Countdown: 90 days to the deadline of the first round of the MBA

By | August 8, 2020

The Harvard Business School MBA closes its first round on September 8 of this year, and other programs, such as Stanford and Wharton, have a September 15 deadline. This means that you have less than 3 months, translated into 90 days, to prepare and send your application for admission to graduate school in 2021 if you are interested in reaching the first round.

Applying in the first round has several advantages. In the first round, the programs still have all their places available, so, especially if you have a profile that takes advantage of the diversity issue (such as the profile of a Latin American applying for an MBA abroad), it makes sense to go first to the competition. Another advantage of applying in the first round is that universities still have their entire scholarship budget available, so in addition to increasing your chances of admission, you will also have a greater chance of landing a scholarship.

deadline of the first round of the MBA

One downside of the first round is that it is generally more competitive. In other words, most of the applicants who apply in the first round arrive well prepared, since they have been working on their process for several months, or even a year. Hence, the level of competition, especially for Latin American profiles, is usually better than in the other rounds.

It is important that you take into account that although there are advantages to arrive first, these are not enough if your profile is not ready to apply at that time. Most Latin American candidates apply in the second round, and competitive candidates will gain admission at that time. Rushing your application, thinking that if you do not apply in the first round, it is not worth doing it, it can cause you to make mistakes, or that your profile is not as good as it could be with a couple more months of work, and for this reason you lose admission.

Remember that MBAs do not allow you to apply to their programs more than once in the same admissions cycle. If you are rejected in the first round, you will not be able to apply in the second round, or request that your application be reconsidered because you made a change.

The days fly by, and at this moment there are aspects of the process that you should already have ready, others that you are just in time to start working, and others that you should consider. In this post we will tell you what elements of the process are vital for your application to be the best possible, as well as considerations that you must take, to prepare your process in the next three months.

As well as considerations that you must take, to prepare your process in the next three months.

The program and the University

At this time you must have well defined the program, or programs, to which you will apply. This obviously implies the University you plan to study at. But sometimes, at the same university there may be more than one program or graduate degree that helps you achieve your professional career goals:

“A common mistake in postgraduate applicants is that they tend to concentrate all the factors that influence their decision in choosing a university, and they almost completely forget that it is equally or more important to choose the program they are going to study” (Borunda & Borunda, 2018).

It is important that you identify the reasons behind the choice you made when choosing one program over another. If you have not done so, it is time to consider whether the selected program and the University will provide you with the necessary tools to achieve your professional fulfillment. This is the first step for your process to be successful, since you must seek to make a match between your profile and the institution. Go beyond consulting official pages and researching in forums, find the community of students and academia and network with them to have precise insights of what it means to study at such a university. This will help you understand what a school represents, beyond its brand or prestige.

This research will also allow you to be able to list the reasons why the program should accept you, as well as be consistent and convincing in how you and your long-term career goals have an affinity with the specific program that interests you.

The admission process

In order for you to have a well-supported application, you must familiarize yourself with each part of the process and take it as something that must be prepared in advance. The 90 days you have are just enough to optimally meet the requirements, as you don’t want to improvise or “watch” as you go. In most Latin American universities it is common that you can start the admissions process just a couple of months before classes start, and that the requirements are not very rigorous. However, in these competitive graduate programs, each part must be meticulously planned and structured so that the school knows why it should accept you in the face of your competition. Remember, after all, the acceptance rate for many of these programs is below 15%.Even the Stanford MBA, the most selective, has percentages around 5%.

So that you can achieve that each requirement gives you points to be admitted, begin to understand that each one of them, by themselves, tells an incomplete story about you and it is your job that they are coordinated to offer an attractive and honest perspective of what that the admissions committee will see.

“A strong candidacy must link all the requirements in a coherent and attractive way and generate conversation between them” (Borunda & Borunda, 2018).

The first recommendation, then, is that you define which version of yourself you are going to show to the committee, with your experiences, strengths, weaknesses and context. Now, what should you prepare in these 90 days?

Your Curriculum Vitae

This is the basis of the entire intake portfolio. It should establish, in a brief but sufficiently complete way, what are your achievements, your experience, accreditations, what skills you have, what projects you have done and which ones you have in process. It will offer, first, a glimpse of your profile and the story you will tell to be admitted. Hence, the main point is that it contains your important differentiators, in a quantifiable and measurable way, to stand out from the rest of the applicants. Take a look at what you should and shouldn’t mention on your CV here.

The context of the Covid-19 pandemic offers an unprecedented opportunity to make your profile more competitive. What you have done during these months of confinement will play an especially unique role in this first round of admission. In this vein, you can volunteer, contribute to society in different ways, or start personal projects that, at another time, would be more complicated to carry out. In addition to this, you are still in time to start professional projects that make your profile shine. Generate ideas, discuss it with your superiors, take the initiative. Even though 90 days is often a short time to get big projects off the ground, give yourself the opportunity to be creative, take more responsibility and make things happen.

In short, start polishing and developing your CV or resume, if you haven’t already, and have it ready before the deadline.

Transcripts, Kardex or Strip of Subjects

Although they are not documents in which you have interference, or you can change or improve, transcripts allow universities two things. As a first point, they give the support they need to ensure that you have completed the academic degree necessary to study. Second, they provide an overview of what you did, academically, during your undergraduate or undergraduate years. More than your GPA, they will analyze what subjects you took, what profile you wanted to create, what knowledge you should have and which ones you should develop. For example, Stanford recognizes that it is essential to have taken calculus and statistics. Related to the previous point, if you have not done so, perhaps it is time to enroll in an online calculus course to have a record of it.

The most important thing to consider about transcripts is that they must be official and translated into English. This process must begin at the University where you studied your undergraduate degree. Some of them offer the authorized translation, but in other cases they do not. You should investigate this point, since the process will take time, especially if you have to go to a certified translator expert to make you an official English version. Therefore, take the necessary steps to meet this basic requirement.

Given the current context of COVID-19, many universities are still closed. Monitor yours, to see what you can progress through the process, and that when they open, you can immediately collect your registration. Also, we recommend that, if it is already August, and your university has not yet delivered your transcript, write an email to the MBA to which you are going to apply, to ask what you can do in case you do not have your transcript on time.

Standardized exams

The most competitive programs will ask you to have taken two types of exams: one for English, represented by TOEFL or IELTS, and another for quantitative and verbal reasoning skills, mostly the GMAT or GRE.

In the case of English exams, be sure that they will ask you for a minimum score, so it is urgent that you present it as soon as possible. This since it takes several days to receive your official score and, in case you are missing some points, you must submit it again. In this case, do not take these English tests lightly and take them at least 60 days before the deadline, so you will have adequate slack in case of setbacks.

As for the GMAT and GRE exams, if you have not taken them, you should keep in mind which of them is accepted into the program, and, if both are admitted, which exam is more appropriate to your profile. It is a widespread myth among MBA candidates that the GMAT is the one they must take, and that the GRE will not open the doors for them. However, this is not true. You must open your panorama, reflect on which of them you can be more competitive, and start studying.

Remember that there are 90 days left, and those in the best percentiles of the exams have studied between 80 and 100 hours before taking them. If you have not yet started preparing for them, you have little time to do so, so it is essential that you train strategically, so that you make the most of the minutes you dedicate to your training. Consider that intensive courses, of a few days, do not work. However, if you are at a good level, you can carry out your study in an orderly manner, with the support of experts in the exams who can help you make a personalized plan to increase your score as much as possible, in the time you already have. delimited.

Finally, consider also that you do not really have 90 days, but the official results of the GMAT and GRE take up to 21 days to reach you. While many MBAs allow you to upload unofficial scores (the ones you received on the day of your exam, at the end of the exam), others require only official scores. If you are going to do your GMAT or GRE very close to the admission deadline, check the application platform to see if they ask you to upload a pdf with your official score, (which includes the AWA score), or if you can just include your scores from the verbal and quant section.

Recommendation letters

Universities use letters of recommendation as an extremely important factor in determining your admission: “A well-written recommendation letter that praises an applicant can help you highlight the qualities that make you stand out.” (Borunda & Borunda, 2019). Hence, at this point, you should already have a list of potential recommenders. You should even have already contacted them and told them what you need, why you need the recommendation letter, by when and how.

To choose your recommenders, Stanford (2020) offers three points that, in general, are the essential ones :

  • They have to know you well, having worked and lived together within the last three years. Your direct supervisor is ideal at this point.
  • They should provide examples and stories that demonstrate the qualities and skills that they expose in the recommendation letter.
  • Most importantly, they can take the time to write a thoughtful, non-generic letter that can define why they recommend you.

In Latin America, we highlight, the culture of recommendation does not exist. Usually the few letters that are requested are not dedicated to time or effort, and they tend to be generic and very vague. The applicants even look for prestigious people who, despite having authority in a certain aspect, have not had enough contact with them, so their letters end up being deficient.

Take the time to train your recommenders, to make them aware of how important it is for you that they dedicate time to it and, without being intrusive, to give them a guide of what you expect from the letter and how it should be developed. As you do not have in your hands the chronological resources of your recommenders, it is essential that you start doing this work as soon as possible.


Last but not least, there are the admission essays or personal statements. This will be one of the few spaces, in addition to interviews, where you can talk about yourself directly with the admissions committee. Essays provide sustenance, as well as round out, the narrative of your admission process. The questions you must answer are carefully structured so that universities see how well you fit with their values, with the profile they expect, and what you can contribute to them. Take, for example, the questions Harvard and Stanford have asked the candidates:

  • As we review your application, what else do you want us to know to consider you for the Harvard Business School MBA?
  • What matters most to you and why? Why Stanford?

Although they give you the opportunity to talk about different topics, it depends on you how you highlight your profile and what narrative you will choose in your candidacy. Remember, again, that each requirement offers a partial view of you, and that it is your responsibility to coordinate them for consistency while being attractive to the program. Here it is important that you apply the reflection that we asked you at the beginning: what long-term objectives are those that led you to choose a certain program and University? What part of your history has led you to where you are and how does it translate into your Harvard / Stanford / Wharton application…?

Take your time and don’t improvise, and seek feedback before submitting it.

After meditating on the previous points, take into account that this is not an easy process, it requires effort and dedication. Universities, after all, must ensure that those they admit have the best potential and can take advantage of all the tools that the program will give them during their stay. Appreciate, then, that the help of experts in admissions processes is a very useful way, so that you are successful and do not risk your admission. If you combine a competitive profile with an admissions coaching, not only will you have a greater chance of being admitted, but you may receive substantial scholarship offers.

One last note:

Due to the COVID-19 situation, the admissions process that begins in September is expected to be atypical and much more competitive than in previous years. On the one hand, the economic crisis and the lack of employment will make more people consider studying a postgraduate degree to update their profile, and be more competitive for the few jobs available. On the other hand, a percentage of the candidates who received admission to start their graduate studies in August 2020, decided to postpone their entry.In some cases, the universities respected their place, so there is one less place to offer for this year. In other cases, they did not save their place, but having already been admitted once, and having done the process successfully the previous year, they will have a better chance of being successful this second time. Therefore, it is very important that if your goal is to go to study your graduate degree in August 2021, you do everything in your power to carry out an intelligent and strategic process.