By Linda Abraham, Founder & President online admissions consultancy

Timing is everything, as the saying goes. While that is frequently true, when it comes to your MBA applications quality trumps all. If your application isn’t the best it can be, then applying earlier than later will be of no benefit. When in doubt, follow these rules to determine the best time for you to apply:

Round 1 vs. round 2

“Lisa,” who has been struggling with her GMAT, wants to attend a top 15 programme. She is unlikely to be admitted with her current score and she wants to apply round 1. She is better off raising her GMAT and postponing her application to round 2.

Or take a look at John’s profile: “John” has good scores, grades, and work experience, but is in a common applicant sub-group and wants to apply round 2 because he believes competition will be less intense. Big mistake. Competition is intense both rounds. Instead of focusing on this timing question, he should be working to improve his profile, differentiate himself, learn about the schools, and start on his essays so that he can submit round 1 when there are more spots available.

Is there an advantage to applying early in a round, especially round 1? I don’t think so. More importantly, there is an advantage to holding onto a completed first application and submitting it closer to the deadline. As you work on subsequent applications, you will improve your essays and relate experiences and goals with greater clarity. If you just put that first completed application away while you work on applications 2, 3, & N, then you can go back to Application 1 before that school's round 1 deadline and tweak it before you submit. That first application will then benefit from your recent writing experience and greater clarity.

Don't, however, wait until the 11th hour to upload your app and press SUBMIT. Servers are often overloaded on deadline day. You don't want to miss a deadline on an application that was completed weeks earlier because you waited too long.

Should you apply round 3?

If you belong to the following groups, I advise you not to apply round 3.

  • You do not have a clear post-MBA goal and competitive stats, experience, and community service. In other words, you're not really ready.
  • Your target schools are not reapplicant friendly.
  • You are not a US permanent resident and you anticipate visa issues or problems if accepted by the later notification dates.
  • You are a card-carrying member of an over-represented group.

However, you should apply during the third or later rounds if you are among those who:

  • Just missed the round 2 deadlines due to circumstances beyond your control, but have your GMAT and a clear idea of where you want to apply and why you want an MBA.
  • Are a non-traditional applicant or member of an under-represented group or have diversity elements in your profile.
  • Prefer to have now a slight chance of acceptance over no chance, which is what you will have if you don't apply.

A third round application has the following advantages over waiting until round 1 next fall:

  • You have a chance of acceptance this year, even if it isn't as good as it would be earlier in the application cycle.
  • Some programmes give feedback so that you will be better prepared for round 1 in next year’s application. (Don't apply just to obtain feedback, but the opportunity to receive feedback could make applying educational and worthwhile, even if you are rejected.

The main disadvantage: The cost and time required to apply. helps MBA and EMBA applicants present themselves at their best. Visit to find experienced MBA admissions advising and expert editing; informative ebooks and free articles, email courses, B-school zones, sample essays, online chats with MBA admissions directors, and the MBA Interview Feedback Database.