The New COVID-19 MBA Admissions Round

Schools that have stretched the admissions cycle by two months or more have effectively created a COVID-19 round for candidates who had no intention of applying now

The global pandemic has upended nearly every assumption admission officials have long held about the admit, reject and waitlist cycle. Forget about the notion of a traditional Round 2 (R2) or Round 3 (R3). As more schools extend their existing deadlines and add new admission rounds, what is quickly emerging is what you might call the COVID-19 Admissions Round.

What makes it dramatically different, a sort of in-between post-2019-2020 admissions cycle and pre-2020-2021 cycle, is that several more forward-looking schools are seeking to attract candidates who originally had no intention of applying this year or even next year. Suddenly, with the economy falling into what will be a deep recession. they find themselves either unemployed or with substantially different career prospects than assumed only a month or two ago.

The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business Dean Scott Beardsley this week extended the school’s R3 deadline by more than three months to July 15th from April 6th with the explicit reason to enlarge this year’s MBA applicant pool. “We have just come off one of the most robust job markets of the post-World War II era and now there is a greater degree of uncertainty for some people,” he says. “Maybe now is a good time to go back to school. I think an MBA will be a very strong option for many people who are unsure of what will happen in the next few years. For some people, the opportunity costs of attending school have just dropped. So we want to be able to be here for some of those outstanding people.”


In extending its final deadlines by 99 days, Darden is not alone. Emory’s Goizueta Business School has added 101 days to its admissions cycle this year. Dartmouth Tuck, Michigan Ross, and Chicago Ross have all padded their admissions deadlines by an extra 61 to 59 days. So far, at least ten highly prominent MBA programs have pushed back their application deadlines by two or more months (see table below). Many more have extended their R3 rounds by four to six weeks. Admission consultants believe more schools will follow as the shock of what has already happened wears off and desperation sets in. After all, many schools face losing the vast majority of the international students they’ve admitted due to travel restrictions and the inability to gain a student visa.

It’s why Harvard Business School has publicly announced that it will carry a much larger number of applicants on its waitlist than ever before. HBS is buying protection against an unusually high amount of “melt”–admits who say they intend to come but never show up to enroll. And when M7 schools experience heavy melt, there’s a cascading impact on all the schools ranked below them as candidates walk from those admits toward higher ranked programs. That prospect creates havoc on a school’s ability to manage yield, the percentage of admits who enroll as students, and opportunity for applicants.

Andrew Ainslie, dean of the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business, has little doubt that the health crisis is creating what he calls “the opportunity of a lifetime” for prospective students (see Making The Case For Business School, Right Now“). For applicants “brave enough to do an MBA, it means that they will get into a far better program than they ever could have before,” he says. “If before they could have gotten into UCLA, now they might get into Duke. If Duke, perhaps now Chicago, or even Stanford.”

“And that goes all the way down the pecking order,” adds Ainslie. “In fact, it gets better the further down you go. If you could only get into the 100th best school, maybe now you can get into the 50th ranked. If 50th, perhaps now the 25th.My advice to your readership is go against the grain! Apply NOW, and apply to schools that a year ago you couldn’t dream of getting into. This is the opportunity of a lifetime to get an extraordinary education.”


Admission consultants agree. “Given the travel restrictions, economic turmoil, and the decreased availability of the GMAT/GRE, all the schools’ historically based calculations are mere guesses and as valuable as numbers picked out of the air,” observes Linda Abraham, founder of, a top admissions consulting firm. “Yes, they are worried about melt and yield.”

Thus far, she sees school reaction fall into one of two categories. “The first group is making fairly minor modifications to its process, usually extending the date by which applicants can submit test scores if they couldn’t take or retake the test. The second group is making more significant changes: Adding rounds, switching to rolling admissions and a later deadline, possibly waiving test score requirements.

“The first group may be taking a wait-and-see approach at this point and could make more significant changes later. Perhaps they are less worried by the COVID threats to application volume, melt, and yield, or they had a better application cycle than the others this year. The second group is clearly worried about the impact of the pandemic on their stats and the quality of their class starting in 2020. They are pulling out all the stops to get the most applications now and have the largest group of applicants to choose from to maintain class quality.”

Most schools are rushing to protect against the worst outcomes by drawing more heavily on domestic candidates. “The admissions directors know that visas are in doubt and that 30% to 45% of their classes could theoretically not show up for the first day of classes,” says Jeremy Shinewald, founder and CEO of mbaMission, one of the leading MBA admission consulting firms. Domestic ‘latecomers’ might ironically have an easier time in round three than in round two or one because some great applicants have already been ‘dinged’ in earlier rounds, as the admissions officers looked at old admissions models. Now, some are scrambling to fill more of their classes with domestic applicants.”

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