Countdown To Round 2: Top Tips For Polishing Your MBA App

Top Tips for Round 2

Many of us do our best work under pressure. If that’s the case for you, and you’re a round 2 MBA applicant, now’s the moment to kick it into high gear.

Wharton, Duke Fuqua, Chicago Booth and London Business School are waiting to hear from you on January 3 followed by Harvard Business School on the 4th. Yale SOM, Dartmouth Tuck, and Michigan Ross apps are due on January 7, and Kellogg and Stanford GSB by January 9 and 10, respectively. You had the opportunity to shape your profile six months out, so with roughly three weeks to go, it’s all about packaging it.

Consider these six top tips from my colleagues at Fortuna Admissions for prioritizing your remaining time and submitting an application that’s as memorable and brilliant as you are.

  1. Account for the holidays.

    Don’t underestimate the inevitable insanity of the end-of-year holiday season, when key collaborators like your recommenders are gearing up to set their out-of-office replies. In my former role as INSEAD’s director of admissions, I fielded many a panicked call this time of year from round 2 candidates who just discovered that a recommender had left on holiday and was unlikely to submit the letter by deadline. If you haven’t already, check in with your recommenders, find out where they are in the process, and make sure you’re aware of their end-of-year availability in this run-up to the holidays. This is where your ability to manage up comes in — anticipate what they need and create the best possible conditions for them to write you a glowing and detailed letter of support.

  2. Show schools the love.

Programs like NYU Stern, Dartmouth Tuck, Yale SOM, Duke Fuqua, UVA Darden, and UCLA Anderson will see a spike in round 2 applications from those who were dinged elsewhere in round 1. Given this reality, it’s vital to be even more convincing. “What’s essential in crafting each application is making each school believe that they’re your first choice,” says my Fortuna colleague Amy Hugo in her article, 8 Tips for Tailoring Your MBA Application. “Of course, programs know that you’re applying to other programs — they expect that and it’s a sensible thing to do. But to win their acceptance, show them the love. This means going the extra mile to prove you understand a school’s unique culture and values, and that you’ve given considered thought both to how you’ll contribute to their community and what you hope to gain from it.”

  1. Review for coherency and consistency.

Taken together, every element of the application should unify to offer a full, compelling, and authentic picture of you — where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how the MBA is vital for helping you realize your potential as a business leader. It’s also essential to avoid unnecessary repetition or duplication — use your limited real estate wisely. To this end, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the key messages I’m trying to convey, and are they coming through across the application?
  • Are there any gaps or inconsistencies that might undermine my narrative — for example, between your essays and letters of recommendation?
  • Is there any unnecessary repetition between sections?
  • What’s missing in terms of building a memorable and coherent picture?
  1. Solicit fresh eyes for the final polish.

In addition to reviewing your application for its overarching narrative and key messages, it will need a thorough proofread by someone who can bring it fresh eyes. If you think it’s 90% to 95% complete, be sure to communicate this to your reviewer (to avoid a last-minute rework of an entire essay, for example). By January 1, it should be a matter of polishing — you don’t want to be drafting new material with mere days to go. Details matter, so cross-check self-reported data on the application form with your transcript as well. It’s always heartbreaking to see a terrific application undermined by a sloppy mistake, such as a copy-paste of one section of an essay from another application and leaving in the wrong school name. (Alas, this happens with alarming regularity.)

  1. Look ahead to the next stage.

It’s easy to get hyper-focused on submitting a stellar application — and while it’s a major milestone, it’s only the first hurdle. Keep the big picture in mind by looking past the deadline to anticipate a successful next stage — you’ll want to be a well-prepared interview candidate, and that’s not an overnight process, either. If and when you’re invited to meet an admissions interviewer, you’ll want your knowledge of the program to be up-to-date. Do this by continuing to learn about your target programs. Stay connected through admissions blogs, social media, and events and newsletters, and continue to maintain any relevant connections you’ve nurtured with alumni, current students, and/or faculty. Admissions committee members are known to inquire with connections mentioned in your essays or application, and you’ll want to be front-of-mind if they do.

  1. Assess your readiness.

    Finally, pause to take an honest inventory of whether you’re prepared to submit the best possible application for your candidacy. Three weeks out is an unforgiving window if you’re just getting serious. If you’re feeling overly rushed and suspect your application will suffer, know that it’s always wiser to wait to apply when your application is at its best.

The MBA application is an exacting and meticulous rite of passage, but the clarity of purpose you stand to gain by the time you cross the finish line is a powerful side benefit. And of course, an offer of acceptance will quickly make the pain and suffering a distant memory.


Caroline Diarte Edwards is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former INSEAD director of admissions, marketing and financial aid. Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 13 of the top 15 business schools.