The early rounds will be here before you know it – Harvard’s deadline is September 6th, with many other schools due shortly thereafter. Every year I am asked whether or not it’s strategic to apply to business school in the first round. In the vast majority of cases, the answer is clearly yes.

  • Are your grades or test scores below average?

If so, and if your tests scores are as high as they are going to get, you should definitely apply early. Schools have more flexibility early on, and can absorb some lower numbers. As the class solidifies they may not be able to do so, even if you are a compelling candidate in other ways.

  • Interested in scholarships?

There is only so much money to go around, and although it is still possible to receive scholarships later on you have a better shot if you apply early. The longer you wait the more seats in the class are filled and the more scholarship funding has been committed to other people.

  • Ready to commit to your first choice school?

One of the best ways to increase your odds of admission is to apply early decision. Not all schools offer this option, which allows schools to maximize yield and binds you to attending if you get in. However, if you have your heart set on one of the programs that offers this option, like Duke or Columbia, you should absolutely apply early decision.

  • Want the opportunity to try again this year?

Let’s say the worst happens, and you aren’t successful in the early rounds. (Or that you shoot for the early rounds but are delayed and unable to submit your materials.) In either scenario, targeting the first round means that can try again in November or January, increasing the odds of success.

Unless your applications are simply not ready, there is no advantage to waiting for a later round. Seats in the class fill, scholarship dollars are allotted, and it becomes increasingly hard to succeed if you have lower numbers. Start now, commit to an aggressive application timeline, and you could have great news by December.

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $70 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 98% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.
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