Is a Round 3 Application a Guaranteed Rejection?

If you came here wondering if you should apply to business school in Round 3, we’ll tell you right now that the answer is usually, “It depends,” although we do have some very strong opinions on the matter. Applying in Round 3 is not automatically a bad idea (if it were, then why would schools have a Round 3 deadline at all?), but there is definitely a “buyer beware” aspect that you should consider. In this case, what you’re buying is a few minutes of an admissions officer’s time, and the price you pay is all the stress associated with applying to business school.

Is it worth the risk to apply in Round 3, or you should wait to submit your applications in Round 1 during the next application cycle? Every applicant is different and there are a variety of factors to consider for this very crucial decision.

Let’s clear up one misconception right away: Round 3 is NOT an automatic black hole where applications go to die. As we wrote earlier this year, top business schools know that great applicants can come in any round, and many schools have very specific reasons (such as U.S. schools needing to stay competitive vs. international programs) for paying close attention to the Round 3 applicant pool.

Still, since in Round 3 your chances of success can’t help but be impacted somewhat by what happened in the previous rounds — Did your first-choice school admit more students than it originally had planned? Are yields higher than historical averages? — you can’t help but wonder if you’re going to get fair shake in Round 3. Ultimately, however, how well you do in Round 3 depends far more on you and your application than on what numbers the admissions office saw in previous rounds.

Round 3 partly gets a bad reputation from those applicants who throw together their applications at the last minute (rather than having to wait eight months before applying in next year’s admissions cycle) and end up getting rejected. “See,” they say, “I knew I wouldn’t get in. Round 3 is impossible.” But Round 3 wasn’t the problem… their applications were what held them back. We spend a great deal of our time talking applicants out of such kamikaze missions, and the same goes for the “Round 3 vs. next year” decision.

In short, if you apply to a top-ranked business school with a flaw that really bothers you — e.g., a low GMAT score, or a weak undergrad transcript with nothing to compensate for it, or sloppy essays, or I-hope-he-spelled-my-name-right letters of recommendation — then you can safely assume that flaw will also bother MBA admissions officers enough to keep you out. In that case, we almost always strongly recommend that an applicant wait, takes steps to improve things, and then apply next year, when things are in order.

Waiting is always a good idea if you can apply with a notably better application next year. But, if you feel you have a strong application now, and you don’t expect to have a significantly stronger story in eight months, then applying in Round 3 is not such a terrible idea. Just keep in mind that there are factors outside of your control. Just like in real life.

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