MBA Application

MBA Application: When to Apply and How

Completing an MBA application can be a tedious process, especially if you aren’t clear on the MBA application timeline. In general, an MBA application can take up to a year and a half to complete. Since the MBA application process is so intensive, it’s important that applicants aren’t rushing to meet the MBA application deadlines. Instead, applicants should aim to get an early start on their MBA application requirements. 

Competitive applicants will carefully and thoughtfully complete each part of their MBA application. Most schools receive applications in rounds. So, applicants’ MBA application deadlines will vary depending on which round they apply to. This is why creating a strategic MBA application timeline that works for you is crucial. Applicants will have to do everything from write essays that impress. They should also aim to complete an MBA interview that leaves a positive impact. 

In this article, we’ll outline the following: 

  • Understanding the MBA application process
  • Different MBA application requirements
  • The ideal MBA application timeline
  • Tips for creating the most competitive application

How do you apply for an MBA?

MBA Application

There’s a reason that a competitive MBA application takes 1.5-2 years to complete. To craft a compelling application narrative, you’ll need to think about many different MBA application requirements. 

Let’s check out the steps of the MBA application process from start to finish: 

Choose the right program

There are plenty of types of MBA programs to choose from. For the most part, each will follow the same application process. However, it’s important that you do your research on each program to make sure that it’s the right fit for you. 

Do you want to pursue a full- or part-time MBA? Or maybe an online program is the most accessible option for you? Additionally, would you like the opportunity to specialize, or are you looking for a generalist MBA? Think critically about the type of program you want to apply to so that you get the most out of your MBA experience. Then, create a list of programs that fits your needs, preferences, and goals. 

Read this article to better understand which type of MBA will best suit your needs. 

Build your resume

Some students may choose to enter an MBA program immediately following their graduate studies. However, many will not. In fact, many MBA candidates have experience in the professional business world. This life experience often motivates them to continue their education. 

If you decide to take some time in the real world after earning your Bachelor’s degree, look for experiences that will bolster your resume. Have you worked with an innovative start-up? Or are you a part of a big corporation that has inspired you to one day become a CEO? Use your experiences on your resume, highlighting how you’ve made a real impact on the places where you’ve worked. 

Take the GMAT/GRE

Testing policies vary at different institutions. However, most MBA programs require either the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) or GRE (Graduate Record Examination) test scores as a part of the MBA application requirements. 

Applicants should start studying early and aim for as high a score as possible. Experts say that students should take the GMAT or GRE at least three months before the first round applications are due. However, many programs will accept scores taken within years of the MBA application deadlines. For example, when completing the Wharton MBA application, students can submit scores from exams taken within the last five years

Collect your requirements

In the months leading up to MBA application deadlines, applicants should diligently gather all of their MBA application requirements. In addition to the application and GMAT/GRE, you’ll need to write essays and a resume. You’ll also need to solicit letters of recommendation. 

Collecting all of the MBA application requirements can be time consuming, so make sure you start early. That way, you’ll be prepared for each round of MBA application deadlines. 

MBA Application Requirements

MBA Application

There’s a reason why competitive applicants start the MBA application process up to two years before the MBA application deadlines: there are many MBA application requirements. Moreover, you don’t want to be rushing at the last moment in order to complete them. Understanding the MBA application requirements can help you craft an MBA application timeline that works for you. 

Programs will vary. However, for the most part, all MBA application requirements will be similar. 

Here are some of the most common components of the MBA application: 

  • Application essay(s)
  • Resume for MBA application
  • College transcripts
  • GMAT/GRE scores
  • Letter(s) of recommendation
  • MBA interview

Additionally, different types of MBA programs might have specific requirements. Keep in mind that there are many types of MBA (one-year, two-year, executive, 4+1). Always be sure to check the specific programs MBA application requirements. For example, you can check out the NYU Stern application components on their admissions site. Note that you have to specify an MBA program of interest. 

Some admissions sites might even give you tips on how to complete each section of the application. For instance, check out Stanford’s site, as it outlines each piece of the MBA application puzzle. 

When should I start applying for MBA?

According to this U.S. News article, you should start considering your MBA application over a year before the target MBA application deadlines. This is ideal when it comes to building an impressive resume with work or extracurriculars. However, if you feel like you already have that area covered, then you should start collecting your MBA application requirements the summer before the admissions cycle. 

However, the earlier you start preparing, the stronger your applications will be. You should give yourself time to thoroughly draft, redraft, and edit your essays, especially for your top choice programs. 

Additionally, you’ll want to aim to take the GRE/GMAT as early as possible—and at least two months before program deadlines. If you’re applying for the first two rounds of MBA admissions, you might want to take the test even earlier. The summer before applications open or even before is ideal. The earlier you take the exams, the more time you’ll have to assess how you perform and retest if necessary. 

The availability of financial aid for MBA students could also be a key factor in your decision process. So, in your initial research, investigate the financial aid for MBA students in different types of MBA programs. 

When do MBA applications open?

MBA Application

Generally speaking, most MBA programs have multiple deadlines, or “rounds.” Most round 1 MBA application deadlines are in September and October. In general, experts advise applicants to apply to their top choice programs in round 1 and all other programs in round 2. Programs tend to give the most offers in the first two rounds, so reserve round 3 for any safety programs if you don’t get accepted to your top choices in the earlier rounds. 

Keep in mind that the first round often has a smaller applicant pool, as many students aren’t prepared to submit their applications by that time. However, on the same token, most first round applicants are more competitive than those in later rounds. 

As you can see, some strategy comes into play when deciding where to apply and when. However, the most important factor is crafting a competitive application and meeting the MBA application deadlines for each school of interest. 

Are MBA admissions rolling?

In short, no. Generally speaking, MBA admissions are not rolling. However, there are three different rounds of MBA application deadlines. So, as we previously mentioned, you’ll want to apply to your top choice schools in rounds 1 and 2. Then, if need be, you can apply to safety schools in round 3. 

Though the exact deadlines will depend on the program, the general MBA application deadlines are as follows: 

  • Round 1: September and October
  • Round 2: October to January
  • Round 3: January through April (larger variations between programs)

Usually, round 2 will have the largest applicant pool. If possible, try to apply to your top choice programs in round 1 to increase your admissions odds. 

Most top programs don’t give out many offers during the third round, so only apply in round 3 if absolutely necessary. In some cases, applicants will be deferred or “placed under further consideration” from round 1. This means that they will be reviewed again in round 2, at which point they will either be rejected or offered an MBA interview.  

How long does it take to apply to MBA programs?

As previously mentioned, it will take a minimum of several months to ensure all of your materials are as strong as possible. The MBA admissions process takes a lot of time and energy. So, you’ll want to be sure that you start planning as early as possible. 

Additionally, some experts note that the application process for an MBA may start as far out as two years from the deadline. This is because the process of building a resume for MBA applications will take time—long before MBA application deadlines. 

How are MBA applications reviewed?

MBA Application

It’s important to understand how your MBA application will be reviewed. While earning an MBA is more common than it was a decade ago, the admissions process is still selective, especially at top MBA programs. So, you’ll want to make sure that each part of your application shines. 

Let’s take a look at what admissions teams look for when reviewing an MBA application. 

Academic achievement

A high undergraduate GPA will demonstrate your academic skills. More importantly, it tells admissions that you can handle a rigorous course load. However, you don’t have to have a 4.0 GPA to get into a top program. In fact, in fall 2020 the average GPA of incoming students at the top 20 MBA programs in the nation was 3.53

Leadership potential 

Many MBA graduates go on to become CEOs at top corporations or found their own companies. That being said, admissions teams look for future business leaders in their applicants. They want to see students who are apt to lead, motivate, and inspire a group of people. This is where your extracurriculars will come into play. You’ll want to show that you have leadership skills through either work, volunteer experience, or other activities. 

Clear contributions to community

Not unlike an undergraduate degree application, MBA programs look for students who will be a positive addition to their program’s community. Additionally, many look for business leaders who will go out and make a positive impact in the world and other communities. So, they want to see that you can connect with the world around you by impacting your community. 

Impactful resume

Your resume for MBA applications should tell a story of your experience as it relates to business. And, ideally, it will connect to your future career goals, showing how you’re a perfect fit for the program. 

When applying to generalist programs, variety within the business world could help. However, if applying to a specialized program, you’ll want your resume to show what makes you great for that specific specialty. This can either be experience in the working world or in your extracurriculars. 

Strong essays

To an extent, your readers can learn what you’ve accomplished and the type of student you are from the other MBA requirements. However, your essays are the place where you can tell your own story in your own way. 

This is your opportunity to truly introduce yourself. Let your personality shine and highlight other skills and experiences that you can’t discuss elsewhere in your MBA application. Make sure you answer the prompt cohesively, but don’t be afraid to get creative. You want your essays to make a lasting impact. 

High GMAT/GRE scores 

The majority of MBA programs look for impressive scores on the GMAT/GRE tests—especially the top programs in the nation. You’ll want to pay special attention to achieving high scores on these exams, especially if you have a lower than average GPA on your college transcript. However, if standardized testing isn’t your thing, you can find programs that bypass this aspect. In fact, similar to the trend among undergraduate schools, some MBA programs are waiving the standardized test requirement. However, standardized tests remain more common among MBA requirements than college admissions requirements.

Check out this article for more details on MBA admissions. 

When should I apply for Harvard MBA?

MBA Application

As one of the top programs in the nation, your Harvard MBA application should be as competitive as possible. Additionally, Harvard is likely a top choice for many strong applicants. So, you may want to consider submitting your Harvard MBA application in the first round, so long as you’re confident in all of your MBA requirements. 

Unlike the Wharton MBA application, Kellogg MBA application, and Booth MBA application, Harvard only has two rounds of deadlines. Round 1 is September 6th, and round 2 is January 3rd. Keep in mind that round 1 is often more competitive, but it’s also a smaller applicant pool. 

So, if Harvard is your top choice MBA program, you’ll want to have the Harvard MBA application submitted by the round 1 deadline. This means having your resume for MBA application completed, essays perfected, and MBA interview prep started prior to your deadline of choice. 

Keep in mind that excluding the absence of a round 3 deadline, most top programs will have similar deadlines to Harvard. For example, the Stanford MBA application deadline for Round 1 is just six days after Harvard’s. 

MBA Application Deadlines

MBA application deadlines will vary slightly depending on each program. You’ll want to keep in mind that deadlines can also vary depending on the types of MBA programs you’re interested in. For example, part-time programs might have different deadlines than full-time programs. 

The deadlines outlined in this section are for full-time MBA programs. Additionally, remember to check each program’s admissions site for the most up-to-date information. 

Here are the 2023-2024 deadlines for the top 10 MBA programs:

MBA ProgramsRound 1Round 2Round 3
UChicago BoothSeptember 21January 4April 4
Northwestern KelloggSeptember 13January 10April 3
UPenn WhartonSeptember 6January 4April 2
MIT SloanSeptember 27January 17April 8
Harvard Business SchoolSeptember 6January 3N/A
Dartmouth TuckSeptember 25January 4March 25
Stanford Business September 12January 4April 9
Michigan RossSeptember 14January 11April 4
Yale September 12January 4April 9
NYU Stern September 18October 18January 18*round 4 : April 18

You’ll not from the chart that the majority of top MBA options have similar deadlines. Whether completing a Kellogg MBA application, Booth MBA application, or aiming for the Stanford MBA application deadline, your MBA application timeline will be the same. The only nuances will be to which programs you apply to and when (based on your personal top choice schools). 

Reviewing the MBA Admissions Cycle

As you choose when to submit each MBA application, you should consider your strategy. However, sometimes life happens, and you need to adapt. You can have a successful application in any of the rounds depending on the MBA programs you’re applying to. 

That being said, aim to apply to your top choice schools in round 1 in order to increase your admissions odds. Additionally, if you get accepted to one of your top programs in round 1, that saves you a lot of effort in applying to your backup programs in the following round. 

Many top programs are overwhelmed with qualified candidates. If you wait until the second or third round to apply, you could have all the qualifications necessary, but there are simply no more open spaces. So, for your top programs, apply during the first round. 

However, if you’re rushing to submit a mediocre round 1 MBA application, that certainly won’t help your admissions odds. Unplanned circumstances may happen, so if you can’t submit the most competitive application possible by the round 1 MBA application deadlines, hold off until the second round. 

Understanding the later rounds of MBA applications

The majority of applicants apply for the round 2 MBA application deadlines. So, by the time round 3 comes around, there are few spots left. However, round 3 is a great time to apply to your safety schools if you didn’t receive acceptance letters from your round 1 and 2 programs. For top programs, round 3 is by far the most difficult round in which to gain acceptance. 

When will you receive your admissions decisions? Generally, round 1 applicants will receive their admissions decision in early December, just before the January round 2 deadlines. Round 2 applicants will be notified by the end of March or early April. Then, round 3 applicants will receive their admissions decisions by mid-May. 

Like the MBA application deadlines, exact dates will vary based on the program. So, be sure to check their admission page for the most up-to-date information. 

Ideal MBA Application Timeline

MBA Application

Starting early is the best way to prepare the most competitive MBA application possible. In order to meet your MBA application deadlines, you should have a clear idea of an MBA application timeline. Most deadlines for each round will be similar no matter if you’re completing a Wharton MBA application, Booth MBA application, or Kellogg MBA application. 

Even if you’re aiming to meet the Stanford MBA application deadline, the following timeline is a good guide to follow. 

When it comes to building an impressive resume for MBA applications, some applicants start as far as years before the MBA application deadlines. However, with work and extracurricular experience already under your belt, it’s possible to gather the MBA application requirements and submit a competitive application in less time. 

Understanding the MBA application timeline

Let’s check out the ideal MBA application timeline: 

6-9 months before key deadlines

Start researching programs that fit your needs, preferences, and career goals. Consider the round 1 deadlines for your top programs. Begin studying for the GMAT/GRE. You’ll also want to start contacting people to write your letters of recommendation. 

3-4 months before key deadlines

Take the GMAT/GRE. Start drafting your essays and resume for MBA application for your round 1 applications. 

September of admissions season

Submit all your MBA requirements by the specified Round 1 deadlines for each of your top MBA programs. Begin prepping for your round 1 MBA interview. 


Build a plan for round 2 based on your round 1 admissions results. You should receive your round 1 admissions decisions by the beginning of December. Depending on your round 1 results, prepare all round 2 MBA requirements. 


Submit your round 2 applications. 

We won’t get into the specifics of financial aid for MBA students in this article. However, it could be an important deciding factor in your ultimate MBA program decision. So, make sure you factor in the available financial aid for MBA students as you research programs. 

Five Best Tips for Optimizing Your MPA Application Timeline

MBA Application

With so many moving parts making up your MBA application, it’s best to stay organized. Most importantly, stick to an MBA timeline in order to meet your intended MBA application deadlines. 

WIthin your MBA application, you’ll submit essays, letters of recommendation, MBA interview, and a resume for MBA application.  

Keep in mind these five tips when planning your MBA application timeline: 

1. Prepare for standardized tests

Take the GMAT/GRE the summer before the admissions season begins. Plan to study before in order to get your highest scores. However, if you stick to this timeline, you’ll have time to retest if need be. 

2. Do your research

The more you learn about the programs where you’re applying, the strong your applications will be. Try to tailor your essays to each school. The same goes for your resume if you’re applying to specialized programs. 

3. Apply to your top choice schools in Round 1

Remember that meeting the first round deadlines will give you the best admissions odds. Of course, this means your materials need to be carefully and thoughtfully prepared ahead of time. 

4. Plan your application strategy

After all that research, you should be clear on which schools are your top choice. Break down programs into your first and second round schools. Then work toward each deadline in order. Ideally, you’ll get accepted to your top choice schools in the first round and won’t have to complete second round applications!

5. Ask for help

The top MBA programs in the nation receive many competitive applicants. Personalized advising can make a major difference in the MBA admissions process. So, don’t be afraid to reach out and get the guidance you need. 

MBA Application – Final Thoughts

In this article, we’ve covered plenty that will help you better prepare for completing your MBA application. Follow our general timeline, adapting it to your needs and program deadlines as you see fit. Remember that applying for an MBA is an intensive process that includes everything from building a resume for MBA applications to preparing for an MBA interview. So, start early and stay focused to give yourself the best chance of success. 

We looked at the application deadlines, including the specific deadlines of top MBA programs as well as determining what round to apply to. We also saw what admissions looks for when evaluating candidates. Finally, we gave you some final tips on the application process. 

Applying for an MBA can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to take it on alone. CollegeAdvisor is here to help you prepare for the MBA admissions process. Our expert MBA advisors will guide you through every part of the process—call our team to learn more. 

MBA Application

This article was written by Sarah Kaminski. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how can support you in the college application process.