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Understanding the Early Decision Round at Columbia Business School

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The last couple of weeks have seen a flurry of activity on MBA Livewire regarding decisions for Columbia Business School’s Early Decision (ED) round. This makes Columbia one of the first MBA programs in the United States to get decisions out for the 2015-16 cycle – despite having a deadline for ED (October 7th) that falls after a number of other top schools. That Columbia is able to get decisions out in a shorter timeframe than many of its peers is commendable. With that said, many applicants and admissions consultants speculate that there may be a strategic reason for this timing. (We’ll get to that shortly).

As such, we wanted to devote this week’s admissions tip to understanding the ED round and the implications that come with it.

What is the early decision round at Columbia Business School and how does it work?

Early Decision at CBS works as follows:

• You apply to the program by the fall deadline (this year’s deadline was October 7th)

• You get a decision on a rolling basis (typically within 6-8 weeks of submitting)

• If you receive an offer of admission, you have two weeks to accept your place in the class

• In order to secure your seat and accept the offer, you must pay a $6,000 non-refundable deposit fee

The school also offers the following information and ground rules about ED:

“[Early Decision is for] candidates who have decided that Columbia is their first choice and must sign the following statement of commitment within their applications: 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.”

What should you do if you get an admissions offer in the ED round?

There are essentially three paths that we regularly see candidates take when they receive an ED offer of admission from Columbia:

1. Jump for joy! Pay the $6,000 deposit and officially join the Class of 2018. Withdraw any applications you may have pending with other schools.

2. Pat yourself on the back for getting into a top MBA program, but turn down the offer. This is a less common path, but some candidates realize over the course of the admissions process that Columbia may not be the right fit in the end—and that, based on preliminary results they have seen at other R1 schools (e.g. interview invites), they are willing to roll the dice and see where else they get in.

3. Pat yourself on the back for getting into a top MBA program and accept the offer by paying the deposit—thereby holding your spot in the CBS Class of 2018. However, unlike the first path, leave any other R1 applications in play to see if you get additional offers of admission from competing schools. Note that this path doesn’t follow the ‘letter of the law’ in terms of what Columbia asks of its ED applicants. This strategy is also more complex in that it leads to one of two outcomes:

• You get into one or more additional MBA programs, are pleased with yourself/have sated your curiosity, but turn down those other schools and join the CBS Class of 2018.

• You get into one or more additional MBA programs and decide to attend one of those other programs, thereby forfeiting your deposit at CBS and breaking the implied contract of ED. Walking away from $6,000 may seem onerous, but in the view of a long-term decision, for some, it might be appropriate.

It’s All About Timing

As we mentioned at the outset of this admissions tip, Livewire data suggests that Columbia has issued an outsized number of decisions to Early Decision candidates over the last couple of weeks. Speculation in the forums and among applicants and admissions consultants is that there is a strategic reason for this timing. Keep in mind that Columbia’s offers of admission are only valid for a short period of time (two weeks), when many candidates do not have final decisions from the majority of other schools to which they applied. In other words, by releasing a flurry of decisions in late November and requiring candidates to commit to the program within two weeks, Columbia asks applicants to make decisions without yet having decisions in hand from other top schools like Harvard Business School (who will release on December 9th) and Wharton (who will release on December 17th). The theory is that this helps CBS to secure a very high yield as candidates commit to the program and are later reluctant to lose their sizeable deposit (and break the ED contract). Of course, the flurry of activity in MBA Livewire could also merely be related to the fact that many ED applicants submit right at the October 7th deadline and that late November is nearly seven weeks after that deadline and more or less in line with the amount of time needed by the CBS admissions team to review files. We’ll let our readers be the judge on that.

Best of luck to everyone who has applied in Columbia’s ED round!  

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