Heavy Round One Volume Expected

With just three months to go before the first prestige application deadline, MBA admission consultants are predicting record round one volume by early bird applicants to top business schools.

Typically, only 30% of the applications that flow into business schools are filed by the first deadlines, with the majority arriving in round two that usually ends in early January. The lightest round is always the third when the remaining 10% of applications dribble into admission offices.


This year, however, an extraordinarily large contingent of would-be applicants sat for the GMAT test early to evade a newly revised exam launched June 5 that includes a new integrated reasoning section. With the entrance exam out of the way, many applicants began work on their applications earlier than usual in an effort to meet the round one deadlines.

Announcements by both Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business, the two U.S. schools that receive the most MBA applications, have led to the rush. In May, Harvard set its first round deadline earlier than ever, Sept. 24, versus Oct. 3 last year. Stanford followed HBS, moving this year’s round one deadline nine days forward, the earliest ever, to Oct. 3. And in recent years, Stanford has been urging MBA candidates to file in round one.

As Stanford now clearly explains on its website, “If you are considering applying in either Round 1 or Round 2, we strongly encourage you to consider Round 1. Over the past few years, we’ve noticed more applicants applying in Round 2 and, as a result, this round has become bigger and a bit more competitive.”


“The GMAT is the main story,” says Dan Bauer, managing director and founder of The MBA Exchange, a leading admissions consultancy. “A lot of applicants got it done early this year because of the change in the test. Add in Stanford’s proclamation and you have a lot of people wanting to file in the first round. This year our round one clients may even exceed our round two applicants for the first time since our start 16 years ago.”

Even though seven of 20 top U.S. schools have yet to post their admission deadlines, including the University of Chicago’s Booth School and MIT’s Sloan School, it hasn’t stopped applicants from aiming especially early this year.  Most consultants say round one applicants have a slight advantage over others because they are applying when none of the seats for the next incoming class have been filled. “The advantages of round 1, both real and imagined,  have been gaining wide currency among applicants, who are now more informed than ever,” says Sandy Kreisberg of HBSGuru.com, a well-known MBA consultant.  “The real advantages are  finding out earlier, quitting your job and getting a jump on housing and planning, plus getting in before elite schools get tired of bankers and consultants, if you are one. The imaginery advantages are that is generally easier and the standards are lower.”

Whatever the case, consultants say an unusually high number of candidates already are well into the application process. “We too are seeing more serious, early clients,” confirms Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com, another leading admissions consultant. “The push to take the GMAT before the new IR section is probably a factor.  Applicants are simply ready earlier since they have that GMAT score. If the score is competitive, they might as well apply in round one.”


Some see this year’s frenzy to complete applications early as part of a general trend in recent years. At Harvard, for example, round one deadlines used to be in late October. In 2001, notes Abraham, Harvard’s first application deadline was Oct. 25. “Notification was always in January,” said Abraham. “Now round one notifications are increasingly in December before Christmas. Schools are really reaching out to applicants over the summer much more than they did five or ten years ago.”

Chioma Isiadinso, founder of the MBA admissions firm EXPARTUS, also confirmed the trend. “We are seeing huge volumes this year with focus on round one<” she added. “The changes in the MBA world–GMAT, the new app process at HBS and many new essays and changes at top schools like Wharton, is creating great anxiety among applicants, driving them to start earlier to “get their A game on” by applying early.”

Isiadinso says she also expects to see more “hedging” among applications, splitting their apps in rounds one and two. “So for example where I’d see HBS/Stanford/Wharton all in round one, I’m hearing applicants pushing one application to round 2 or adding one or two more back-up schools for round two,” she said. “Overall, there is also a strong indication from applicants that they want to go for the MBA now and not wanting to postpone in.”

While it’s still too early to predict a turnaround in the application declines at most schools, the early action certainly bodes well for the 2011-2012 application season. The consultants believe that Harvard’s decision to cut in half the required number of application essays this year will likely reverse a two-year, post-recession fall in applications, and spread to other schools. “I think the volume uptick will be sustained across the entire year, though we may not match the historical highs of a decade ago,” predicts Paul Bodine, of Paul Bodine Admissions Consulting. “The factors pulling B-schools out of the down cycle are a rebounding economy and stronger recruiting/placement data being reported by most business schools. I’m seeing more applicants both on the younger and older end of the scale who want to pursue full-time MBAs. This shows that the perceived value of the MBA — at least from top-branded schools — is higher than ever. The ‘flight to quality’ is still going strong.”

(See following page for application deadlines and notification dates for the top 20 U.S. business schools)

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