Business Schools basically have one of the two types of admissions decision cycles.

  1. Rolling admissions involves considering applicants whenever they apply within the several-month admission cycle, and responding soon after receiving a completed application.
  2. Rounds admissions means that a Business School establishes two to four deadlines and waits until the deadline date to look at an entire group of applicants. To keep work flow smoother, some B.Schools may not wait for the deadline to arrive. They start evaluating your application, once they receive it. Based upon requirements and projections by recruiting corporate, Business School may even have pre-decided numbers of students belonging to different profiles.

What is the best application strategy – Applying Early or Late in the Application Cycle ?

The application cycle refers to the period of time during which a business school accepts applications for a given class. In other words, a school might accept applications from November 1 through March 15 for the class beginning in September. This raises a question – Should you apply early (in November, for example) or late (in March) if you wish to maximize your chances of getting in ?

Benefits of Applying Early in the Application Cycle ?

There are several benefits to applying early in the application cycle. Assuming that the application is well written, an early application suggests that you are well organized. It also suggests that you are serious about getting into business school rather than applying on a whim. Another benefit can accrue if the school underestimates the number or quality of applicants it will eventually get this year. If this is the case, early applicants will have an easier time getting in than if they apply later.

Certain types of applicants, of course, can benefit (from applying early) more than others. If you are a “cookie-cutter” candidate, who is not readily distinguishable from a large number of other applicants in his part of the applicant pool, your file will be less likely to inspire yawns if yours is one of the first of its kind to be read. For instance, if you are an analyst from a major investment bank or an Indian electrical engineer, you should apply as early as practicable. A second type of candidate who stands to benefit from applying early is someone who has a complicated message and who therefore must give the admissions committee the time and mental energy to read his or her application. Admissions committees tend to lack this time and lose energy as the application season progresses. (International students should seek to apply as early as possible since international credentials may add complexity to their applications.)

The most important benefit of applying early, however, is that schools make it easier to get in early than it is near the end of the application cycle. They “set the bar lower” for early applicants largely for internal reasons. Even if the ideal process (in terms of getting the best possible group of students) might be to apply the same standard throughout the process, rather than accepting a slightly lesser candidate early in preference to a slightly better candidate later on, work-flow and human factors push for somewhat lower standards early on. The admissions director, MBA program director, and dean of the business school can sleep better in January if they know that they have already filled 75 percent (rather than 40 percent) of the class. The degree to which schools raise the bar through the course of the application cycle, however, varies substantially. Wharton, for instance, tends to raise the bar very substantially, Chicago much less so.

Only two benefits of applying late in the application cycle ?

There is only one substantial benefit to applying late in the cycle. An applicant has the opportunity to continue to build her credentials during the few months involved. This can be significant for someone with the potential to transform her application. For example, someone who expects a major promotion and salary increase might wish to apply after getting them rather than before.

A second potential benefit can occur if the school has misjudged its popularity and finds that fewer good applicants have applied than it expected earlier in the cycle, resulting in reduced admissions criteria for those applying later. This is an unpredictable factor and not likely to happen to any substantial degree, however, particularly at the very top schools.


Most people will benefit by applying early in the admissions cycle. In general, the most important timing criterion is to get the application done well as soon as is practicable. The earlier it is started, the more opportunity there is to rewrite and reconsider, to allow recommenders to finish their work-and even to have others help out by reading the finished product. The only group that should purposely apply late in the cycle consists of those who can substantially improve their credentials in the meantime. So, unless you are in the small minority expecting such credential improvement, apply as soon as you can finish a truly professional application.


Most applicants underestimate the amount of time that a good application requires, thinking that they can complete the whole application in a long weekend or two. The reality is that many of the necessary steps have a long lag built into them. For example, approaching a recommender, briefing her on what you want done, giving her time to do a good recommendation for you, and ensuring that she submits it on time calls for months rather than days of advance notice. This is all the more true when you apply to six or ten schools rather than one; you have more application forms to get, more essays to write, and more recommendations to get submitted. Although work does not increase proportionally with the number of applications, the increased complexity as well as the number of additional things you need to do will inevitably increase your efforts.

The application process should start at least one and a quarter years in advance of when you would like to start business school. Thus, if you wish to start a program in September 2018, then you should ideally start work in June 2017. This may sound excessive, but the timetable in this section makes it clear that this is an appropriate time to get serious about the process. One of the reasons this process takes so long is that schools generally require that applications be submitted three to nine months in advance of the start of the program, meaning that you will have six to twelve months to complete the process if you start the suggested time.

Starting the application process late, or failing to work seriously at it until deadlines approach, leads to the typical last-minute rush and the inevitable poor marketing job. The information here presents an enlightened approach so that applicants can dramatically improve their admission chances if they do a professional job of marketing themselves. This timetable is meant to reinforce the message that time is required for a successful marketing effort.

It is useful to establish your own timetable for applying. Ideally, you should be able to start about 15 months before you begin your MBA program. Don’t panic if you can’t, since many people will, like you, need to condense their work efforts. It is still useful, however, to make sure you use whatever time you have to your greatest advantage.


The following is a typical schedule for someone applying to schools that begin in September, with interim application deadlines starting in November and a final deadline in March. It is intended not as an exact timeline for you to follow, but rather as an illustration of the tasks and deadlines you will want to track.

Early Spring (More than 15 months in advance of the program)

    • Start considering specifically what you want from an MBA program, and whether an MBA is indeed appropriate.
    • Develop a preliminary list of appropriate schools. Read several of the better guides, look at the most recent surveys printed in the leading business and popular magazines, scrutinize the course catalogues and website of the schools themselves, and talk with people knowledgeable about schools.
    • Examine several schools’ application forms, even if they are an year out of date, to see what the application process will involve.
    • Consider who should write recommendations for you (and be sure you treat them particularly well from now on).
    • Start putting together a realistic financial plan to pay for school. Research financial aid sources and your likelihood of qualifying for aid. (Identify necessary forms to be completed and their deadline dates.)
    • Consider how you will prepare for the GMAT. Start by getting the Official Guide for GMAT Review and subjecting yourself to a sample exam under realistic conditions. If you are not a strong standardized test-taker, are unfamiliar with the exam, or just want to save yourself the bother of preparing on your own, figure out which test preparation course you will take and when it will be available. International students will want to do the same regarding the TOEFL exam.
    • Take a GMAT (and TOEFL) prep course or begin an intensive GMAT self-study regimen. Take the exams, only when are ready.
    • Start filling out the Personal Organizer (discussed later) to get a jump on the essay writing. Glance at the chapters covering what the schools want and how to write the essays so that you have some idea of what will be required in writing the essays.
    • Start planning school visits.


    • Request interviews at schools that permit you to do so prior to completion of your applications.
    • Get your application diskettes from Multi-App or look at the online application options. (If a school’s application is not yet available, examine last year’s form. The application tends to change very little from one year to the next, so even last year’s form will give you a good idea of what to expect from the new application.)
    • Retake the GMAT (and TOEFL) exam, if necessary. Do not wait until the autumn to take the exam; you will have your hands full doing your applications.
    • Get an idea about the essay questions, and the essay examples.
    • Develop a basic positioning statement; write a preliminary essay regarding where you are headed and why you want an MBA. Then, do a rough draft of at least one school’s set of essays.
    • Start visiting school campuses based upon a “short list” of preferred schools.
    • Request transcripts from the relevant schools, get military discharge papers, and so on.
    • Create an Excel Sheet for each school and note specific deadlines for each.
    • Approach recommenders, but only once you understand your own positioning, which is unlikely to be before you have done at least a rough draft of one school’s essays. Assume that the average recommender will take at least one month to finish the recommendations. Also note that “The more time you give a recommender, the more willing she will be to support you.”


    • Attend Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) or other MBA fairs. Continue to visit schools.
    • Submit applications for financial aid to third-party institutions (i.e., sources other than the schools themselves).
    • Request interviews at those schools that require you to complete an application first.
    • Revise your essays. Have a friend (or your consultant) read them over. Then, submit them.
    • Submit loan applications (for school loans) and any forms necessary for institutionally based scholarships or assistantships.
    • Contact recommenders who have not yet submitted recommendations. Prepare for interviews and by staging mock interviews with other applicants, friends, or your consultant.


    • Thank your recommenders.
    • Contact schools that have not yet acknowledged your complete file. Finish remaining school interviews.

Once you Have Been Accepted (or Rejected)

    • Notify your recommenders of what has happened, and tell them what your plans are. Thank them again for their assistance, perhaps by getting them a bottle of champagne or flowers.
    • Prepare to leave your job, and get ready for business school.
    • Notify the schools of your acceptance or rejection of their admissions offers, and send your deposit to your business school of choice.
    • If you have not gotten into your desired school, what should you do? Consider going to your second choice, or perhaps reapplying in the future.


  • Enroll

Each point made above is discussed in detail elsewhere in this website; refer to the in-depth discussions as appropriate. The timing set out in this schedule is of necessity approximate, since everyone’s style of working and personal circumstances will vary. For example, if you are working in a liquefied natural gas facility on the north shore of Sumatra, you will probably have to allow more time for most of the steps listed here. Using this schedule as a starting point, however, should give you a good idea of the sequence to follow, as well as the approximate timing. It should also go without saying that doing things in advance is always a good idea.


Because you must provide official translations of transcripts, recommendations, and the like, you should allow extra time. The slowness and lack of reliability of international mail should also be factored into your timetable, both for tests and for the other elements of the application process.
Also notify the school you have chosen to attend as early as possible so that you can begin the student visa application process. Depending upon your nationality and individual circumstances, this process may be either short and simple or lengthy and complicated.


You should be aware of three problem areas: (1) Some schools/c fail to send out a substantial percentage of transcripts upon a first request, or do so with a lengthy delay. The obvious solution to this is that you start requesting them early and stay on top of the situation. (2) Your recommenders are busy people who, despite their best intentions, are all too likely to need prodding to get the recommendations turned in on time, especially if they elected to write them themselves. You will want to make their job as easy as possible to stay on top of the situation by giving them the necessary inputs. (3) Your essay writing is all too likely to fall behind schedule, leading to last-minute rushing and poor writing. Start the whole essay-writing process early and continue to give yourself time, on a regular basis, to work on them. You must be disciplined about this if you want to maximize your chances.

Leave A Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Back to Top