a calendar for round 1 vs round 2 mba deadlines

Round 1 vs Round 2 MBA Deadlines - When Should I Apply?

November 22, 2021
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Part 1. IntroductionPart 2. All About Round 1 MBA DeadlinesPart 3. All About Round 2 MBA DeadlinesPart 4. Round 3 and BeyondPart 5. Difference Between Round 1 and Round 2 MBA ApplicationsPart 6. Which Round Should I Apply In?Part 7. FAQsPart 8. Conclusion


One of the most challenging aspects of applying to MBA programs is deciding on the round to submit your application. With so much talk about Round 1 vs. Round 2 MBA deadlines and which one is superior, it’s a tall task to determine when to apply to MBA programs. 

Ultimately, it comes down to what deadline will work best for you, given the amount of time you have available to assemble your application. This article will tell you everything you need to know about Round 1 and Round 2 MBA deadlines to help you determine the MBA application round that’s right for you while answering all your questions about when to apply.

All About Round 1 MBA Deadlines

There are a few advantages to applying in the first round. Applying in Round 1 demonstrates your organization, preparation, and commitment to the schools you apply to. Students who apply in Round 1 tend to be genuinely interested in the school. 

This makes for a solid first impression on the admissions committee members. Another advantage is that the admissions committee can only compare your application to others in Round 1. Since only about a third of MBA applicants apply in this first round, you are compared to significantly fewer people.

The admissions committees also aren’t pressed for time to make sure their incoming class is diverse and balanced, which is an obstacle you may run into if you were to apply for a later round. If you work in a field that tends to be overrepresented in MBA programs, such as private equity, management consulting, or engineering, applying in Round 1 is your best chance to be accepted.

Applying early will allow you to get your foot in the door ahead of other applicants in your field.

If you are not accepted in Round 1, you will still have an opportunity to improve your application and reapply in Round 2. You will also have time left to apply to other business schools. It’s also possible that you may be put on a waitlist if you aren’t as strong of an applicant compared to others.

You should apply in Round 1 if you have:

  • A high standardized test score (GMAT or GRE)
  • Lined up people who will write your letters of recommendation
  • Enough time to create a robust application ahead of the deadline

If you have or can do these things, you are a strong candidate to apply in Round 1. Deadlines for first-round applications typically fall in September of the year before you wish to begin business school.

All About Round 2 MBA Deadlines

Round 2 is when most people apply to MBA programs. Round 2 applicants also have more time to complete their applications than Round 1 applicants, which can help prepare a solid application. This additional time gives you the opportunity to work with your recommenders to strategize about the best approach to your letters of recommendation, polish your resume and cover letter, and even provides time to get application consulting from an expert.

The added time is beneficial to those with a lot on their plate who don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the application, so they need to stretch out the application process over a few extra months. If your personal life and extracurricular activities require a lot of your time and attention on top of a full-time job, it may be best for you to apply in Round 2.

Another advantage to applying in Round 2 is the opportunity to retake a standardized test if you feel a couple of extra months to study will allow you to earn a higher score. You would also be able to sign up for GMAT prep or GRE prep tutoring with a business school graduate to improve your chances of getting a high score. 

The downside of applying in Round 2 is that business schools have already admitted the cream of the crop in Round 1. In the second round, they will look to make their incoming classes more diverse in terms of industries and ethnicities represented.

This makes it even more challenging to get in if you come from an industry that commonly pursues MBAs, like finance, consulting, and engineering. As a result, the additional time you take to complete your application must be used to make your application really stand out.

You will have significantly more competition if you apply in this round. Whereas Round 1 applicants only have to compete with each other, Round 2 applicants have to compete against fellow Round 2 applicants and all the Round 1 applicants.

As you can see, there are significant advantages and disadvantages to applying in Round 2. Some criteria to help you decide if this is the best round for you to apply includes having:

  • Significant time-consuming priorities including work, family, volunteer work, and hobbies
  • The ability to raise your GRE or GMAT score with extra study time

Round 2 is the best option for you if you meet these criteria. The deadlines for Round 2 are generally in December or January, but this varies significantly by the school. Hence, you must check with the schools you’re applying to and make a note of the exact deadlines for each.

Round 3 and Beyond

The least common time for business school hopefuls to apply is in Round 3. There’s less scholarship money and fewer spots available, which makes it extra competitive to gain admission. Competition is incredibly stiff at M7 schools because they receive thousands of applications in the first two rounds.

It can be best to wait until Round 1 of the following application cycle to reapply in some instances. Waiting will give you more time to make changes to your application documents to improve your chances of gaining admission the following year.

However, if you do want to apply in the third round, there are some factors to consider before applying, which includes:

  • Ensure your MBA profile is exceptional, including test scores, recommendations, essays, transcripts, and resume.
  • Be able to set yourself apart from anyone else the school has admitted so far. In the final round, admissions committees look to admit students who will further diversify their incoming class, including what a third-round applicant will add to the program.
  • Consider applying abroad since schools have more spaces available in Round 3 to international applicants.

The Round 3 application deadlines are typically in March or April, but this will vary by school. If you plan to apply in Round 3, your application needs to shine a light on your skills, characteristics, and experiences detailed in it. Your application needs to be exciting and intriguing to stand out for the admissions committee.

Difference Between Round 1 and Round 2 MBA Applications

Depending on when you apply, you will need to adjust several aspects of your application.

Round 1 applicants need to compile an outstanding application in a typically shorter period of time. Your test scores need to be very high, your recommendations have to provide compelling insight into your skills and abilities, and your essays have to be top-notch. Admissions committees know they will have a high number of applicants in Round 2, so in Round 1, they will only offer spots to those who are indeed the best of the best.

As mentioned earlier, applicants from overrepresented industries should strongly consider applying in Round 1. It allows you to get your application in front of the admissions committees before becoming overwhelmed with applications from individuals in the same field as you, which increases your odds of being accepted.

A key difference for Round 2 applicants is the increased importance of setting themselves apart from the competition. You have far more competitors as a Round 2 applicant since you compete against all Round 1 and Round 2 applicants. As a result, you have to demonstrate what unique contribution you will bring to the program. 

Which Round Should I Apply In?

The round you apply in depends on which of the criteria outlined in the previous sections applies to you. If you have thought about getting an MBA for a long time and have started preparing to apply, or you are a year or more away from when you want to apply, you are a solid Round 1 applicant.

Round 2 is best when you have many things on your plate and could use a few extra months to compile a robust application. If you want a chance to raise your standardized test score, applying in Round 2 is your best option to do that.

Round 3 is a wise choice if you did not get into the business schools you applied to in Round 1 or 2 and want to take one last shot at admission for the upcoming school year. If you only need a few minor revisions to your application, Round 3 is the way to go as long as you can establish yourself as a one-of-a-kind applicant who has something unique to bring to the program.


1. How early should I begin preparing my MBA application?

Ideally, you should begin preparing your application at least one year before the deadline of the round you wish to apply. For instance, for Round 1 deadlines in September, you should begin your application the September prior. For Round 2 deadlines in December or January, you should start your application in December or January of the previous year.

2. Do I absolutely have to apply in Round 1?

You do not need to apply in Round 1 if you are not ready to do so. If you started your application closer to the winter before the deadline, you might find it challenging to compile a strong application in only nine months. In this case, it may be better for you to submit before the Round 2 deadline instead. That way, you will have more time to create an application that puts your best foot forward and awes the admissions committees. 

You do not want to rush to apply for Round 1 just to get yourself in as fast as possible because you might send in something that would have been better if you had given yourself more time to complete.

3. When is it wiser to apply in Round 2?

If you need more time to complete your applications, Round 2 is the best time to apply. This is especially important if you are already pressed for time between your career, family life, and anything else you do outside your job, such as volunteer work or hobbies.

If you have not yet taken the GMAT or GRE, it may also be wiser to apply in Round 2, so you have more time to study for the tests, along with time to retake them if your score is not as impressive as you hoped.

4. Will I still be considered for admission if I apply in Round 3?

You can still be considered for admission in Round 3. Still, as outlined earlier, your application will need to be truly extraordinary to clinch one of the remaining spots in the program. Admissions committees look to diversify their incoming classes in Round 2 and Round 3, so you must demonstrate your uniqueness and what different perspective, experience, or skill set you will bring to the program.

5. What should I do if I’m waitlisted?

If you are waitlisted at the business schools you applied to in the first two rounds, you have the option of applying to more schools in Round 3. You can also send your top choice of school, where you were waitlisted, a letter of intent to demonstrate your commitment to their program by promising to attend if they admit you.

Doing so could motivate the school to accept you if other admitted students decline their offers.

6. How can I know if my GMAT or GRE score is good enough to apply?

Every business school will have a different average GMAT or GRE score within their incoming class, which means what is considered a good score can vary significantly by school, especially prestigious and highly competitive schools. Generally, if your score falls within or above the average of each school you are considering, it is good enough to apply. 

For example, Kellogg School of Management boasts an average GMAT score of 730 and a median GRE score of 163 in both the quantitative and verbal categories. In contrast, the incoming class at MIT Sloan School of Management has a median score of 720 on the GMAT, 156-168 in the GRE Quant Range, and 155-167 in the GRE Verbal Range.

As you can see, there is a significant range between the top business schools, and that gap continues to grow as you start to explore other business schools.


Now that you know the difference between Round 1 and Round 2 MBA deadlines, you are ready to start planning your application based on the criteria you meet and the time available to you to prepare your application.

Round 1 applicants start the application process well ahead of the deadline and have all their supporting documents ready to go by September. Individuals from industries that tend to make up most MBA programs may find it advantageous to apply in the first round to get ahead of others in their field, but this is only beneficial if you begin early and submit a strong application.

Round 2 applicants likely opt for this deadline because they need more time to complete all the required application components. Round 2 allows you to stretch out the work involved over a couple more months, which may make you feel less stressed as you work on it.

Round 3 provides a final opportunity to apply for the upcoming academic year. This is especially beneficial to those who only have minor revisions to make to their existing application. However, there is not much time between the Round 2 deadlines in December and the round 3 deadlines in March. If you have significant changes to make in your application, it may be best to wait until Round 1 of the following year to have enough time to make those changes and improve your odds of being accepted.

Everyone has different demands of their time, and as such, different people will benefit from an MBA deadline that reflects their time constraints. What is most important is that you take the time you need to bolster your application instead of rushing to submit it for an earlier deadline. Doing so can harm your chances of being accepted, so it’s better to take your time and apply at a later deadline.

About Inspira Futures

At Inspira Futures, our sole focus is to get you accepted at your dream business school. Our team of experts consists of former admission committee members and alums from Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and other M7 schools. Our goal is to help you write great essays, ace interviews, and win scholarships. Without any stress or hassle. Our clients have gone on to secure admits at the world's top business schools while also being winners of some of the most prestigious scholarships like Stanford Knight Hennessy, HBS Baker Scholars, and many others.
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