In the undergraduate admissions process, Early Action is a non-binding option for applicants to get an early notification of admissions, in contrast to Early Decision, which is a binding commitment to enroll if admitted. Rolling Admissions means that your application is evaluated as it arrives rather than at a scheduled date. But what about MBA Admissions? How are these terms used and what are the different ways that your application can be evaluated?
Early Action/Early Decision
The biggest difference in MBA Admissions versus undergraduate admissions is that the Early Decision option is pretty rare. The best odds pathway to admission to Columbia Business School is the early decision option where applicants will receive an answer before regular decision applicants are reviewed. Columbia’s Early Decision applicants have signaled that Columbia is their first choice and must sign this statement as part of their application: “I am committed to attending Columbia Business School and will withdraw all applications and decline all offers from other schools upon admission to Columbia Business School.”
Several programs offer Early Action options. Tuck’s Early Action option is described on their website as the best choice “for reapplicants or prospective students who have completed their business school research and know that Tuck is their first choice. Early Action provides you with the certainty of learning whether you have been offered admission to Tuck in December. This offer is nonbinding. Any applicant who is accepted in the Early Action round and who would like to secure a spot in the incoming class will be required to submit a nonrefundable deposit—which is applied against tuition—by the January response deadline.”
However, there are Early Action options with a binding component so while you are actively involved the admissions process, check the details on the website of your target schools. Fuqua’s Early Action option is intended for applicants who are ready to commit to Fuqua. If you want to consider offers from other schools, then you should apply to Fuqua in a regular application Round (1, 2 or 3).
Similarly, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Early Action option is described as “for applicants who know for certain that they will attend UNC Kenan-Flagler if admitted.”UNC Kenan-Flagler’s most recent information on its website explains that “Early Action provides applicants with the certainty of learning their decision by December 11, 2017. Admitted applicants in the Early Action cycle will be required to submit a $3000 non-refundable enrollment deposit by January 8, 2018, in order to secure a space in the class (versus the regular deadline enrollment deposit of $1500). You should not apply for Early Action if you are not prepared to commit immediately to attending UNC Kenan-Flagler.”
Rolling Admissions means the same thing in MBA Admissions as it does in undergraduate admissions in that your application is reviewed at the time you apply rather than being held for review on a certain date. Columbia Business School offers rolling admissions and has just opened its application for the 2018/2019 Admissions season. Not to put any pressure on you, but you could be working on this application right now! It definitely helps to apply as early as you can, as more spots are available earlier in the process. It also provides a benefit that you will have a decision sooner and can give you more time to plan for other options if needed. Another MBA term with “rolling” in it is the concept of a rolling decision process. While Cornell’s Johnson College of Business has several distinct application rounds, its website notes that decisions are released on a rolling basis meaning that there is not that “one big day” when everyone gets a decision from a particular round.
Be Ready—Then Apply in the Earliest Round
All things being equal, you should apply in the earliest round you can. However, all things are not always equal and there are often good reasons to wait until a later round. If you have not yet secured your target GMAT or GRE score, it can be helpful to delay your application to a later round. If you have just taken a new position or have limited work experience, applying 6 months later in the process will add additional work experience that can help you clarify and strengthen your career narrative. Check the details of each MBA application carefully; if you are not comfortable stopping all other applications if you get accepted, then you should not apply for any Early Decision or Early Action options requiring a binding commitment. Often it can help to speak to a trusted advisor in weighing the pros and cons of the timing of your application.