Students applying to business school will encounter one of two admissions policies: rolling admissions and rounds admissions.
Rolling admissions, where applications are considered as they “roll in” and the school only has one application deadline, is a fairly common practice among graduate schools and some colleges, and thus students may already be familiar with the concept.
Rounds admissions, however, is something that is almost exclusively the domain of business schools; students, therefore, may not know exactly what rounds admissions encompass.
At the most basic level, you can think of rounds admissions as a modified version of rolling admissions: rolling admissions with multiple deadlines. Schools using rounds admissions typically have three deadlines by which they accept applications: one in the fall, one in the winter, and one in the spring. Some schools, however, have as few as two, or as many as five, rounds.
The primary difference between rolling and rounds admissions is that, in rolling admissions, schools will consider each application as it comes in, while in rounds admissions, schools will consider all applications submitted by the deadline for a specific round before moving on to the applications submitted for the next round.
Just like in rolling admissions, it is typically most advantageous for students to apply early in the first round, when there is the greatest number of seats available and the competition tends to be a little less intense. However, the best strategy is always to apply with the best application possible, which may mean that some students will have to wait until the second or even third round to submit their application (after they’ve had a chance to retake the GMAT and ensure an excellent score, after they’ve had the opportunity to secure solid letters of recommendation, after they’ve been able to craft exceptional application essays, etc).
It is widely acknowledged that applying in the third (or final) round is the least advantageous of all admissions options, since there will be a much larger number of students applying for a much more reduced number of seats, which will make competition intense and admission difficult even for candidates with outstanding credentials.
To determine whether the schools you are interested in use the rolling or rounds admissions policy, check the schools’ websites—schools using rounds admissions will list multiple deadlines with rounds-specific verbiage, while rolling admissions schools will not.