application timeline

Guest Post by Matt Symonds, Fortuna Admissions

Common sense suggests you should apply to business school when you’re ready. But let’s demystify how things work behind the scenes of MBA admissions and the reality of how seats are allocated from one round to the next.

Top business schools, on average, organize three or four rounds of admissions in the 12 months before matriculation (the rare exception is Columbia Business School and a small handful of programs who have rolling admissions and review applications as they’re received). Most U.S. schools release application details for the coming year between May and July, including any potential changes to the essay questions. All the places for the following year are available in round one (R1), beyond a handful of deferrals from the previous year. The most elite U.S. business schools (think Harvard Business School, Wharton, Stanford GSB, etc.) fill the majority of their seats after the first two rounds. Meaning, 40-50 percent of places may be awarded in R1, and a further 40-50 percent in R2.

By round three or four, top tier U.S. schools are typically looking to fill specific profiles, so it’s no longer a “general” applicant pool (last year, HBS actually eliminated R3 altogether). That said, R3 is still a viable option for schools beyond the top 10, although be aware they receive a lot of apps from candidates who have been rejected by higher ranked schools in earlier rounds. The exception here are prestigious international MBA programs, such as London Business School and INSEAD, which have a higher percentage of spaces available in R3 than their U.S. peers. (In fact, LBS and INSEAD have four rounds, while other European schools have up to five or six rounds.) Across the board, however, scholarships and financial aid tend to be less available in final rounds.

That’s why your application planning, in terms of timing and deadlines, should be strategic and well-considered. Develop a schedule, stay organized, and plan to submit your application a few days in advance of the deadline, having proofread everything several times. That way you can avoid spoiling your application by a careless mistake made in the last stressful hours.

The application process is a lengthy one; it requires you to prepare thoroughly for the GMAT exam, solicit letters of recommendation, write essays, craft a short- and long-term career vision, and create a coherent and compelling overall narrative that reflects who you are. If you’ve set your sights on U.S. schools, our advice for maximizing your chances is to apply in one of the first two rounds, and to initiate the application journey as early as possible. If you start now, you have five solid months before the earliest Round 1 deadlines crop up in early September.

That said, many applicants find it unmanageable to submit a thorough application to multiple schools in Round 1. This isn’t the common application you might have encountered in undergrad, each program has distinctive essays, applications questions, and institutional personalities, and your application must be highly customized to win their favor. Our advice is to segment your list so that you have time and energy to give your full attention to each school. Hold off until Round 2 if the extra time will allow you to deliver a more polished application. Admissions directors are practiced at detecting the difference between a thoughtfully prepared application and one that was hastily thrown together to make the deadline.


Below is Fortuna Admissions’ suggested timeline for pacing yourself in the run-up to application time, which has helped countless applicants in your position. You’ll want to customize a unique work plan, as the time and effort needed to prepare for the GMAT or enhance your extracurricular profile inevitably varies.

May (or sooner):

  • Consider engaging an MBA admissions coach to support your application process.
  • Make a plan for researching schools to discern each program’s assets, identity, and fit.
  • Create a list of target schools and network with alumni.
  • Visit campuses and/or attend MBA fairs or local events. Subscribe to relevant MBA blogs and social media to stay informed.
  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses, then consider ways to enhance your candidacy (e.g. enroll in a quant course, build your leadership profile).
  • Identify potential recommenders and get them on board.


  • Prioritize your final list of target schools and segment into R1 and R2 applications.
  • Begin drafting your essays and identify one or more trusted readers to supply feedback.
  • Brief recommenders on exactly what you’ll need from them and agree on a timeline.


  • If you have not taken the GMAT yet – don’t leave it later than this (most candidates take the exam more than once).
  • Cull additional supporting materials for your application, such as university transcripts.


  • Revisit your resume and prepare your bio data form.
  • Audit your social media presence and ensure content positively reflects your personal brand.


  • Finalize and proofread your essays, resume, and online form.
  • Keep in periodic touch with recommenders to ensure that they’re on track.

One week before application deadline:

  • Submit your application. Allow several days of buffer time for any last-minute complications.

This kind of advanced planning means devoting a few hours a week at the outset. But it goes a long way toward positioning your excellence with less stress and more confidence. The sooner you start your application journey, the more you stand to actually enjoy the MBA admissions process, and the greater your chances of admissions success.

About the Author:

Matt Symonds is Co-Founder and Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.


Written by College Coach
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