Does applying before the Early Action deadline improve admission chances?

Early action deadline improves admission chances

You may have come across the term ‘early action deadline’ in university and MBA admissions discussions, and wondered what it means for an applicant.

What is the meaning of an early decision deadline? Which MBA programs offer early action deadlines? Let’s answer these quickly before moving on to Ronil’s story.

Meaning of early action deadline

Simply put, an early decision (EA) deadline comes in before the regular admission rounds begin. Most business schools have 3 deadlines – Rounds 1, 2 and 3. The EA deadline precedes all 3.

Early action MBA programs

Here are some top business schools that offer early action deadlines for their MBA admissions:

  • Columbia Business School (Columbia University, USA)
  • The Fuqua School of Business (Duke University, USA)
  • Darden Business School (University of Virginia, USA)
  • Mendoza College of Business (University of Notre Dame, USA)
  • Fisher College of Business (Ohio State University, USA)
  • Eli Broad College of Business (Michigan State University, USA)
  • Rotman School of Management (University of Toronto, Canada)
  • IESE Business School (University of Navarra, Spain)

Does applying in early action deadline improve your chances?

It could – with a few caveats though. You’d have to start planning for it earlier than you would for the regular application rounds. It doesn’t help if you rush in at the last minute with a weak application just to meet the EA deadline. That’s the fastest way to get rejected.

Ronil Diyora, a first-gen college student, shares his admissions experience that took him 4 GMAT attempts and 8 rejections before he could taste sweet success.

And yes, applying before the early action deadline did play a role, along with many other factors, as he explains.

Early action admit after waitlist from Darden

After 4 GMAT attempts and 8 rejections

by Ronil Diyora

I am an engineer by training and a maintenance operative by profession, so I’ve had good experience tinkering with machines, circuits and software. I have been leading teams for the most part of my professional life.

A downside of working in operations / maintenance is the urgency to douse the daily fires. Being the youngest on these teams, I met many who pushed me into thinking beyond what was immediately in front of me. They pushed me to think about how I could be a better leader.

The most challenging part of my job has been the slow pace of work in PSUs (technically my employer isn’t one, but certainly operates as one), too many hurdles and obstacles in taking on new initiatives.

These things are not necessarily bad, but I knew I won’t thrive in such an environment. So I’ve been in search of something fast-paced and demanding since I started my professional career.

I wanted to work on my ideas and be my own boss, and fortunately got an opportunity to create an independent venture and so did that as well.

The venture did not work out as expected. The experience made me realise that a good network, solid education and supportive learning environment will go a long way in building a sound base before returning to the startup world.

Seeing how technically excellent people fail miserably as leaders made me more interested in learning how one could become a better leader.

Eventually, I decided that it was a good time to pick up the (proverbial) can that I had been kicking off down the road for a long time – and get an MBA.

I haven’t had much of an extracurricular experience through schooling and college. I have spent most of my adolescent years around books and magazines, and not on the sports field.


I prepared for the GMAT on my own – through the GMAT Official Guides OGs first and then through GMAT Club resources and CJ’s blogs.

I didn’t get good scores in the actual test even though I was reaching close to my target score in official practice tests. The main reason was the verbal section panic and the subsequent anxiety getting the better of me.

After (probably) two attempts at the actual test, I decided to have a chat with CJ, which he graciously obliged to.

The outcome of the talk was that I needed to be my own guide (Shri Krishna?!).

I felt a bit bad that I didn’t get anything practical out of the call, but in hindsight that was one of the most important pieces of advice in this journey.

I kept trying and didn’t let go of the hope that I could achieve my target score.

On the third attempt too, I didn’t get a satisfactory score. But I decided to go ahead with a much lower score, because I didn’t want to back off without trying.

I enrolled with MCB for a comprehensive admissions consulting service, which included the MBA MAP + Application reviews package.

After the mock interview part of the MBA MAP, I attempted the exam once more and achieved a better score than what I was targeting!

One piece of trivia: all 4 attempts for GMAT were in less than 40 days, and had made a 100-point jump from the first and third attempt scores (both were the same). My scores ranged from 640 to 740.

[P.S. I had used a combination of online and offline tests to have these many attempts in such a short period.]

My top concerns

I was coming from an over-represented applicant pool – Indian, male and engineer.

MG and Shantanu made me aware of this pretty early in the process so that I don’t get disappointed afterwards in realising the same.

I am an ambitious person and so wanted to apply to the best schools (in my view) and so there was a significant chance of not getting admitted anywhere. I was aware of the risks, and fully prepared to embrace the consequences.

Another thing that I was taught to be of importance: the brand names of my undergrad school and employer. In a competitive year like ours, this would make a difference while choosing between similar candidates.

My MBA Application experience

Since I had no previous experience of working on such applications, I decided to take the help of a trustworthy MBA admissions consultant.

I thought that the knowledge and experience of consultants will help me expedite the process of research, exploration and application development. Not in the way I was thinking, but it did certainly help to have a consultant on my side.

I had read the popular MBA book (Beyond The MBA Hype) by Sameer Kamat and so was aware of his depth of knowledge for the industry and process.

So after just a couple of talks with current students, I decided to go ahead with MCB.

Also, a long chain of emails with MG (40+ emails, if I’m not wrong) and the calmness with which he enlightened me in response to some not-so-intelligent questions – before even enrolling for any of the services – made me more inclined towards them.

My primary consultant was Shantanu for the entire application process but that didn’t mean I couldn’t talk with MG or Sameer.

The ‘secret’ to choosing the right business schools

I realised the value of a consultant when I was struggling with selecting the schools to apply to and shared the worry with Shantanu.

He told me to keep everything else aside and imagine myself as an alumnus of the school and say to myself that I’m proud to be a part of this community and these people (after talking with at least a few people from the said community).

If I didn’t feel positive about being part of the community, it’d be wise to not apply to the school.

This shows his depth of understanding of what matters in the long run, and what I should be looking for in the people I’m interacting with at these schools.

On most days, before I started writing essays, I didn’t know what I should write about, but Shantanu’s (and MCB’s) guidelines helped me narrow down what to think about.

Another major issue I had was with the number of words – once we establish what’s to talk about, I used to write a ton and go well beyond specified word limits.

Shantanu helped me with it and also helped me make the essays more coherent. I even used to change entire essays at the last moment and Shantanu would be composed and calm, while helping me through them.

My Application strategy

Since I wrapped up GMAT in late October of 2020, we didn’t have much opportunity to hold anything back for the next rounds of admission cycles.

So I went in with all guns blazing. I applied to 7 schools in R2!

I was comfortable with the pace and we were able to finish all applications in time for submission. Without Shantanu, it would have been very difficult to satisfactorily cover all the schools.

I applied to the big names like Stanford, LBS, MIT, Columbia, Booth, UCLA and Yale.

Based on statistical and anecdotal evidences, I had very little chance in the first five, but for the last two, I was very optimistic.

Why then, did I apply to the first five? Well, you’ll get the answer by the end of this post.

Shantanu and MG did make me aware of the risks associated with such a strategy but I wanted to take my chances and see what I could make out of the process.

[A backstory: for undergrad, I got admitted to my dream school in the last round on the last seat available in my class because of the risks I took during the application process then.]

I didn’t (and still don’t) want to limit myself because of what the statistics and evidences say.

If someone wants to use such a strategy, I would suggest being ready for the results and don’t fret if you don’t get in.

Admission results

Well, I got rejected by all (but UCLA) without an interview!

UCLA invited me for an interview but waitlisted me, and eventually rejected me at the end of R3.

I had a detailed discussion about the application year and my background with Shantanu and MG at this point.

After taking about a month’s break, I again started working on a new application cycle.

This time around, I researched the remaining schools in the T15/16 group and decided to apply to Darden, Fuqua and Ross in Early Action (EA) / R1 Rounds of 2021-22 cycle.

Applying to a lesser number of schools helped me go deeper into the research of the schools. On top of last year’s application experience, this could have made a difference in the quality of my essays and interactions – significantly increasing the chances of success.

Talking with students / alumni

Talking with students and alumni helps us see what kind of people we are going to surround ourselves with.

This might not seem that important, but it is, because who they are will rub off on us – especially when we are to spend several months with them while experiencing similar ups and downs.

I learned about the culture at each of the schools; a typical day in a student’s life; and the good / bad things and the subtle realities that don’t come to light on marketing materials or through the admissions teams.

Interview experience

Interviews were pretty close to what Shantanu helped me with. Yes, MCB does provide services for MBA interview prep!

At all the places I interviewed – UCLA, Fuqua and Darden – I was interviewed by second-year students who were trained to do so.

At UCLA, My interview lasted for about 35-40 minutes. The interviewer asked me about my background; what I want to do post-MBA and why; my alternate plans if the plan-A doesn’t work out; examples of challenging and conflict situations (one each); what I’m involved with outside of work.

At Fuqua, apart from the aforementioned questions, we discussed the alternate plans if I don’t get admitted anywhere, and the interviewer went deep into my professional experience and my learnings there. The interview lasted more than 65 minutes!

At Darden, the interview lasted about 25 minutes! The whole time we just discussed my professional journey so far and a couple of examples on challenging situations at work.

The interviewer was interested in my extensive leadership experience of 7+ years (in comparison to a typical incoming MBA student’s standard), so we spent most of our time on that. We didn’t get around discussing things that I am involved in outside of professional life.

Ultimate results

Ross and Darden waitlisted me (at Darden, waitlisted after an interview, as it was an EA application; at Ross, without an interview), and Fuqua declined to admit me.

After planning out what to share as Waitlist updates, researched a bit more and prepared very intimate and personal WL updates.

Result? Ross rejected during R2.

Darden offered an admit between R1 and R2!

I received an email from Darden around midnight and was fortunately awake. Out of habit, I checked the mailbox, and voila!

There were a couple of emails from the admissions team. I was so excited and anxious at the same time that I didn’t believe my eyes (and an IT glitch, too, supported me in that) and so immediately sent an email to the admission team asking to confirm the same.

Shantanu and I had a hearty talk right in the middle of the night. All the dopamine in the system didn’t let me sleep properly that night, but hey, who am I to complain?

Waitlist Strategy and Tips

  • The best thing would be to get to know what the admissions team finds lacking in the application, and then work on it.
  • In absence of the above, the next best thing is to show the admissions team that your work team and employer appreciates your work – by showing some recognition of your work by the team and/or employer after you submitted your application (promotion, extra responsibilities, letter of appreciation, etc.).
  • List out all the things you are interested in or passionate about, and then search for similar things at the school. Assimilate every piece of information available on it (including talking with people actively involved). Then craft out a few words on how you would like to actively pursue your interests or passions while at school (name dropping won’t harm).
  • Show recent achievements in extracurricular activities that you are involved with.
  • Show what research you have done about the school, its community and your post-MBA goal in the last few months – after submitting the application.
  • Send the admissions team an update every 3 to 4 weeks. Don’t overdo or underdo it – just something in the middle.
  • Reiterate your interest in the school by sharing what more you have learned about the school and its community in the last few months since application submission.
  • Ask one of your previous/current supervisors to write an additional recommendation to the AdComm — ask the one who hasn’t submitted a recommendation already. A caution though: Ask the waitlist manager at school if they’d be fine with this.


My advice and some tips for MBA applicants

  • If you don’t ask, the answer is always a NO! Ask and see if it could be anything else.
  • A re-phrased version of Dushka Zapata fits well here:
    What you can learn from a person is not in the person. It’s in what you are receptive to. It’s in the moment being just right. It’s in what you need to see or hear. Learning is not in the lesson. It’s in you.
    What I mean to say is to talk to as many people as you can. It is a necessary condition to learn a lot, because we won’t be the same person every day and so with the same set of questions (and answers) we can learn a lot by talking with different people. In short – connect, connect, connect!
  • Networking tips:
    • Learn from wherever you can. And know that everyone will have a different opinion of the same thing, so try to learn from as many perspectives as possible before forming your own opinion.
    • We should be cognizant of the fact that the answers to our same queries will vary from person to person but we may find a common pattern, which is most likely instilled by the school community – keep note of those patterns.
    • Be very specific in your first ask (request to talk) and then during the questions you ask. There is no one way of doing this and so keep learning.
    • What helped me was keeping an inventory of questions and selecting questions from them before I go into a conversation. I highlight the ones I definitely want to know answers to right away to separate them from the ones that can wait.
    • It also helps to know which ones you want answers from multiple sources and which you are fine with by knowing from just one or two sources.
    • Keep updating the inventory of questions as you assimilate more information (a good way to see if the quality of your questions is improving: go back to the old questions and see if you feel ashamed or stupid to have asked them).
    • Keep closing the loops. Keep updating the folks that have helped you, whatever the results may be.
    • Keep a tab on what you’ve talked about and with whom. This will help in continuing the conversation next time around (yes, it’d be better if you will talk with them multiple times – helps in bringing people closer).
    • Recognise the way people (student/alumni/AdComm) at a school talk about which kind of career transitions are possible and which are not – that’s the general culture of that school.
  • I have met so many amazing people who have spent hours and hours of their precious time in making me understand their schools, communities and companies. It feels like I have just spotted the iceberg and am yet to learn a lot, and so the journey will continue.
  • Read Sameer’s book, Beyond The MBA Hype, to understand what an MBA is and what one should think about when thinking of pursuing it.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Be ruthless with the edits. Even if it means editing an essay dozens of times!
  • Trust the people you are working with and have faith in their skills and knowledge.
  • Try to talk with people who know you the best (family, friends, colleagues, partner, etc.) and find out the parts of your life that make you unique. See if you can connect them with the application/school/why-MBA. These parts are probably what the AdComm talks about when they say ‘we want to know your authentic self’.
  • Keep pushing! Try it 10 times if you really want something. My experience says you won’t regret it. I don’t have stats to support the claim, but hey, you have two out of two in front of you – you may try and add your results to it – making it better for the next person.
  • My first rejection was from Booth. I messaged a student there, letting them know of the result and they said they were rejected by 11 schools before getting an admit at Booth! Their story kept me going. This is an example where networking helped unexpectedly – you don’t know what you get from where.

Also read:
NYU Stern School of Business with $60,000 scholarship in Round 3
I got into INSEAD in Round 2
How I got into ISB in Round 3
MBA Acceptance Rate: Round 1 vs Round 2 vs Round 3

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Manish Gupta
About Manish Gupta
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Linkedin, Facebook or Email: mcb [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

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