For tens of thousands of anxious MBA applicants hoping to get into elite business schools, this is the put-up-or-shut-up week. Starting today at noon EST with Harvard Business School, one highly ranked school after another will close the door on Round 2 applications which attract the greatest volume of the MBA admissions season.
Admission consultants and directors are saying that this round is among the most competitive they have ever seen with rising numbers of applicants at many of the best schools. “We’ve seen strong interest in Round 2 from qualified and motivated applicants who — usually due to heavy job demands — were simply unable to make Round 1 deadlines,” says Dan Bauer, founder and CEO of The MBA Exchange, a leading business school admissions consultant. “There’s no apparent drop off in the credentials of R2 versus R1 applicants so it should be quite competitive.”
Adds Jeremy Shinewald, president and founder of mbaMission: “The quality of applicants is getting stronger and stronger as a generation of applicants that has had to face increasingly tough competition to get into college matures and understands how to continue to be ‘exceptional’ or ‘well -rounded.’ Also, stronger and stronger international applicants continue to pressure the overall pool.”
For much of the industry, this week can be compared to Super Tuesday in a Presidential Election when a large number of key states hold their primaries. After Harvard’s Jan. 6th Round 2 deadline comes a slew of top schools: Wharton, UCLA, MIT Sloan and Virginia’s Darden School on Jan. 7. The following day—Jan. 8—brings the deadlines for Stanford Graduate School of Business, the University of Chicago’s Booth School and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Yale’s School of Management closes out their round two periods on Jan. 9th. (Kellogg extended its deadline by two days due to the extreme weather in the midwest.) These schools typically get between 40% and 50% of their entire annual applicant pool in the second round.
‘BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL’
As is usual, each school has a precise cutoff point to the minute of the target date. Anyone expecting a slight reprieve from the deadlines due to bad weather in recent days can pretty much forget it. As Harvard Business School’s Dee Leopold told candidates in a blog post on Jan. 4, “We know there’s been a snowstorm, but we don’t anticipate that applicants will have been handicapped by the weather. Yes, the deadline is at noon. Do we shut off the system at 12:01? No, never. If the past is a predictor of the future, the servers will be slow because of last-minute submissions. We expect that. We will make sure that everyone who is in the processing of submitting an application is included in Round 2.”
Unlike Round 2, the first round of MBA application deadlines typically has a long ramp-up time. It is filled with disciplined candidates who have made the decision to get an MBA a year or more earlier—and started the process months in advance.“Round 2 is typically a race to the finish line,” says Adam Hoff of Amerasia Consulting Group. “This year is no different. We’re all burning the midnight oil for sure.”
According to several admission consultants, many applicants were still scrambling against deadlines to polish a final essay or reel in an important recommender to complete their applications. “Some of our second-round applicants have really pushed the envelope here,” says Evan Forster, founder of admissions consultant Forster-Thomas Inc. “They waited until November or even December to contact us, and then fight our best efforts to work steadily. So they submit at the last minute.”
Given the importance many attach to getting into a top business school, he adds, some MBA candidates find it difficult to finally let go. “There is one mentality that tends to push people to submit at or close to the deadline: “can’t let go” syndrome,” says Forster. “These are people who finish their essays particularly far in advance, and then whittle at them, tweak them, polish them, and “committee” them to death until any vestige of personality and warmth is stamped out. They finally submit the day before or morning of the deadline—and they would have been better-served to submit them earlier.”
GREATER NUMBERS OF APPLICATIONS EXPECTED AT TOP SCHOOLS
Nonetheless, that is part of the mental anguish many applicants wrestle with as they meet their target school’s deadlines. And based on client volume, most admission consultants contacted by Poets&Quants believe that many schools will report greater numbers of applications this year. “The economy is improving and usually applications go up when the economy is improving but not at fever pitch,” says Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com. “I don’t know by how much but I think application volume will be up this year over last year. I am not concerned about the drop in GMAT applications in TY 2013 because of the introduction of the IR in 2012 and the surge that preceded it.”
Bauer of The MBA Exchange says “the most significant growth in application volume among our clients has been focused on Harvard, Stanford, Chicago Booth, Kellogg and INSEAD. Schools such as Tuck, NYU Stern, Duke Fuqua, UVA Darden, UCLA and Michigan Ross are relatively flat.”
Wharton, the only top ten school that reported an application decline last year, had an improved round one for apps, according to Mary Ellen Lamb, head of admissions. But Bauer, who remains bullish on the school, says that “many applicants with financial backgrounds are conflicted about Wharton. With the reported decline in application volume, and the sudden changes in admissions staff, some finance professionals who would have automatically placed Wharton high on their target list in previous years are wondering if Wharton really wants them. At the same time, we’re seeing heightened interest in Wharton’s Lauder and Healthcare programs.”
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