Here’s a good, basic rule of thumb for when during the application season you should apply to b-school: go for round one if you can, but only if your application is at its best. This rule will serve you well, particularly if you fall into either one of two categories: you have several different schools you would be thrilled to get into, and you consider yourself to be a fairly competitive candidate.
If, however, you have one school you favor very strongly and/or if you feel you have weaknesses in your application which could potentially hinder your chances, you should take a serious look at a third option which often flies under the radar for many applicants: the early action deadline. What is early action? Not every school offers it, but those that do, provide “extra consideration” for candidates who 1) apply early in the process (typically a few weeks before round one), and 2) can commit to attending their program if they are offered admission.
The rules are different for various schools who offer this option, ranging from a requirement that all other applications be withdrawn upon an offer of admission, to simply posting a tuition deposit to reserve your spot, which would be forfeited if you change your mind. Checking with each school individually about this is important, since you definitely don’t want to hinder your chances at other schools, particularly if you ended up getting into your reach school.
But if you would be happy attending University X and you feel you could benefit from some of this “extra consideration” for making a commitment up front, you could really be pleasantly surprised by leveraging early action. The bonus upshot? You find out far before your friends whether or not you are admitted, which makes for a much more relaxing holiday season at yearend.
So let’s summarize the when to apply strategy. Go for round one if your application is ready and you want to take a chance on your dream school, or go for round two if you feel delaying your application will make it better, and go for early action if you can muster a firm commitment to your chosen school and you could also use a bit of special attention in the process due to a weakness.
One final note: early action is definitely not a way for underqualified candidates to gain admission to schools for which they would normally not have a chance. It’s simply a way to tease out an offer from a school which prefers to book applicants early and therefore avoid the dreaded waiting game for folks to make up their minds on which school to pledge before the normal spring deposit deadline.
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Bryant Michaels has over 25 years of professional post undergraduate experience in the entertainment industry as well as on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs. He served on the admissions committee at the Fuqua School of Business where he received his MBA and now works part time in retirement for a top tier business school. He has been consulting with Veritas Prep clients for the past six admissions seasons. See more of his articles here.