MBA Application Round 1 vs Round 2

Getting into the perfect Business School requires you to fine-tune many different things. Once you have aced your GMAT, got your essays and recommendations in place, and made a list of target schools, you realize that most of your target MBA programs don’t have a simple rolling deadline, where you apply as soon as possible.

So what are Round 1 and Round 2 of B-School applications? Which Round is better? Is there a Round 3, a Round 4, a Round 8? Do these questions have magic binary answers? Read on to find out, in this comprehensive Jamboree guide to MBA application rounds!

The Basics: What are Round 1 and Round 2?

Unlike in some Indian Business Schools, and unlike many MS or MIM applications abroad (first come first served, with a rolling application system), B-Schools abroad don’t have a single date cutoff for applications and admit offers. B-School application evaluations happen in installments, or Rounds. Two Rounds are of prime importance.

Round 1 and Round 2 each have a deadline associated with them. If the Round 1 deadline is on September 15, for example, all applications received up to September 15 are evaluated together on that date, and a set of offers are given from among them. An application received on September 14 and an application received on August 1 are not treated differently based on date of application (they are compared only on their merits). After the Round 1 deadline ends and the Round 2 application window opens up, the process repeats for Round 2, where the remaining MBA program seats are filled (unless of course there are further rounds of application, in which case a few seats will remain empty after Round 2). This is, hence, an application system with multiple deadlines.

There is no hard and fast “Two Round rule” for B-Schools. Usually, Asian business schools have fewer rounds, whereas European MBA programs invite applications over 4 to 8 rounds, but there is no blanket rule!

How do Round 1 and Round 2 differ from each other?

Even though many MBA programs say that Round 1 and Round 2 are roughly equivalent, there is a lot going on underneath the surface. Here are the main criteria of comparison:

Chances of getting an admit offer (the main criterion you should be interested in)

Before Round 1, a Business School doesn’t know for sure how many applications it will get, and does not have a guarantee of their level of quality. All it has is heuristics: an approximate idea of what it expects, based on historical data from the previous year. In the same way, you as the applicant have the same data with you - you know what the lowest GMAT score was, among all admit offers, for example. Since this is the first round, the pool size is 100% of all seats.

Round 2 is a little different. The university has all the data from Round 1 to draw on. The pool size to be filled is less than 100% (of course, it could be 40% or 80%. B-Schools like ISB which usually strictly fill 50% of seats in Round 1 are rare). Since the pool is smaller and applicants employ more strategy, there is often more competition in Round 2. As someone who is applying in Round 2, always look at historical data and assume that you will need a higher GMAT score (30 to 40 points above the average for that Business School), and a stronger profile.

So does this mean you should always apply in Round 1, to take advantage of the early bird rule?

Based on the above data, it might seem logical to apply in Round 1, but that is not always the case. For example, it is better to apply in Round 2 with a higher GMAT score to a top 20 B-School than to the same top school in Round 1 with a low score (significantly below 700). Even if that means you have to take your GMAT again before the Round 2 deadline, the difference between applying to a Wharton with a 730 in Round 2 and with a 670 in Round 1 is large enough to make it worth the effort. Of course, you can apply to one or two of your safe schools in Round 1, where a lower GMAT score and a slightly weaker application should still get you through.

Short answer: There is no blanket “Choose Round 1” rule. Always speak to your admissions consultants first.

Does applying in Round 1 increase my chances of getting a scholarship?

Whether you apply in Round 1 or Round 2, you do not affect your chances of getting a scholarship. Scholarship allocation almost always happens after the Round 2 deadline. However, after Round 2, it is very difficult to get scholarships.

Later Rounds and Visas

Obviously, your admit confirmation is a necessary condition for a study visa. However, the last application deadline in a European Business School, for example, could be in late April or early May. Even if you were accepted, there would not be time to get a visa.

Hence, such a B-School will often not consider applications from international students in the last few rounds (this usually happens only when there are 3+ rounds). Hence, eligibility criteria for international applications need to be checked carefully on the website. As a rule of thumb, focusing on Round 1 and Round 2 is ideal; look at Round 3 only if it is very early in the year e.g. in January or February.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many rounds of application does a top tier Business School have? Is there something like a global Round 1 deadline?

The number of Rounds is not based on quality or ranking of a B-School. Rather, it is based on geography (country / continent in which the B-School is located). The top Asian MBA programs usually have two rounds of application, with a few (like ISB) adding a third round recently.

European Business Schools usually have more than 4 rounds. Unlike in the rest of the world, you can apply in Round 3 as well without significantly hurting your chances, like in Oxford or INSEAD. Some, like Cass in London and Mannheim in Germany, have rolling deadlines, so applying earlier there is better, just like you would to an MS or MIM program.

Round deadlines are always university specific. If you want the details of all round deadlines, head to This is completely up to date, it has the important Business Schools with their rankings, and the list is hyperlinked to school application pages. It is your one stop shop to keep track of every important Business School application deadline!

Can I apply to a B-School in Round 1 and then to the same one again in Round 2?

You cannot apply to the same Business School twice in the same year (in both Round 1 and Round 2, for example). You will have to wait a year.

Are two applications of equal strength treated equally in Round 1 and in Round 2?

Not necessarily. Round 1 and Round 2 differ in terms of number of seats available, and in competition for those seats. You might get an admit offer in Round 1, whereas a different person with a profile of equal strength just misses out in Round 2.

Rounds and application strategy

Understanding Rounds of application might be complicated, but it helps you craft a finely honed strategy to maximize your admit offers. Here are some strategy questions you might want to think about:

Should you apply to every university in Round 1?

If you have 6-12 months left before your application deadlines for Round 1, and you have made your list of universities to apply to, your instinct might nudge you to apply to every university in Round 1. After all, we just said that 100% of all seats are up for grabs in Round 1 in every Business School, right?

Not quite right. There are many arguments against applying everywhere in Round 1, but here are three. First, you might assume that every university will apply exactly the same rules to shortlisting as it did the previous year, but that is not the case. Criteria change, and a safe school in a given year might become a tough mountain to climb in Round 1 of the next year. Next, like we said earlier, you might want to build up a higher GMAT score between Round 1 and Round 2 for some of your dream B-Schools. Finally, even if you have a lot of time, spreading applications over two rounds strategically will help you do a higher quality job on all of them, and will definitely increase your number of admit calls.

If a university has only two rounds, should I choose Round 1 or Round 2?

All other things being equal, if your application profile, recommendations, and GMAT score are all as strong as they need to be for a given Business School based on previous trends, you should apply in Round 1, so as to take advantage of the fact that there is slightly lower competition. Of course, you should definitely talk to your mentors and admissions counselors first - our Jamboree MBA experts, for example, deal with all these questions, and more!

Do I apply to my safety schools in Round 1, or in Round 2, or in both?

A safety school is one where, based on the application quality of a student and on historical admission trends to the B-School class, the chances of admission are very high. Many of the students we speak to use a safety school like last minute insurance. They apply to their dream Business Schools in Round 1 and in part of Round 2, and fill up safety school applications in the last few days of Round 2, or even in Round 3 and beyond. This is not always wise.

It is logical to get a guaranteed admit offer as early as possible, to ensure that your huge investment in time and money (to give the GMAT and complete the entire application process to so many B-Schools) is not wasted. Of course, the mental boost you get from an admit in your pocket will help you work harder in subsequent rounds. Even if you apply only to 3 MBA programs in Round 1, you should choose one of them as a safety school. Once you have an offer in hand, that opens up opportunities for you to take more risks in Round 2, and to apply with ambition.

This serves as a useful measuring stick as well. If you are rejected by your safety school in Round 1, you will need to rework your application, and fill up Round 2 with a larger number of safety schools, so as to get that guaranteed admission for sure.

Of course, if you get admit offers from both - a dream school and a safety school - in Round 1, this means that your profile is extremely strong. In Round 2, you can apply to schools in the top 5 or 10 of the rankings in your target geography. This is the best possible case.

This is clearly an even more compelling reason to divide your applications strategically between Round 1 and Round 2. Round 2 should always be an iterative process: the choice of schools and of application presentation is a function of the results you see in Round 1.

Should I make my Round 1 and Round 2 B-School list early on, and never change it?

Your university target list in Round 2 should be refined and finalized after your Round 1 results. A few examples have been given above. Notably, the number of safety schools, your risk appetite, and even the number of schools you apply to in Round 2 - all of these will change based on your Round 1 admit calls.

Jamboree makes MBA admissions simple. Just like we demystified MBA application Rounds for you in this feature, our experienced admissions consultants will give you that elusive admit to your dream Business School. Work with us on your MBA journey!

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