MBA Admissions: Rolling vs. Rounds


Updated April 4, 2023

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Choosing between MBA rolling and rounds apps can be challenging. Uncover the pros and cons of these formats to help you put together your best application. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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U.S. students choose business degrees more than any other discipline. At the graduate level, learners can choose from over 1,000 accredited business schools across the country. The most popular of these graduate programs is the MBA.

MBA students come from many paths, including undergraduate business programs, business careers, and other professions. To accommodate this diverse student body, MBA schools feature a variety of admission processes and requirements.

While some MBA programs welcome all types of students, others require undergraduate business degrees, relevant business experience, or GMAT scores. Some schools set rigid MBA application timelines, while others accept applications year round.

With so many options available, how will you decide when to apply? Our guide answers that question by examining the MBA application process and the difference between rolling and rounds apps. We also spoke with a business school admissions counselor for more insight.

Rolling Admissions

Rolling admissions take their name from the process of reviewing applications as they roll in. This method offers MBA students more flexibility than rounds. While rolling admissions are more common for online business programs, many on-campus programs also use this format.

Rolling admissions do not feature traditional deadlines, but they still involve important timelines. For example, candidates may need to apply by specific dates to meet priority or scholarship deadlines. Schools usually set application cutoff dates for each cohort as well.

Along with flexibility, rolling admissions offer an extended and potentially less stressful application period. Applicants can stagger their MBA applications, giving more attention to each submission and reducing some of the time pressure.

Krystal Covington, a business growth strategist, has worked with thousands of MBA graduates over her 15-year career. Covington notes that rolling admissions offer applicants the benefit of a quick response.

"Rolling admissions means you may be admitted at any time, while rounds of admissions mean students are all notified at the same time," she says. "For example, a school with rolling admissions may receive your application in January, process it, and provide you with a letter of acceptance or denial in February."

Rolling admissions may not suit every applicant or situation. Students who apply late in a rolling application cycle, for instance, might find the program spots have been filled or all financial aid allotments have been doled out. Some schools may request quick responses from students, which could lead to premature or uninformed decisions.

Admission Rounds

Many MBA schools feature three admissions rounds. With strict deadlines, these rounds take place in fall, winter, and spring. Some schools offer early action or priority deadlines as well.

According to Covington, "Most people generally apply for round one in the fall, with the second-highest volume received in late fall/early winter."

Generally, the earlier candidates apply, the higher their admission chances. During the first round of the MBA application process, programs have more spaces open. Business schools also have more scholarship funds available.

Candidates rejected in the first round can try again in later rounds. While more challenging, the second and third MBA application rounds give candidates more time to research programs, complete applications, and improve their qualifications.

Compared to rolling admissions, rounds apps tend to be slower and more competitive.

"A school with traditional deadlines may receive your application in January and provide you with an answer in April," says Covington. "This may also mean that all applications are reviewed after the deadline, which means you’re being compared with a greater number of applicants. The process is more competitive when done this way."

For some students, competition is a good thing. Many of the top MBA programs use application rounds to compare candidates and compile the best and most complementary student cohorts. Applicants also get responses from rounds apps around the same time, allowing them to compare all their offers and make informed decisions.

When Should You Apply?

MBA application timelines vary by school, program, and application type. According to Covington, however, candidates wondering when to apply can follow a simple rule.

"Once you’ve fulfilled all of the requirements for MBA admissions, it’s time to start the application process," she advises.

Most schools begin accepting rolling and rounds apps in September for the following year's cohort. If possible, applicants should compile and perfect all their materials by then. The final deadline for fall cohorts usually comes around March or April for both rolling and rounds applications.

Early-stage candidates enjoy better acceptance and financial aid opportunities. They also have more time to adjust to rejections. Since early applications provide so many benefits, they tend to attract the majority of applicants. Early applications also require early preparation.

"A great strategy to follow is to begin researching potential MBA programs in your junior year," Covington suggests. "Ensure you are preparing all of the necessary criteria, such as seeding relationships for letters of recommendation, getting any job experience that may be required, and attending extracurricular activities that boost your opportunities."

Later-stage applications carry more risk, but they give students more time to perfect their submissions. They also accommodate students who weren't prepared to submit an application up to a year before the program start date.

Deciding When to Apply to Business School
If… Then…

You don’t know when you want to start


You want a quick response


You want to apply late in the year


You want less pressure and stress


You want the most competitive environment


You want a traditional application process


You want a longer application window


You want access to priority or early decision


Connecting With an Admissions Counselor

Admissions counselors can offer prospective MBA students answers, guidance, and support. Covington even suggests using counselors as a sounding board.

"To ensure you have clarity, it’s great to contact admissions with any questions or to simply talk through what you plan to do and get their feedback," she says.

MBA candidates should prepare a list of questions ahead of their chat with a counselor. They may ask about career paths, concentration options, program culture and curriculum, or delivery methods. Covington suggests that counselors can also help candidates improve their applications.

"Talking to someone in admissions can open the door for you to learn more about their philosophies on accepting candidates," she says. "There may be insights you can glean from chatting with them that you cannot get from the application alone."

Even after the MBA program begins, counselors remain a powerful resource. They can help learners navigate their programs or point students toward academic and financial support.

The MBA application process can be daunting, but you don't have to go through it alone. MBA candidates should take full advantage of whatever resources they have available.

Common Questions About MBA Admissions

Is it better to apply in round 1 or round 2 MBA?

The best time to apply for an MBA is whenever you can put together your best application. If you can meet the round one deadline, you might have a better chance of getting into the program and earning financial aid. The later application deadline in round two may suit you better if you need more time to complete your application.

Is it worth applying in round 3 MBA?

It may be worthwhile for some MBA students to apply during the third round. For example, candidates who can add something unique to the cohort should still apply, such as diverse or underrepresented candidates or those with remarkable applications. In some cases, students have no choice but to apply during the third round of the MBA application process.

Is rolling admission first come first served?

Yes. Rolling admission means that schools admit students as applications come in. Students who apply early will receive earlier answers. As a result, schools may reject late applications because of a lack of open spots.

Is rolling admission harder to get into?

MBA programs with rolling admissions can be easier to enter than programs with MBA rounds. More spots are available early in the cycle. During the later stages of the cycle as cohorts fill up, programs with rolling admissions become more difficult to enter.

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