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July 27, 2012

Round 1? Round 2? Apply when you are ready!

I think all applicants planning on MBA application for 2013 entry, should take a look at Heavy Round One Volume Expected, an article by John Byrne in Poets & Quants.  Byrne has been communicating with some other admissions consultants about the fact that they anticipate a very heavy first round (R1) this year because of (1) the switch to the new GMAT, which motivated many applicants to get their test taking done with early, (2) HBS and Stanford both have historically early round one deadlines, and (3) Stanford is now clearly saying round one application is significantly less competitive than round two (R2).  In addition to those factors,  I think the trend of smaller essay sets will make it possible for applicants to get through more applications quickly. While MIT Sloan has always made it clear that R1 was preferable to R2, Stanford’s position on this will only further motivate applicants to apply in R1.  

Applicants are always asking me about R1 versus R2. Previously, I have tried to be more school specific about my answer, but I suspect that with top ten programs, there will be less reasons to focus on the specific program, but my answer will remain very applicant specific.  

One issue that has consistently arisen for me is that my advice on R1 does differ based on the background of the applicant. For example, given that I work with many North Americans in the financial sector, I do highly recommend that given the level of competition, especially amongst men, that they apply in R1.  Also, as I work with many Indians (both in India and worldwide), given the level of competition they will face, I think R1 is vastly better than R2 for them.  When you are a male North American banker or an Indian male IT guy, R1 is so clearly preferable. That said, I have certainly had clients in both categories succeed in R2, but they clearly face so much competition and have such a greater chance of getting dinged or waitlisted.  On the other hand, when I work with Japanese clients, I simply emphasize the extent to which they are ready to make application because I don’t see much difference in R1 versus R2 outcomes amongst them. This often applies even to Stanford.

To go beyond my own perspective, I asked some of my colleagues who run their own counseling services about their opinions on this issue.  Before providing their perspectives, I wanted to briefly mention that admissions consulting in Japan arose quite independently from such services in the US. Japanese companies have sponsored some of their most capable employees for MBA and strongly desired that such employees gain admission to top schools. These objectives, combined with the need to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers helped to establish a relatively large number of admissions consulting services in Japan. Most services focus primarily on meeting the needs of Japanese applicants and those of expats (Americans, Canadians, Chinese, and Indians are most common).  Tokyo remains a top stop for admissions officers as the vast majority of applicants to top MBA programs in Japan are based in the Tokyo area. While companies used to be the dominant players in this market, at this point it is all about 1-2 person operations like mine.

One of the most experienced counselors serving the Japanese market is Stephen Round,  who began as an admissions consultant in 1995. Stephen is the Executive Director of Round One Admissions Consulting.  When I asked him about this issue, he said “Many MBA applicants whom I’ve met this year have expressed a strong interest in applying in the first round. However, whether or not they will actually be competitive in the first round remains to be seen, since most applicants I’ve met are still in the process of trying to earn competitive TOEFL and GMAT scores.”  In general, he thinks that “an MBA applicant should consider applying in the first round if they have competitive TOEFL and GMAT scores, have had sufficient time to create polished application materials, and, perhaps most importantly, if they can be sufficiently prepared for first round interviews. Some applicants obsessed about applying in the first round allocate insufficient time to their interview preparation and, thus, they fail to perform well in their first round interviews. This is a classic mistake. Therefore, applicants should understand that choosing to apply in R1 requires a commitment to be prepared to interview in the first round. Otherwise, they are setting themselves up for a first round ding letter... “ Like Stephen, I know there is nothing more painful than seeing a client rush through the process and be ill prepared for interviewing.

Ed Lee, the founder of www.edogijuku.com, has been a full-time admissions consultant since 1997, having started a few years prior to that on an occasional basis. I think his long term perspective on which round to apply to and the fact there is no size fits all approach is really worth keeping in mind:  “From talking with MBA admissions directors and officers over the years, all have agreed that applicants should apply “when you are ready”, meaning when the person can apply “when you are ready”, meaning when the person can put together the best application regardless of round. However, some schools historically favor early decision/ first round, such as Columbia and I develop strategies based on each applicant’s unique case. FOR SOME PEOPLE 2ND ROUND and EVEN 3RD ROUND is best.” Ed also has great advice on planning: “I recommend applicants MAKE A PLAN and MAKE A BACK-UP PLAN. Most applicants have never applied to business school, so no one knows how to start making a plan. An applicant might say, “I plan to finish my TOEFL and GMAT in August.” But it does not happen, then what? Rather than panic, I suggest developing a PLAN A, PLAN B, PLAN C, and a WORST CASE SCENARIO. I think that being proactive is the best strategy.”  As Ed suggests, planning for any applicant is critical, especially for those who are still struggling with TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, and/or GMAT.

My friend and colleague since 2002, Vince Ricci, owns and operates Vince Admissions. Like me, he is seeing an increased number of clients focused on R1: “I am receiving inquiries earlier than ever. This is true both in my original Japan market, as well as my new target markets, which include the US, EU, India, China, and the Middle East.”   In terms of timing for most Japanese applicants as well as other English-as-a-second-language (ESL) clients who might struggle with TOEFL, Vince says, “I tell non-native English speakers to allow two to three months to complete their first application, which includes the letter of recommendation process. Therefore, if one of my ESL clients has yet to score 680 GMAT and 107 TOEFL by August 1, I usually assume that it would be hard for them to submit a competitive R1 application to HBS, Wharton, or Stanford. That is especially this year, since the HBS R1 deadline (September 24) is earlier than ever.  Of course, every year, someone proves me wrong and gets admitted in less time than we expected, which always makes me happy.”  Vince also points out that late R1 deadlines still allow ESL applicants to meet R1 deadlines at some top schools. ”MIT’s October 24 R1 deadline is later than most other top schools, so it might still be possible to start your MIT Sloan 2-year MBA application after August 15. This is especially true since Rod Garcia does not require TOEFL (his AdCom team will check your English at the interview!)” Vince’s overall advice is surely worth keeping in mind: “Start early, work hard, and apply when you feel 95% ready (you will NEVER feel 100% ready). Most of all, please enjoy the process!”

The newest counselor to go independent in Tokyo is John Couke, Independent Academic Advisor. John trained under Vince and I back in 2006 and was running a company in Tokyo’s counseling service until earlier this year.  John says that he “feels a slight increase in R1 application, but it may be because my point of interaction with clients has changed over the past year. In the past, historically 30% of my clients have applied in R1, 60% in R2 and 10% in R3.” This would make sense because John says that he “often works with company sponsored applicants who have received their sponsorship recently and focus quickly on TOEFL. In such cases this year, few even considered sitting for the old GMAT. In past years, they often apply in R2 to give them sufficient time to prepare strong applications.”  Like the rest of us, John emphasizes that the client be ready: “I feel clients should apply for R1 if their test scores are ready, and their application is strong. I never recommend clients rush to complete an application just to make R1 when more time would give them a stronger R2 application. I have seen a higher admit rate amongst my clients who applied in R1, but I feel a lot of this is due to the fact that often my strongest clients apply in R1 - so while the application volume might be higher in R2, the quality of the competition is higher in R1. This to me is a prime difference between R1 and R2, especially for top programs.”

What I hope you can see from these different perspectives is that each applicant’s specific situation is a much greater consideration than whether to apply in R1 or R2.  The counselors interviewed for this article agree that applicants should consult with their counselors about which application round makes the most sense for their particular circumstances. Therefore, rather than do what everyone else is doing, applicants should consider their own particular situation.

-Adam Markus

I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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