Is It a Bad Idea to Apply to Business School in Round 3?

News Alert! Applying to business school in Round 3 is not always a bad idea! MBA programs always go to great lengths to let applicants know that they have three rounds for a reason, and that they do indeed accept people in Round 3. Yes, the numbers do support the argument that, all things being equal (which they never are), you’re better off applying earlier, but GREAT applicants always get in to every top business school every year. And if you’re not a GREAT applicant, then should you apply? Or keep working at it until you are one?

If you are rushing to complete your applications and wonder whether you should hurry up and apply in Round 2 or wait and apply in Round 3, ask yourself: Is there anything in my power that will make me look like a much stronger candidate if I wait an extra month? If you have a significant weakness in your profile that you think could give admissions officer pause and you can improve upon or compensate for within the next month or so, then there is a very good argument to be made for waiting and applying in Round 3. Obvious examples include a low GMAT score, a weak undergraduate GPA, or a lack of certain experiences on the job. In those last two cases, you may be able to make up some ground within two or three months (by taking a college course and seeking out a new opportunity at work, respectively), although it often takes some luck for things to fall into place and for the timing to work out.

There are many other types weaknesses that are just as critical, but which may be harder to fix, at least in a short amount of time. The most common examples here are a lack of meaningful community service, a big hole in your work experience that you will have to deal with no matter what, or a serious lack of any good candidates who will write your letters of recommendation. These all take much more work (and time) to overcome, and in these cases we often advise that an applicant wait until next year before applying. When they don’t want to hear that, or have a good reason for wanting to take a shot now, we’ll advise that they aim lower in terms of the programs to which they’re applying.

If your candidacy has a significant weakness that can’t be overcome in the next months or so, you need to assess how big of a weakness it is. The bigger it is, the more we recommend waiting until next year. If it’s something that will hurt your chances, but can be fixed in two or three months, then we often recommend waiting until Round 3. These are all shades of grey — the answer is “it depends” more than anyone would like — but that’s essentially the decision tree we go through every day with our admissions consulting clients at this time of year. Just remember that, as impatient as you may be to get into a top-ranked business school, this is something that can set you up for success for the next half a century, so take the time to do it right now!

For more business school admissions advice, take a look at our book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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