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When Is the Best Time to Submit Your MBA Application?

Sep 9, 2020
The Recruiting & Admissions Team explains the difference between round one and round 4 and how the pandemic is affecting b-school application volume

By Kara Sherrer

Now that business school applications are open, aspiring students are trying to figure out which round they should apply in and how quickly they can prepare their applications. Unlike undergraduate colleges, many business schools offer multiple rounds of deadlines, leaving some applicants wondering if there is an advantage to applying earlier vs. later. We talked to the Vanderbilt Business Recruiting & Admissions team to get their top tips for deciding when to submit your MBA application, as well as their predictions for how the coronavirus pandemic will continue to influence the number of applications they receive.

Know how business schools view the different rounds.

Most business schools will offer at least 3 and perhaps even 4 rounds of admissions, and they may move to rolling decisions at the end of the academic year. At Vanderbilt, there’s no difference between round one or round 2 when it comes to overall admissibility or scholarship eligibility. However, not all schools treat rounds the same way, and a few are even using the earlier deadlines as early action or early decision rounds. As you narrow down your list of schools, make sure you understand how each school weighs the application rounds. “How schools view those different rounds is going to vary a little bit from program to program, so that’s a fair question for applicants to ask their recruiting manager,” said Rob Schickler, Associate Director of Recruiting & Admissions.

Coordinate all the components of your application.

Bailey McChesney

Bailey McChesney

An application involves many different components; Vanderbilt Business requires the application itself, a resume, short answers, a video essay, test scores (or a waiver), recommendation letters, and unofficial transcripts. Applicants who get started closer to the deadline might find themselves waiting on one or more components, with recommendation letters being the most common holdup. If you’re trying to apply by a specific round deadline, talk with your recruiting manager to see if you can submit the rest of the application and then forward the missing component at a later date. Even if that is a possibility, keep in mind that the process won’t be able to move forward until the school has your entire application. “We will not evaluate the candidate until the application is complete, and applicants will not receive a decision until they have a complete application,” said Bailey McChesney, Senior Associate Director of MBA Admissions.

Submit when you’re confident in your application…

Applicants shouldn’t rush to try to make an earlier round if they’re simply not ready. Instead, they should take their time and make sure that the application that they are submitting is an accurate reflection of their abilities and potential. “If you are an applicant, you want to feel like you are putting your best self forward for the application evaluation process. I think if a candidate is competitive, they are likely going to be competitive in round one and in round 4,” McChesney said.

“I think most people probably have a pretty good idea of when they feel comfortable with their application,” Schickler added. “It’s probably never going to be perfect, but recruiting teams aren’t necessarily looking for perfect. We are looking for people who have put together a thoughtful and conscientious application.”

…but don’t wait too long.

That being said, there will be less spots and scholarship money available in later rounds. If you think about it, business schools begin an application season with 100% of their class spots and scholarship money available, and those numbers get smaller and smaller as the class gets filled. “If you’re ready to apply by round one, and you feel comfortable and confident, it’s probably better to apply in round one than round 3 just because there’s going to be more scholarship money or more spots in the class,” McChesney said.

“Like any program, the later candidates apply, the more external factors come into play in terms of how full the class already is and how much of the scholarship budget may already be depleted,” Schickler said.

Keep the pandemic and the economy in mind.

Rob Schickler

Speaking of external circumstances, many prospective students are considering applying to business school right now given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic uncertainty. As a result, most business schools saw a huge boost in their applications this spring — Vanderbilt Business saw applications almost double year over year — and this is likely to happen again in the fall. This means that classes will fill up faster, later rounds will be more competitive, and less scholarship money will be available later on.

“We’re already seeing an extremely large volume of applications in progress at this point, even though the app has only been live a couple weeks… I have a feeling that not just here at Vanderbilt, but at other business schools, classes are going to start filling up after round 2 of admission,” Schickler predicted. “Candidates who are applying later in the process this year are probably going to have a lot fewer options than they would have in a normal year just because of the increased application volume due to COVID.”

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