Round one or round two — deciding when to apply for business school can weigh heavily on many applicants’ minds. In the world of B-school admissions, there’s definitely a lot of pressure for candidates to try to submit in the first round, when all the seats in the class are available and applicants are only compared against other early applicants.
You have numerous advantages if you apply in round one and receive an admission offer, from more time to prepare for school to the ability to start networking with your classmates early.
The most prepared applicants generally apply in the first round. If you have a solid application ready to submit in October, this is an excellent time to do so. But don’t expect your admission chances to increase just because you apply early. And don’t rush to apply if you aren’t ready. We advise clients to apply in the round that allows them to put together the best possible application. Here are three possible reasons you may be better off holding your application for round two.
1. You’re not fully convinced of your application’s quality. The admissions committee evaluates all facets of your materials, so make sure every element strongly supports your MBA ambitions.
Cast a critical eye over your admissions essays, making sure they succinctly answer the provided question. So often we review essay drafts in which applicants are so intent on positioning themselves a certain way or highlighting a particular achievement that they fail to adequately respond to what their target program has asked.
Pay close attention to editing errors, and make sure you have utter confidence in your test scores and letters of recommendation. It’s always better to wait than submit with only 90% confidence in your application.
A former client, Michael, was deep into his business school applications when, two weeks before round one deadlines, his primary consultant asked me to review his essays. He had great raw material about his distinct family background, impressive work achievements and extensive volunteer activities, but the essays needed more polishing to really shine.
Although Michael strongly preferred to apply in round one, we advised he wait and apply in round two. He took our advice and spent another three weeks editing and honing the focus of his essays. Fortunately, that extra preparation paid off, and Michael received an admission offer from Harvard Business School.
2. You’re considering taking one last shot at the GMAT. Even if all other aspects of your application are solid, a lower-than-average test score will stand out as a red flag at the most competitive programs.
If you’re extremely close to the score that your target schools generally require — say the average is 710 and you got 690 — think carefully before deciding to retake the exam. You may be better off focusing on your essays or coaching your recommenders instead.
However, if you’re not even in the ballpark, it’s time to buckle down and improve those test scores before applying. Applicants looking at ranked programs in the top 20 or 50 should check the average scores of admitted students to determine their personal target GMATscore.
Another case for delaying your application is if you’ve decided to take a college-level calculus or statistics class on the side and you want the grade to come in first to prove you can handle the quantitative component of the curriculum. Or perhaps you’re expecting a promotion to come through any moment and you want to use that in your application.
I always tell clients that great is better than now. Use the extra time to bump everything up and submit when all elements are as strong as possible.
3. You want to first experience the campus. Members of the admissions committee understand that it may be impossible for you to take time off of work — much less afford — to visit a campus that’s in a different time zone.
But if you have the means and opportunity, experiencing the school in person is the single best way to get a real feel for the learning environment and decide if it’s a good fit for you. Not only will the visit solidify your choice, but you’ll also be able to weave tidbits from that experience into your essays to demonstrate your serious interest in the program.
Unfortunately, for round one applicants, most business schools begin offering class visits after the first deadline has already passed — this is to allow new students to settle into the program first.
If you didn’t have a chance to visit in the spring but really want to see the school up close before making that final decision to apply, then holding your application for the second round makes perfect sense.
If any of these reasons fit you, your best strategy is to submit your application as soon as — but not until — you have it completely ready. Make sure all aspects of your application are the strongest they can possibly be, and never sacrifice quality just to get into round one.
Stacy Blackman is the founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, a leading MBA admissions advisory that has helped thousands of clients gain admittance to every top business school worldwide. Blackman is the author of The M.B.A. Application Roadmap: The Essential Guide to Getting Into a Top Business School, and has published a series of guides which contains in depth guidance on the admissions process at top schools. She has degrees from both the Wharton School of Business and the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. This article originally ran at Stacy’s blog at U.S. News & World Report.