A Checklist For Round 1 MBA Applicants + What To Expect On Campus This Fall
Maria |
August 24, 2021

With Round 1 deadlines approaching and everyone’s racing to get applications completed, what are the things that you should make sure you’re doing before you hit the submit button? 

Listen in and find out what’s on Maria and Caroline’s checklist for this year’s round 1 application and what advice they give to applicants who are preparing their applications so they aren’t stressing at the last minute. 

Episode Transcript

[00:00:07.630] – John

Well, hello, everyone. Welcome back to Business Casual, our weekly podcast. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants with my co host Maria Wich Vila and Caroline Diarte Edwards. Caroline of course is the former director of Admissions at INSEAD and a co founder of Fortuna Admissions, as well as a worldwide traveler just back from a very big and exciting trip in Turkey and Greece, and I don’t know where else. Maria, of course, is the founder of ApplicantLab and a homebody, taking care of her family in Los Angeles and wishing she could travel the world.


[00:00:50.030] – Maria

Yeah, absolutely. Super jealous.


[00:00:53.150] – John

And if you missed us last week, it’s my fault. I did an eight day cross-country trip with my wife, my dog, and her cat in our SUV from California to Virginia, where I am moving. So it was a terrific trip. Really enjoyed it. Highlight, definitely. Zion National Park, where we took a really wonderful hike with our dog one morning with smooth sailing all the way. Not much traffic across the country, which kind of surprised me given the fact that everyone’s been locked up and I thought they’d be many more people traveling on the highways. And it really wasn’t true. We have no traffic whatsoever, except, of course, to get out of the Bay Area and up to Tahoe. That was the only traffic we hit. Okay, so the big thing right now, I think, for anyone who’s interested in business education is number one, the return to class. Many MBA cohorts have begun the journey toward an MBA in this past week or two through orientation programs. And the story in general is, despite the worry over the Delta variant, most schools in the US at least are going to have face to face classes this fall, at least to start, they will require in most cases that you be fully vaccinated and prove it.


[00:02:21.100] – John

You will probably have to wear a mask every time you’re on campus and in class, and you probably will be tested for COVID every week. But for now, everyone’s getting back to if you want to call that normal, they’re getting back to that, which is actually a good sign. And of course, I would imagine that by the end of the year, many students might end up with boosters because that’s the way it looks to be going. And then, of course, the other big news is that in two weeks, around one, application deadlines for the class of 2023 begin to basically fall like dominoes. While there are some schools that have application deadlines before September 8, Oxford has around one deadline of September 1, and Duke has an early action deadline of September 2. Harvard and Wharton are the first big ones for Round 1 September 8. Cornell is in on that date with an early action deadline as well as the round one for the one year MBA. The next day is Stanford. The next day is London Business School. September 13, Cambridge the 14th, Yale the 15th, Northwestern Kellogg and NYU Stern, and then they just sort of blow up like that.


[00:03:41.490] – John

Michigan Ross on September 20, Chicago Booth on the 23rd, Berkeley on the 23rd as well, along with Emery and Dartmouth on the 20th, along with Georgetown and MIT right after that on the 28th. So with those deadlines that really start to come fast and furious in two weeks, I wanted to ask both my cohosts, what’s the checklist? What are the things that you should make sure you’re doing before you hit the submit button? Maria, what’s your checklist for your applicants?


[00:04:15.290] – Maria

Well, I think the number one first thing people need to do is to log into the application forms themselves and go through page by page and start filling them out. I think sometimes applicants might Google, okay, what are the application essays I need to write, and they spend so much time focus on the essays, and then when they go to login and hit submit, it’s kind of this shocking and dismissing experience of, oh, my gosh, there’s a hundred little forms in here that I need to fill out. And it’s not just like your name and your address. It’s all sorts of things, like a little blurb about post MBA goals or there’s even sometimes schools have many essays that they don’t formally publish on their essays page that are hidden inside the application form. So Berkeley Haas this year snuck one in a 250 word essay, I believe, on diversity and inclusion. It’s inside the application form. 250 words is like a mini essay, and yet it’s not on there. At least as of the other day, it was not on their main site. So if you don’t log into that application form early, you’re not even going to know until you log in.


[00:05:16.440] – Maria

And let’s say you’ve got a few hours to go before the deadline, which I don’t recommend. You should try to submit a day or two before, but human nature and human nature. And so then you’re like, oh, my gosh, there’s so much extra stuff I have to fill in. So I would say if you’re looking for, like a mental break from your essay writing and editing, jump into those application forms, fill out all those little boxes first so that way you can focus. There are no negative surprises, and you can focus on other things.


[00:05:41.850] – John

That’s a great idea. And boy sneaky of Berkeley to stick that 250 word mini essay into the application. And I bet you there are a lot of little surprises like that in every little application that you can find. Caroline, what comes to mind on top of your checklist?


[00:06:02.070] – Caroline

Yeah, definitely work on the application form earlier rather than later. And I have to say that when I was reviewing applications at it yet you would often see too frequently where to get applications, where the candidates obviously spent a lot of time, as Maria said, fine tuning their essays and then sort of thrown together the application form the night before. And it’s very apparent to the file reader, and it just looks sloppy. And there are lots of things to check, and it may look fairly straightforward, but people do make mistakes. You need to, for example, cross check the data on your application form or the dates that you’ve got there that that cross checks with what you’ve got on your resume. And remember that it’s often the application form that the file reader will look at first. So that’s really important to sort of setting the stage for your application as a whole. And I often advise candidates to start working on the application form right at the start of the process, even alongside the essays or sometimes even before the essays, because it’s important to understand what is it that they’re going to see it first and then they’re going to turn to your essays.


[00:07:13.210] – Caroline

Right. So if you’ve worked on things the other way around, then you might be missing some important context that is going to be very present in their minds as they’ve looked at the application form first. So it’s really important to pay a lot of attention to that and then otherwise, at this stage, hopefully, you’ve got most of your materials together by now. So proofreading is really important and get a fresh set of eyes, because when you’ve been working on this for so long, as many applicants have, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. And you can miss some silly mistakes because you’ve looked at it so many times and not so obvious to you anymore. And someone else that will jump out to a fresh set of eyes and then otherwise recommenders. You should be checking in with your recommenders and making sure that they’re on track to submit on time. Hopefully you’ve already had several discussions with them. You’ve briefed them on the process, you’ve had some good discussions about what they’re going to say about you, and perhaps they will have drafted that and be ready to hit submit as well.


[00:08:22.030] – Caroline

But that’s also an area where applicants do come unstuck at the time of deadlines. You cannot control the candidate when your recommended is going to dedicate some time and actually get the work done and hit submit. So you need to be checking in with them constantly and sort of managing upwards to make sure that they are on track with their part of the picture.


[00:08:46.010] – John

Do schools generally give a little bit of a Grace period for recommendation letters if they don’t come in right on the deadline time, or how does it generally work?


[00:08:56.020] – Caroline

Yeah, in my experience, they will, but it creates a lot of stress for the candidate. Right. So it doesn’t necessarily create a good impression with the school. But the schools understand that it’s not entirely under your control. Most schools will give you a few days grace, but you don’t really want to be in that position if you can at all avoid it.


[00:09:16.860] – John

Exactly. And I want to come back to what Maria said. Don’t wait until this specific time or five minutes before this specific time for the actual deadline because you never know what can happen. There could be some sort of glitch, there’s a thunderstorm, you lost your Internet connection, there’s any number of calamities that could occur, and it could be totally unexpected and can blow your shot. So it is wise, isn’t it, to try to submit a day or two before the actual specific hour deadline that every school post on its website. Right.


[00:09:56.450] – Caroline

And that takes some of the stress, hopefully out of the process as well.


[00:10:00.210] – John

Yeah, exactly. I wonder how many people actually wait to that. Like how many people actually file their application within 1 hour of the actual deadline. I would bet a pretty big chunk of people do that more than it should be. Yeah, exactly.


[00:10:18.830] – Maria

I mean, in the past, sometimes there would be times where the application system would go down just from an overwhelming amount of traffic in that last minute. I think the school I mean, that was several years ago. So hopefully now with advances in cloud computing and whatever, that’s not such a problem. But still.





[00:10:36.350] – John

Yeah. Even if our website, we would produce the ranking and our site would go down because too many people would come in and want to read it immediately. And I’m sure that was true at many business schools in the early days. Now that’s a rare occurrence, but still, you can never tell. You just don’t know. And with all the hacking and all the other kind of crazy things that go on in the Internet, I think the earlier the better, no matter what. Now, any other things on the checklist that may be even less obvious than what we’ve talked about?


[00:11:09.690] – Caroline

Well, I would say, as Maria had mentioned, it’s good to go back to the school website and go through the form and also double check all the requirements because as Maria said, it may have maybe a few months since you actually went through and looked at double checking the deadlines, all of the documentation you need to provide. And it does vary a bit by school. So just go back to those school websites and just double check that you’ve got everything ready and you’ve got all your Ducks in a row and you haven’t accidentally mistaken one deadline for another or made any errors that could affect you at the last minute.


[00:11:51.140] – John

It’s always good to double check that one digit off on the standardized test score code for the school could throw your application into a chaotic place, right?


[00:12:04.320] – Caroline

Yes. It’s good to double check everything given the States here. And then I would say once you’ve got most of your materials ready, then I would start thinking about interviews. Right. And preparing yourself for that hoping that you will get to the interview stage and start thinking about the questions that you could get and sort of mentally preparing yourself for that process.


[00:12:32.810] – John

Right. Exactly. Now, many applicants sort of have a two tier strategy. You typically might apply to the schools you really want to get into in round one, and then you might apply to your second set of schools in round two. And I wonder from both of you, what do you think about that strategy? Number one and number two, when you actually begin your round two applications, should you be incredibly optimistic that you’re going to get into Harvard, Stanford, London or INSEAD in round one and wait, essentially to get rejected before you start your round two applications, or should there be some overlap? What do both of you suggest?


[00:13:19.310] – Caroline

Go ahead.


[00:13:20.690] – Maria

Thanks. I think we should apply to your top choices first, because I think sometimes people think, well, I’m going to apply to some slightly schools that I’m not quite as excited about just to try to get that admission in hand for round one. And then if I do, well, then I’ll shoot for the stars in round two. But the problem is that the deposit deadlines for round one are normally around February, and you’re not even going to know if you’ve got an interview invites at some of the other schools until just that point or perhaps even after. And so every year I hear people say things like, well, can I just ask them to delay the deposit deadline until after I hear back from my first call? I’m like, no, I don’t know. Perhaps I’m being a little cynical, but I feel like there’s a reason why the deposit deadline is before the notification deadlines for the other schools. They want to know for sure, like, okay, put your money where your mouth is. You said in your essay that we are your first choice because that’s what everyone does, even if it’s not your first choice.


[00:14:21.010] – Maria

And so great. Now pony up the money. For some candidates, if you’re an investment banker, the deposits say $2,000. No big deal. But for other candidates, especially those in developing economies, it’s a really agonizing moment of do I take the boat in the hand and pay 1000, $2,000 6000 if it’s Columbia early decision? I’ve heard some of the European programs perhaps even have higher deposits? Or do I roll the dice and wait to see if I get that interview invite or if the interview goes well? So I would say apply to your top choices first, maybe work. Hopefully you started enough in advance. You can start working on a lot of applications simultaneously because the more applications you work on, the easier it gets. Once you get that first one out of the way, you start to get into a bit more of a rhythm. And then in terms of getting ready for round two, I like to tell people, look, maybe take a week or two off for round one. Veg out, right? Watch Netflix, eat ice cream, just sort of clear it from day. But then it’s just start because on your round two list, because honestly, even if you get invited to interview, you’re actually in worse shape in a sense, because you’re not going to find out if you got rejected until, say, February, I’m sorry, December 12 or December 15.


[00:15:41.640] – Maria

And then if you wait until then, you only have two weeks left to get your recommenders, to quickly file the recommendations with these other schools, and you have to quickly throw together a bunch of essays. It’s just not worth it. So just give yourself a little break, but then just get ready for that plan B, plan C, and you’ll thank yourself later.


[00:16:03.230] – John

Good advice, Caroline.


[00:16:05.070] – Caroline

Yeah, I agree. And I think in some cases, even more important to be clear about your motivations to the school for the school and to communicate that clearly in your application for round two to round one. Because, of course, the schools know that a lot of people are applying in round two because they’ve been dinged from their top school top choices in round in round one. So they know that they are likely to be not your top choice and nobody wants to be the second choice.


[00:16:37.230] – Maria



[00:16:37.530] – Caroline

The sort of backup option. And schools are very sensitive to this, and they don’t want to be you’re coming there because you didn’t get in anywhere else rather than actually you’re genuinely motivated for that particular school. So in round two, even more than in round one, it’s critical to convey that commitment and engagement with that school. And that’s not something that you can Cook up overnight. And the schools see plenty of applications from people who have sort of thrown it together over the Christmas New Year break because they’ve had a nasty surprise in round one, and they’re now sort of throwing together some applications at the last minute for round two, and they will get short shrift in the process. So you can’t fake that kind of knowledge of the program and sense of affinity with the school. And that’s something that you have to build up over time through your research, through your networking. So you should really be starting that now rather than waiting until you’ve been dinged by around one school.


[00:17:45.530] – John

And let me bring up one of the sensitive issues about applying to business school for many applicants, not all, but let’s say your recommender is not your direct supervisor at work and your employer does not know that you are applying to business schools. And really you want to get out of there. And now that you’re ready to apply and you’re hitting the submit button, it becomes very obvious at least if you get accepted. When do you prepare your employer for the possibility that you may be making a departure soon and going back to school because some employers actually have feelings and they may feel somewhat rejected by your personal ambition to leave and go to school. How do you handle that at this point, or just keep quiet until you get accepted? Maria.


[00:18:43.430] – Maria

Yeah. So I think absolutely keep quiet until you get accepted. Because if you don’t get in anywhere and your boss knows that your heart is not really in it just like no, school wants to be anyone’s second choice. An employer doesn’t want to be your last choice. They want you to be committed and dedicated. So definitely don’t let if you are in a situation where your boss is not supportive or your company is not supportive of you pursuing the NBA, keep quiet. And then in terms of letting them know, I think it depends a little bit on your honestly, like what you want to do, your risk tolerance and your financial situation. I personally quit a few months before business school, and I just traveled. I just backpacked through Southeast Asia and Central Europe because I love to travel and I also travel cheap. So I was able to do that because that matters a lot to me. And other people are now doing pre MBA internships to bolster their job prospects once they get to campus. One funny story about letting your employer know. So my boss was very supportive of my quest for business school, and I was working in Hong Kong at the time, and I had no idea.


[00:19:51.000] – Maria

I thought it was like the US system where two weeks notice, you don’t even need to technically give two weeks notice is just sort of considered to be a courtesy. So I submitted my two weeks notice to HR and they’re like, well, that’s great. But your contract, you have a two months. It’s different in Asia. It’s actually three months. You should have let us know, like three months ago. Thank goodness. My boss, who was wonderful, she sort of told a little fib. And she’s like, well, Maria told me three months ago that she was leaving, which is sort of true because I needed her recommendations. She had to sort of cover for me and be like, oh, she actually did say it. So please let her go.


[00:20:29.210] – John

Love that story. Caroline, I wonder if you have a similar story.


[00:20:32.940] – Caroline

Yeah, that’s great advice. Check your job contract.


[00:20:38.330] – John

Yeah. Really?


[00:20:40.850] – Caroline

Well, when I was applying to business school, I was working at Arthur Anderson. It was the year when the Enron crisis had hit.


[00:20:47.140] – John

Oh, my.


[00:20:47.960] – Caroline

So it was a very interesting year. It was like the Chinese curse. May you live an interesting time. So the whole firm was imploding around me while I was applying to business school.


[00:20:59.580] – John



[00:21:00.490] – Caroline

And before I left, I was actually on second from the London office of Anderson to the Paris office and found myself in the bizarre situation of having a contract with London office which had joined Deloitte. And I was actually working for Ernst and Young in Paris. All rather strange. So I don’t think anyone was very worried about notice periods at that point, but my bosses and my colleagues knew that I was applying and so they were all fully supportive of me heading off, and I had secured sponsorship from the firm and of course, all that unwound as well with the implosion of Anderson. But yeah, I think it’s great if you can take some time off, as Maria did before going to business school, because it’s pretty intense and you’ve probably been working incredibly hard, right. If you’re a successful young professional heading off to a top business school, I’m sure you have a pretty busy hectic lifestyle. And how often do you get the opportunity to take more than a week or two off and do something different? And it’s not going to have any impact on any negative impacts on your resume or your options.


[00:22:14.930] – Caroline

So I think if you can at all take advantage of that time to do something different and perhaps go backpacking around the world, as Maria did.


[00:22:24.340] – John

And Caroline, you would agree with Maria, who basically said, hey, don’t tell your employer, unless of course, they’re a recommender, which is the case many times about your departure unless you’re certain you’re actually going to go to business school.


[00:22:41.550] – Caroline

Yeah. So if you haven’t told them and they haven’t been part of the process, I don’t think there’s any need to, especially if you’re applying at this early stage because it’s quite far down the line that you would actually be leaving and heading off to business school. So good idea to check your contractual obligations. And as Maria said, it can vary quite a bit around the world.


[00:23:06.050] – John

It’s not unlike dating, is it? If you’re dating someone and then suddenly you go on Match.com? I wouldn’t think that you should tell people you’re going to match.com. Now, first off, you shouldn’t be going on match.com if you’re dating someone. But in a way, isn’t applying to business school while you’re fully employed? Isn’t it kind of like going on Match.com because you’re literally vying for the attention of different schools to have a journey with them, and meantime, you may be in a relationship as you would be with your employer. So I think Maria’s advice is very good here. Don’t let them know even if you’re looking for your job.


[00:23:54.760] – Maria

Even if you’re not applying to business school, if you start interviewing for another job, you don’t go to your boss and be like, hey, I’ve got a cool job interview tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll be.


[00:24:04.090] – John

Yeah, it’s really true. Okay, one last thing for all those folks who are starting their MBA programs this fall who may already be enroute to campus or are in an orientation program right now, if each of you could do it over again, what’s the one thing you wish you knew before you started your MBA program that would be helpful to new students this fall.


[00:24:31.590] – Maria

Maria, I was pretty naive about the role that socializing and partying played in the MBA experience. I’m a nerd, so I was like, boom, I’m just staying home and reading all my cases every night. And so I wish I would have prioritized socializing a little bit more. So I would tell people, like, whatever, your grades in business school don’t really it’s not like you’re going to apply to business school again. Very few employers even care about your grades. Many schools even have grade non disclosure. So even if you have good grades, you don’t have to tell them. Or if you have bad grades, you don’t have to tell them. So I would have lightened up a little on the academics prioritize that networking from day one. Exactly. There’s like no Dean in the world that wants me to figure just don’t study so hard. But really, I think if I could do it again, that’s something I would have done.


[00:25:21.750] – John

Yeah. Instead of calling it socialized and we’ll call it networking, there we go. That euphemism helps.


[00:25:29.390] – Maria

Very informal network.


[00:25:32.510] – John

Caroline, what’s the one thing you would suggest?


[00:25:35.210] – Caroline

Well, looking back, I think that especially with a program like intel, it goes so fast and I hadn’t anticipated quite how quickly that year would flash before me. So I think that I could probably have done a bit more before joining the program to do things like preparing my job search. And I know that the school does mobilize students and admits more now to sort of get things started early on in the process. But I think that when you applying to business school and you’re heading off a whole year or even two years seems like a very long time. But it’s such an intensive experience and there are so many different opportunities to choose from. You can’t do everything. As Maria said, you have to make some trade offs. And I think it’s useful to really think carefully before you go to business school about how you want to focus your time, what your priorities are, and anything you can do beforehand that’s going to sort of help you front load things, especially if you’re doing a one year program, that’s going to be very helpful.


[00:26:41.330] – John

Great advice. So for all of you who are about to embark on your second year of an MBA program, if you’re in a two year MBA program or for all of you who are starting, good luck. Have a wonderful journey. Embrace it fully. Take advantage of it. Make sure you are getting to know as many of your classmates and hearing all their wonderful and interesting stories and learning from them as you can. And then for all of you who are racing to get everything completed for the round one deadline, good luck as well. We hope you’re able to put your best foot forward, and we hope we gave you a little bit of good advice for your own checklist before you hit the submit button. This is John Byrne you’ve been listening to Business Casual our weekly podcast.


A Checklist For Round 1 MBA Applicants + What To Expect On Campus This Fall
Maria |
August 24, 2021


New around here? I’m an HBS graduate and a proud member (and former Board Member) of AIGAC. I considered opening a high-end boutique admissions consulting firm, but I wanted to make high-quality admissions advice accessible to all, so I “scaled myself” by creating ApplicantLab. ApplicantLab provides the SAME advice as high-end consultants at a much more affordable price. Read our rave reviews on GMATClub, and check out our free trial (no credit card required) today!