Big Decision Week For Round 1 Applicants


You were among the MBA early birds. You took the GMAT, slaved over the essays, prepped your recommenders, and filled in every question on your business school application before those September or early October deadlines. You jumped over the first hurdle, gaining an interview. And now it’s D-week.

Thousands of round one decisions on the earliest MBA applicants for entry in the fall of 2017 will roll out this week as decision dates fall like dominoes, one after another. Tomorrow, Dec. 13, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business will send out its invites and dings. On Wednesday, Harvard Business School and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management will dispatch its notifications. On Thursday, notices will be sent from Stanford GSB, Wharton, UC-Berkeley Haas, and NYU Stern. On Friday, it’s Dartmouth Tuck, Michigan Ross, and Duke Fuqua. The big decisions even spill into next week when MIT Sloan round one applicants gain notice just six days before Christmas.

For a few prestige schools, of course, the round one word is already out. Yale’s School of Management said ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to its earliest MBA applicants last Tuesday, Dec. 6, and Chicago Booth on Thursday, Dec. 8. At Columbia Business School, where admissions come out on a rolling basis, early decision candidates already have had to withdraw all apps and decline all offers from other schools and put down a nonrefundable $6,000 tuition deposit. By now, admits may have even received calls from current students or alumni trying to get you to a definitive yes. The early birds at INSEAD and London Business School are done–at least when it comes to round one (see 2016-2017 MBA Application Deadlines For Leading Schools).


In general terms, roughly 35% to 45% of the more than 50,000 applications recieved by the top ten business schools will be received in the first round where acceptance rates tend to be somewhat higher because few if any seats in the Class of 2019 have yet been filled. Last year, the top ten schools got 52,382 applications, admitted 8,177 candidates, and enrolled 5,297 students. The oveall top ten acceptance rate was 15.6%, down from 16.4% a year earlier (see Acceptance Rates At Top 50 Business Schools).

In any case, more and more candidates are applying early. “We are hearing from admissions officers at elite programs that a shift toward round one applications continues,” says Jeremy Shinewald, CEO of mbaMission, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. “Our estimate would be that about 40-45% of applications are now submitted in round one. We have some consultants who report that up to 60% of our applicants apply in round one, but that could be skewed by the fact that people who use our services might be especially focused on the admissions challenge. When I started mbaMission in the early 2000s, not much happened until August. Now, our season really gains momentum in March/April. We see plenty of anecdotal evidence that the season is shifting earlier and earlier. We already have applicants asking to sign-up for next year – this would be unheard of in December 2003.”

Shinewald also believes the competition this year could ease a bit, though that may not be true for M7 schools. “Our sense is that application overall volumes are stagnant or possibly marginally down (maybe a percent or two), but we expect that international applications in particular will fall next year, with a strong U.S. dollar and questions surrounding the president-elect’s policies on visas and immigration,” “And, if the economy stays strong, there will be a great opportunity cost in leaving a position, so we could see domestic volumes dip a little bit. However, a tech scene that continues to boom could draw people into the MBA pool, hoping to graduate into an Amazon, Facebook or Google, for example, so there may be an offset in that regard.”


Caroline Diarte Edwards, a co-founder and director of Fortuna Admissions, believes the market for the M7 schools is as strong as last year, both for U.S. and international students. “Any ‘Trump effect’ will not come in to play for int’l students until R2,” she adds. “We are seeing more applicants include Kellogg in their R1 shortlist of M7 schools, foresight that anticipated the success the school enjoyed in the recent P&Q ranking of rankings. MIT Sloan is another popular choice given the school’s strong focus on data analytics, one of the hot fields for MBA graduates right now. Yale is another school that is making the R1 cut, driven by the perceived upward trajectory of the school under Ted Snyder, and the ever improving selectivity stats and admission yield. It’s also interesting to see a greater number of clients who recognize that the GSB, HBS and other M7 schools are a stretch, and who are therefore channeling their efforts towards schools like Fuqua, Ross, Darden and UCLA Anderson.”

For most of the prospective students to leading business schools, these next few days will be filled with nail-biting anxiety. Having survived the interview stage, the odds are either in your favor or pretty much 50-50 at this point. Harvard Business School admits between 50% and 60% of its interviewed applicants. Most of the elite schools, including Stanford, Wharton and Booth, say yes to about half of the prospective students they interview. It can be tip toward 60% for the rest of the M7, and above 65% at other schools in the top 15.

Whatever the stats for a specific school, many applicants are on edge. “Rising average GMAT scores and declining acceptance rates at top-tier schools have certainly sparked anxiety among serious applicants,” says Dan Bauer, founder and CEO of The MBA Exchange, another leading MBA admissions consulting company. “This is prompting a significant number of candidates to prepare Round 2 applications to less selective schools — even before they get the results of their Round 1 admissions campaign. One client wrote, ‘I just called my mom, cancelled my ski trip, and asked my boss for a week off to work on apps. Other than 3 hours on Christmas Eve, I’m all yours! Let’s do this.’”


Other consultants say they are seeing an influx of texts and emails from clients in anticipation of this week’s decision deadlines. “I have been getting more texts than usual about how hard it is to wait,” laughs Judith Silverman Hodara, a co-founder and director at Fortuna Admissions and a former admissions official at Wharton. “A few students in particular want to know if there is anything that they can do to influence the decision at this time. My usual response is step away from your computer! It is a bit nerve wracking. Since Booth released last week though, some students who applied to a number of schools in round one have some news already which makes the waiting slightly more bearable.”

If you’ve been reading the blog posts of admission directors, you know there’s nothing but upbeat platitudes coming from the schools that belie the intense pressure many applicants feel. Chad Losee, who presides over his first batch of invitations this week as managing director of admissions at HBS, is among the cheery and positive adcoms.

“As we packed up at the end of our last Round 1 interview day on campus,” he recently wrote, “I chatted informally with a few other members of the Admissions Board about the incredible people we have met (that’s you) from around the world. Many of you told me that you were pleasantly surprised (and relieved) that the interviews were personal, conversational, and substantive. That’s music to my ears, and I hope it was true for all of you. We are really aiming to get to know you.”


And then, there is the dreaded waitlist. Hundreds of candidates will be placed in this Twilight Zone, prolonging your application agony. For the unfortunate souls who will end up in this position, there is some levity from the students at Columbia Business School who this morning released several videos from the CBS Follies including an Adele parody called Hello From The Waitlist (see above). In fact, while you’re waiting around for an answer, it’s not a bad way to kill five minutes.

Good luck. If you get a yes or a no, share your decision with our community. Add your stats and a brief profile description in the comment section below.


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