Good questions #1

I've been exchanging e-mails with an applicant and I thought his questions were good in that a lot of people ask them. Over the next few days I'll be posting his e-mail questions and my answers. If you have questions, do shoot me an e-mail.

1. How much difference it makes when an international student applies in the second round? Is it absolutely imperative to apply in the 1st round? I don't want to reduce my chances. But in case i am not able to complete the essays properly in time, how much it will hurt if i apply in the second round? Also i will be promoted later this year. Does it makes sense to wait for the promotion and apply in round 2?

It is not absolutely imperative to apply in the first round as an international student. It is certainly helpful to apply early because schools want to fill their rosters with the best people as early as possible. However, your highest priority should be applying with the strongest application package possible, including both test scores and essays. In other words, you should not apply in the first round if you feel that you can apply later with significantly stronger materials. Every school will tell you the same thing. Another way to think about it is that applying early does not provide enough of an advantage to offset weak essays. 

It is sometimes difficult to judge by yourself if your materials can be significantly improved or not, but that is something you should be able to ask your counselor about. In the case of my clients last year, most applied to the majority of their schools in the second round and their results were very good, which you can see by visiting my testimonials page. (Please note that I only worked with a handful of clients last year as I was finishing up a masters program at UC Berkeley.) Lastly, you should remember that just because you don't apply in the first round, you don't have to wait until the second round deadline to submit your applications. For example, if you cannot apply by the October 9th deadline for Wharton, you can still apply in November and have an advantage over the people that apply at the last minute for round two in January. Schools are reviewing essays constantly, especially with so many people applying last year and this year. Consider the possible outcomes also: if you have bad materials in the first round you will most certainly be denied. However, with outstanding materials in a later round, you at least have given yourself the chance at an interview and hopefully an admit letter or a spot on the waiting list.

I think you may also be asking, "How long does it take to develop an essay set?" As you might expect, the answer to that is, "It depends." And it largely depends on how well you know yourself and your reasons for wanting an MBA. As a general rule, though, I would say it takes between 1 to 2 months to produce the first application, but if that application is strong, it should provide an excellent foundation to apply to your other schools. Your second school might only require 1 to 2 weeks depending on how similar the questions are to your first school. These numbers are broad guidelines though. Every individual is different.

As for the promotion, that is not enough of a reason to wait. If you know you are going to be promoted, then you can explain that in your essays - either in the career review section of a standard goals essay or by connecting that great result to a concrete accomplishment. You could even include it in an optional essay. If one of your recommenders is involved in your promotion then s/he can and should mention that in a letter. One thing to be cautious of, though, if your promotion puts you closer to your career goals an admissions committee might question the timing of or your need for an MBA. In that case, you should explain why, despite your promotion, attending an MBA is still the best choice for your career goals.