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by Dominic Basulto

Name Of
Application Deadline(s) Letter Of Decision Program Start Date(s)
Rolling Admissions:
1.) Columbia Univ.
Oct.1 for Jan.

Apr. 20 for Sept.

Oct. 1 for Jan.

Apr. 20 for Sept.

Jan. 20 months

Sept. 20months

2.) Univ. of Penn (Wharton)
Mid-Nov. to Mid-Apr.
8-12 weeks after receipt of application
Fall start
July 00

Feb. 00

Jan. 01

Sept. 01

4.) NYU (Stern)
Nov. 15, 00

Dec.15, 00

Mar. 15, 01

Mar. 15, 01
8-12 weeks after receipt of application they will mail a response.
Aug. start 2 years
5.) Cornell (Johnson)
Nov. 15, 00

Jan 15 01

March 1, 01

Apr 15, 01

Start process after receipt of application.
Aug. starts 2 years program.
6.) Univ. of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)
Oct. 8, 00

Oct. 29, 00

Dec. 17, 00

Feb. 11, 01

Dec. 10, 00

Jan. 21, 01

Mar. 10, 01

May 5, 01

Fall start
Admission Rounds:
1.) Yale Univ.
Rd1-Nov. 8, 99

Rd2-Jan. 3, 00

Rd3-Mar. 13, 00

Jan. 13, 00

Mar. 23, 00

May 18, 00

Sept. start 2 years
2.) Harvard Business School

Rd1-Nov. 3, 99

Rd2-Jan. 6, 00

Rd3-Mar. 3, 00

Jan. 14, 00

Mar. 24, 00

May 13, 00


Sept. 22 month w/ extended break

Jan. 18 month

3.) Northwestern (Kellogg)
Rd1-Nov. 12, 00

Rd2-Jan. 14, 01

Rd3-Mar. 17, 01

Jan. 28, 01

Mar. 24, 01

May 12, 01

Mid-Sept. 2 years

June 1 year

4.) Duke Univ. (Fuqua)
Rd1-Oct. 25, 99

Rd2-Dec. 6, 99

Rd3-Jan. 10, 00

Rd4-Feb. 28, 00

Rd5-Apr. 3, 00

Dec. 3, 99

Feb. 7, 00

Mar. 13, 00

May 12, 00

May 19, 00

Fall start
5.) Dartmouth Coll. (Tuck)
Rd1-Dec.3, 99

Rd2-Jan. 18, 00

Rd3-Feb. 18, 00

Rd4-Apr. 21, 00

Jan. 18, 00

Feb. 21, 00

Mar. 27, 00

May 22, 00

Fall start
6.) Stanford
Rd1-Nov. 24, 99

Rd2-Jan. 12, 00

Rd3-Mar. 1, 00

Rd4-Apr. 12, 00

Jan. 17, 01

Mar. 28, 01

May 23, 01

Sept. 22 months
7.) London Business School
Rd1-Nov. 24, 99

Rd2-Jan. 12, 00

Rd3-Mar. 1, 00

Rd4-Apr. 12, 00

Feb. 4, 00

Mar. 17, 00

May 5, 00

June 2, 00

Sept start

Dominic Basulto holds an MBA from Yale School of Management and an undergraduate degree from Princeton. The strategy discussed below has been successfully used to assist in the acceptance of Russian candidates to leading MBA programs such as Stanford, Wharton, London Business School, IMD, and INSEAD. For further information, please contact Pericles ABLE in Moscow at 292-5188/6463.

There are two basic systems for admitting MBA candidates- "rolling" and "by rounds" (also called "staged"). In layman's terms, rolling admissions means that a B-school accepts candidates on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once an application has been submitted, a reply of "admit" or "deny" can be expected within two months. On the other hand, a staged admissions process divides the application cycle into a series of separate rounds (usually three or four), in which candidates are compared only against other peers who make the same deadline. For instance, a B-school may establish a deadline of December 1, 2000 as the first round to apply. All applications received before December 1 are considered together at one time, meaning that an application received on September 1 will be considered as equivalent to one received on November 30. These two systems are not alike, and are guaranteed to yield a different applicant pool. Thus, in order to maximize one's chance for admissions to an elite MBA program, it makes sense to understand how to "crack" these systems.

As will be demonstrated below, the best strategy in either scenario ("rolling" or "by rounds") is to apply as early as possible. This is generally accepted as the best strategy, although some experts on the admissions cycle, such as Richard Montauk (author of How To Get Into the Top MBA Programs), argue that no definable advantage derives from an early application- except for those candidates with a complex, hard-to-explain application (i.e. the candidate with a non-traditional background in, say, theology, who suddenly decides that a career on Wall Street is the next logical career move). Maybe. But maybe not. The Dean of Admissions at Stanford has remarked that candidates waiting until the final round have only a 2% chance of a successful application. Wharton has also published data showing that chances for admission decline from 10% in February to less than 2% in April.


Every business school maintains a highly segmented statistical database of all candidates over a historical time horizon. In addition to knowing fairly precisely how many people will apply each year, a B-school knows the regions or countries where these people are applying from and data on profession, age, gender, and race. Check out any B-school brochure- there is almost always a series of pie charts showing the representative profile of recent classes. In the name of diversity, the admissions committees prefer to keep a fairly constant balance between all these interests. This balance can shift for exogenous reasons, however, such as when a business school perceived as being too "regional" makes an effort to attract more international students or when the demand/supply dynamic changes.

By extrapolation, any top business school will have an "unofficial" range for the number of Russian candidates that can be admitted each year. This is probably one of those dirty little secrets of the admissions process that no one will admit, at least on the record. Despite all disavowals, pre-set limits do exist. Once the top number of this range has been reached, the chances for admissions decline exponentially to zero. Thus, it makes sense to apply as early as possible- once the places for Russians are gone, the odds of being accepted after that point are quite low. For example, despite the growing Russian applicant pool to Wharton, the number of Russians offered acceptance in the incoming class has stabilized and will not increase until the demand/supply dynamic once again changes.


In rolling admissions, an MBA program establishes a certain "hurdle" that applicants must clear in order to receive an offer of admission. For instance, a B-school knows the average profile of its incoming class for the preceding five years or so (see "demographics" above). Then, it can establish a hurdle that a candidate must pass in order to "roll" into the MBA program. Some programs might establish a rating scale of 0-5 for several important factors (academic excellence, work experience, extracurricular achievements), and then basically say "any candidate who gets at least a 4 in each category will be admitted." If the absorption rate of candidates is too slow (e.g. the applicant pool is less talented this year than in previous years), then the hurdle is lowered, to make it easier to admit candidates. The converse is true as well, with the hurdle being raised if too many candidates are being accepted too quickly. The key point is that each candidate is not so much competing against other current peers (i.e. other Russian professionals), as against the historical norm for such peers.

Typically, the rolling process is set up to be front-ended- meaning that 50-60% of the total class is assembled in the first few months of the process, leaving only residual places left by the time late spring arrives. It is the rare rolling process that is designed to be perfectly balanced (neither front-ended nor back-ended). Over time, as more candidates are accepted, the hurdle must rise, otherwise too many candidates will be accepted. By April, the hurdle is necessarily as high as possible, since the MBA program only needs to fill the last few places in the program. Thus, it should be clear that during the rolling admissions process, the hurdle can only rise (unless the B-school is suddenly unpopular and having trouble attracting students, in which case the hurdle lowers). Moreover, the more front-ended the process, the faster the hurdle rises. Therefore, it should be obvious that applying as early as possible is the only strategy.

Now, think of the admissions process that proceeds by rounds. This process is a bit more subtle, and usually favored by the elite B-schools (see chart). Typically, there are three or four rounds, extending from early winter to late spring. Rather than establishing a "hurdle" based upon historical experience as under the rolling process, B-schools using the "rounds" process will establish a "hurdle" based upon the composition of the current applicant pool. All candidates meeting a certain deadline will be compared against each other. Again, the B-school plans to "front-end" the process by accepting a greater proportion of the entering class in the early rounds, leaving far fewer places for the final rounds. The Dean of Admissions at Dartmouth Amos Tuck indicated that in the four-round process, 150-175 might be accepted in Round 1; 100-125 in Round 2; 50 in Round 3; and, well, any places left in the class would be parsimoniously allotted in Round 4. This is a classic front-ended admissions strategy that clearly indicates how odds decrease over time.

It is a popularly accepted fact that the most aggressive and well-qualified candidates apply in the first round. For this reason, most candidates who do not feel that they are the "best of the best" will avoid this first round, preferring not to compete with these superachievers, and even thinking about using the extended time to boost their credentials or earn that next promotion. In part, this strategy is well founded. However, it is known that some B-schools will choose to defer borderline candidates (those who are not strong enough to pass over the hurdle in Round 1, but obviously talented enough to have a chance for admission later) until the next round. Thus, a strong candidate will not be "rejected"- he or she will simply be moved to Round 2.


Some candidates think that they can prepare a world-class application package over a weekend or two. This is wishful thinking, at best. Granted, after the first application package, the process becomes incrementally easier for each successive application. The admissions package, however, entails more than simply filling out standard information such as "name of current employer." Any elite B-school will demand transcripts, test scores, recommendations, and essays. The very process of assembling all these documents, making sure that English translations are available where needed, and taking time to personalize the application package for each B-school takes time. Most people who have been through the process advise starting no later than one year before planned matriculation.

Business schools can always tell when a product has been rushed to market (the essays are not personalized, the test scores are "pending," and recommendations are either short or sloppy). Since a major part in winning acceptance to a "Top 10" program is convincing the admissions committee that the proper cultural fit exists between B-school and applicant, it makes sense to spend the extra time for starting early and choosing the most appropriate MBA programs. All other things being equal, the Russian applicant who submits the application early is viewed as a more aggressive, more dedicated, and more prepared candidate. Moreover, applying earlier in the cycle means more access to financial aid offered by the B-school.

Thus, the best strategy for gaining acceptance to an elite MBA program is to apply as early as possible in the application cycle. For MBA programs with staged admissions, this means no later than the second round of the admissions cycle. For candidates hoping for acceptance for a program beginning in September 2001, this summer is not too early to begin the application process. There are many steps that can be taken even between now and early Fall, such as lining up potential recommendations, assembling financial resources, outlining a few key themes for the application, and thinking about preparation for the GMAT and TOEFL examinations. While these steps do not guarantee admission to a "Top 10" program, they do guarantee that your chances for admission to an elite MBA program are maximized.

Dominic Basulto is a 1998 graduate of Yale School of Management and currently works as a consultant for Pericles ABLE (American Business and Legal Education) in Moscow. Pericles offers a full MBA advising program.

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