Round 3 Considerations in MBA Admissions

If you’re a business school applicant who’s wondering whether to apply now, in Round 3, or to wait until next year, there are several things you should consider. While we do think that applicants need to go into Round 3 with their eyes wide open about the challenges this admissions round presents, there are also some things that make Round 3 far from a “no man’s land” of MBA admissions.

First of all, is there any room left in Round 3? Business schools know that the proportions of applicants that come in each round are fairly consistent from year to the next, so they can plan ahead to some extent, leaving at least some room for Round 3 applicants. Still, the number of seats at top MBA programs does tend to get pretty low at this point, sometimes making admissions officers more reluctant to take a chance on an applicant with a glaring weakness or one who simply doesn’t have anything remarkable to point to in his application. So, borderline applicants probably will indeed find that it’s harder to get into a top MBA program in Round 3, but they will tend to find this to be true in any round. Round 3 may just magnify this a bit.

In other words, great applicants will still have a strong chance of being admitted to at least one of their target schools, although creating a great application is of course a challenge for most applicants. Stanford GSB’s Derrick Bolton has said in the past, “While it is true that the final round typically is smaller than the first two, we do admit excellent candidates in Round 3.” Note the emphasis on excellent… If your candidacy is anything less than excellent, then you probably won’t get into Stanford in Round 3, although the same can be said about the earlier rounds, too.

If you apply in Round 3, you also may need overcome the question of “Why are you applying now, and not five months ago?” This is especially crucial if you’re presenting a story of how earning an MBA has been a lifelong ambition, one that you’ve been planning for years. Of course, situations change and force applicants to apply a little earlier than originally planned (e.g., losing one’s job), and other things hold an applicant back from applying sooner (e.g., taking the GMAT again to try to earn a significantly better score), and admissions officers are open-minded about these reasons, but you do need to be mindful of the message you send if you apply in Round 3… Is yours a well planned application that just so happened to arrive in March, or is the result of a hasty whim? Those are two very different applicant profiles, and you want to be sure to present yourself as the former.

If you’re in the “Round 3 or wait?” conundrum right now, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter for more advice in the coming days!

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