The Round Two Fire Drill To Apply

student rush frantic

Like dominoes flipping over one after another, round two deadlines for applications at many of the elite business schools are unfolding this week, sending a literal deluge of apps to Wharton, Harvard, Stanford and other MBA programs.

At 5 p.m. EST today (Jan. 5), the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School closes out its second and largest round for admission to the school’s MBA program this fall. After closing down for the holidays, the admissions office at Harvard Business School reopened today, just in time for its round two deadline tomorrow (Jan. 6) at noon EST. Chicago Booth stops accepting round two apps on the same day at 5 p.m. CST. And then on Wednesday (Jan. 7), Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business will shut the door on its round two cycle at 5 p.m. PST., while the round two deadline at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School is at 5 p.m. CST.

At almost all the top business schools, round two attracts the largest single chunk of MBA applications, in some cases more than half of the apps a school will receive. Increasingly, the early bird round is getting more action, but it still hasn’t altered the fact that after round two, things usually get considerably more competitive because the vast majority of seats in a class will have already been given away.

For many of the thousands of applicants eager to get into an elite business school, it’s been a frenetic rush to the finish line. Admission consultants say it’s not unusual for last-minute applicants to work through the night so they can hit submit before the latest deadlines. They say it’s hard to imagine a round one applicant signing up for service in September or even just waiting to start until then. But it’s surprisingly common for round two candidates to start their work in December, with less than a month to go before deadlines.


“I do think it’s crazy some people think they can do these applications for very competitive schools at the last minute,” says Deborah Knox, of Insight Admissions. “I have one late-in-game client who lost several days of getting stuff done because he scheduled a move last week and the movers lost his stuff for several days.I wouldn’t try to move during deadlines! I have found my clients with ADD-like symptoms to almost completely change essays that were finished in my estimation right before deadlines. It took me awhile to realize that was how their brains worked.”

True enough, especially because all these deadlines hit just after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. “This is such a brutal stretch because of the way the holidays and the deadlines interact,” says Adam Hoff, of Amerasia Consulting. “Plus, for whatever reason, Round 2 clients are not as on the ball in many cases, so the fire drill at the end is truly something to behold.”

Indeed, several consultants contacted by Poets&Quants for this story were so overwhelmed by last-minute MBA applicant work that they could not fully respond. As one beleaguered consultant put it: “There is a Tragedy of the Commons effect, where each client acts with no regard for the other clients I have, demanding immediate responses to every little thing – and because they almost all do that, it becomes nearly impossible to do measured, quality work for any of them. If they could somehow agree with each other to all behave better, they would all get way, way more out of me.”

Dan Bauer, founder and CEO of The MBA Exchange, says that last-minute candidates often have unrealistic expectations. “It’s especially painful to see an MBA applicant who skipped the opportunity to improve his or her underlying candidacy over the past few months,” he says. “Such candidates naively think that all it takes to succeed is a well-written essay.  The gaps, vulnerabilities and disconnects in a professional, personal or academic profile require time and thought to mitigate.  It requires more than just passionate essays about wanting and needing a top MBA in order to earn admission.  Instead of rushing an application for Round 2, we advise such individuals to take a step back and do it the right way for Round 1. After all, the ultimate goal is getting accepted, not just applying.”


A few years ago, recalls Knox, there was a particularly harrowing fire drill. “It was the day of the Stanford deadline, and we were sitting side by side in a café as he hurried to wrap up his essays,” she recalls. “That café decided to close early that day, so here it was an hour before the deadline, and we needed to pack it up and go somewhere else. I remember it was snowing pretty fiercely. We ran (no kidding) over to another café a few blocks away, sliding in the snow, and had to turn our computers back on, get on Wi-Fi, etc.

“He finished what he needed to do on the essays with only minutes left till the deadline. Then he started to follow the necessary steps to upload, and he was so nervous he was shaking and dropped his credit card (needed to pay the application fee) on the floor. We had no idea if the server was going to crash from last-minute uploads such as his. Fortunately, he made it, but I do believe he got his application in the very last minute before it was due. I’ve never been more stressed out about meeting a deadline!”

Linda Abraham, founder of, says the “nuttiness” typically falls into two categories: “The first one is people who just cut things too tight and were perhaps overly optimistic about their likely test scores. We are getting frantic emails and calls from people who took the GRE/GMAT late, didn’t do as well as they had hoped — all right, they bombed it — and now are scrambling. While completing applications they are also trying to decide whether to apply to different schools than they really want to, consider a round 3 application, or simply wait until next year. We get these calls every year at this time, but we seem to be getting more now. Not exactly funny, but a very common crisis at this time of year. For example, on our blog an applicant describes his GRE performance as a ‘belly flop.’ Ouch.”


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