school classes. With only so many spots to go around, and only so much financial aid to spread around, your chances get narrower after each acceptance.

But every application year is different, with a different crop of potential MBA candidates that display different strengths and weaknesses. After the COVID-19 pandemic, acceptance numbers are changing, and last year’s stats might not be good predictors for this year’s acceptance rates.

You have to evaluate your candidacy and your preparedness, figuring out when you’ll have the best chances for success. Not some generic applicant – you. And that takes care and attention. A professional evaluation of your candidacy may be what you need to help you determine where to position yourself in the applicant field.

MBA application timeline for 2022 applicants

2022 is well underway. Some programs’ R2 and R3 deadlines are still upcoming, while other programs with rolling admissions like Columbia Business School may still be accepting applications. And, around the world, applicants are gearing up for the competitive September R1 season. Get the facts on MBA admissions from our knowledgeable experts.

What is your MBA rounds goal?

It’s time to take a long, hard look at your candidacy and decide what timeline you want to pursue. And, you might want some expert, professional second opinions on those plans.
If you’re still confused about how MBA application rounds work in practice, you can work with a member of our team to determine the ideal timing for your MBA applications in 2022 and beyond. Submit your request for MBA admissions evaluation from The MBA Exchange today, and we’ll get back to you with a free, confidential assessment of your candidacy.