Is It Always Better to Apply in Round 1 for Your MBA/MiM?

It is that time of the year again, when aspiring management students will be burning the midnight oil to prepare the best application to enter their dream school. But how relevant is the question of which round of application you should apply to? Applying in Round 1 seems to have some definite advantages.

Diversity counts

Let us take a step back and understand how the Admission Committee decides on selecting a student. It is not running an algorithm to select the one with high GMAT score, GPA and great work experience. They are also looking at achieving a diverse class that caters to rich interaction among the class and to the school's broad recruiting portfolio. Hence, the admission committee reasonably speaking would have an ideal diversity mix and some approximate number within each cohort group that makes up the class.

Whichever cohort group you belong to, in Round 1 all the probable slots are empty and if you meet the minimum benchmark for the other admission criteria, your chances of an admission in Round 1 is higher than in Round 2 considering some or many of the slots for your cohort group may have filled up. Hence, if you belong to an overrepresented cohort group of say, Indian male with IT background, your chances in Round 1 would be better than that of Round 2.

Scholarship opportunities

Every school will have funds to be given out as scholarships for each season. So, if you are valued as a ‘good’ or ‘ideal fit’ for the school’s program there are higher chances of the admissions committee making the best scholarship offer in Round 1. If therefore, you have an admission with scholarship in mid-December, when Round 1 admittances are usually expected, you have further time to negotiate for a higher amount of scholarship. The only word of caution is to know how much to negotiate and when to stop such efforts.

Be judicious about choosing to apply for Early Decision (ED)

In many schools, the Round 1 application may also have an additional ED deadline. Agreeing for ED can enhance your chances of admission as the b-school can be sure of you joining. However, ED means you will have to withdraw your application from all other schools or other schools will not consider your candidacy. Hence, apply for ED only to the school which is your number one choice, and you will not regret being admitted to any other school.

These are good reasons to believe that Round 1 holds better prospects of admission for the same candidate vis-à-vis the later rounds. This, however, should not make you rush through your application preparation just to make it to Round 1. One must put in the best application with the best GMAT score. If you do not belong to an overrepresented group of cohorts and there is some uniqueness to your profile, you may do as well in any round of application.

On the other hand, if you do not have enough time to cover your ground adequately, you should consider applying during Round 2 or beyond. In that scenario, consider how you can improve your application with better work credentials such as job promotion or improving your GMAT score.

Why Are Round 1 MBA Applications Usually Preferred?

To understand this, you must first understand how the MBA admissions process works. Business schools are not just crunching the numbers and selecting the students with the best GMAT scores, GPA and highest current compensation.  Among other problems, this could bring in a group of students who would all compete for the same very narrow set of jobs, and lead to group thinking in classroom discussions.

Instead, MBA admissions committees are building a mix of students from diverse backgrounds because that produces the most exciting classroom environment and balances the students across the different career paths represented in the school’s recruiting portfolio.

This means that an MBA program will admit only a certain number of applicants from each cohort.  Although an admissions office may not define cohorts and quotas formally, they will always balance the class to include a mix of men and women, different regional backgrounds, different industries and roles, and more.

Thus, an admissions officer is really considering two questions when they evaluate your application:

  1. Are you qualified to attend the school?
  2. Have they already admitted enough candidates with profiles that are similar to yours?

If so, they may need to admit other profiles to balance the class.

When you apply in Round 1, they haven’t admitted anyone yet, so there’s zero risk of being rejected because they’ve already admitted other applicants from your cohort. Furthermore, 100% of the year’s scholarship budget is still available, which means that the chances of winning a scholarship are also higher.

If you are well-prepared to submit in Round 1, you should do so. Besides the reasons discussed here, business schools also have more flexibility to admit students with lower GMAT scores (because there’s still an opportunity in later rounds to admit students with higher GMAT scores to balance things out).

If you are from an over-represented category, one where business schools will see many well-qualified individuals in the applicant pool – e.g., Indian men in the tech industry – it is especially important to submit your applications in Round 1 of the year you apply.

Can’t business schools correct for this because they “know” who is going to apply in each round?

Sort of.  Business schools have a lot of historical data about the quantity and quality of applications they can expect to receive in each round.  But, as they say in the finance industry, past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Many things can happen that might impact the volume or quality of applications to a school, and the likelihood of admitted students enrolling.  For example:

  •  - Riots and demonstrations in Charlottesville caused big disruptions to the volume and quality of applications at UVA Darden.
  •  - MBA rankings are often released in the spring, and a lower ranking could hurt a school’s ability to convert admits into enrolments.  Better to lock down those enrolments and deposits early.


Thus, MBA programs would usually prefer to accept a great applicant in Round 1 rather than waiting and hoping that an incrementally better applicant might show up in Round 2, even if historical data shows that it’s possible.


Santanu Choudhury, Founder Director of Lesli India Education (P) Ltd., and an alum of IIT Kharagpur and IIM Ahmedabad.

This article was originally published for GMAC on