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You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

June 20, 2008

Columbia Business School Early Decision

The post has been updated and expanded since I first posted it on September 7, 2007. Also see my essay analysis for September 2009 Term Admission.

In what follows, I provide: my answer to the question of who should apply for Columbia Business School's Early Decision, one reason why I think Columbia has an application option, and some related remarks on application strategy.

Every year many applicants to Columbia Business School have to deeply consider whether to apply to the Early Decision or the regular application round. Among top MBA programs Columbia's
Early Decision (ED) is unique. While Tuck has Early Action,I have not seen applicants face the same issues of school selection and application with Tuck that I will discuss below in regards to Columbia. First keep the official statement from Columbia regarding Early Decision in mind:

"The Early Decision option is ideal for candidates who have completed their research about MBA programs and have decided that Columbia is the school they want to attend. Early Decision applications are reviewed before Regular Decision applications." Early Decision candidates must sign the following Statement of Commitment:
As an Early Decision candidate to Columbia Business School, I understand that if I am admitted I will submit my non-refundable $6000 deposit to secure my place in the September entering class. I am committed to attending Columbia Business School, and will withdraw all applications and decline all offers from other schools upon admission to Columbia Business School.
This statement is quite clear and is taken very seriously by Columbia. Consider Linda Meehan's (assistant dean and executive director for MBA admissions and financial aid at CBS) remarks made in Businessweek's August 19, 2007 chat:
Her language is quite strong. Given that MBA programs take ethics seriously, I think it would be very bad idea to treat ED as some sort of $6000 insurance policy. ED is great for those are ready to apply and know Columbia is their first choice. However, if Columbia is not your first choice, but simply a great option, apply in the regular round.
I think one primary reason that Columbia takes Early Decision so seriously is that ED Increases Columbia's yield (percentage of admitted who attend).
Below are the yield rates for Columbia plus the schools I think someone is most likely to chose over Columbia. This data is based on US News and World Report for Fall 2007 Admissions in Yield Order:

HBS Yield: 88% Admitted: 1021 Attend: 901
Stanford GSB Yield: 80% Admitted: 455 Attend: 362
CBS Yield: 77% Admitted: 919 Attend: 711
Wharton Yield: 69% Admitted: 1153 Attend: 799
Univ. of Chicago GSB Yield: 60% Admitted: 932 Attend: 555

Yield is a fundamental measure of program popularity. After all if a program has a higher yield it means that applicants who are often admitted to multiple schools are choosing to attend it over another school.

I think it is useful to compare Columbia's yield rate to those programs with which it is in the most competition for admits. I think that, regardless of any rankings considerations, Columbia is most in competition with HBS and Stanford, where, at least in my experience, it usually loses. Next comes Wharton, where Columbia is more likely to lose, and Chicago, where Columbia often wins. My assumptions were made well before I ever looked at yield numbers, but are, with the seeming exception of Wharton, consistent with them.

Now Columbia's yield is certainly high. That said, ED helps to keep it that way and hence given the unique nature of that round, comparing the rates of CBS to other programs is somewhat problematic because by comparison the other schools are at a disadvantage. Which is to say, if Columbia did not use the
mandatory $6000 deposit and ethical stranglehold approach it takes to those who are accepted for Early Decision, its yield would easily fall. How far, I am not sure, but enough for it to matter. Given that Columbia is at least popularly perceived as losing to Wharton when it comes to school selection, I think we can assume there would be a statistically meaningful impact This is, of course, pure speculation on my part. While it might be the case that CBS Adcom simply takes the applicant's binding commitment seriously, I think it would be safe to assume that they do so based on the institutional interest of the Business School, not merely ethical considerations.

If Columbia Business School is your first choice and you can get your application ready by the due date of October 8, 2008, I do suggest applying to Early Decision. Given the deadline, you might try to get in other first round applications as well, but I would focus on making your Colombia application as strong as possible and consider applying to more schools in the second round. While I suppose there are many who will finish Colombia by October 8th and try to get in another top program such as HBS by the October 15 deadline, do not do that if it means submitting a weak application for either school.

Try to apply as early to ED as possible, but only if your application is as strong as you can make it. Since decisions are made within ten weeks of sending a complete application, I would recommend that you apply for ED relatively soon after they start taking applications on August 13th because this will give you sufficient time to consider whether you need to apply in the second round. Also, if Tuck is your second choice, it will give you plenty of time to apply to its Early Action round (due on October 15th).
Applying in mid-August means that you should have Columbia's decision by or before the end of October. One advantage to waiting until 2nd Round for at least some of your other applications is that if you don't get invited to a Columbia interview and/or are dinged after an interview, you have a pretty good indicator that you need to do a better job with your other applications (See here for a relevant post on that topic).
Finally, the above application strategy is not for everyone. In my experience, each applicant's needs very. When I am actually advising an individual client on application strategy I can factor in their specific situation to come up with an optimal tailored strategy.
Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.

-Adam Markus
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