You are THAT person: last to the team meeting; last to make the final boarding call; last to the party. If this sounds like you, maybe you’re trying to figure out if round 3 actually affords applicants a viable MBA admission opportunity. It may seem like an easy answer for admissions experts – the general convention is to wait until next year, but this may not ring true for every applicant. Before procrastinators around the world start feverishly completing applications, let me make it abundantly clear that round 3 is not ideal for most candidates. That being said, I want to take some time to address some alternative facts should you decide to take a shot at round 3 admission:
- You have as good a chance as anyone else. You don’t. Most people get into school in rounds 1 and 2 for traditional full-time programs. In round 3, you’re not only competing against other round 3 applicants for that ~5% of the class that’s remaining, but you’re also competing with the round 1 and round 2 applicants who are still on the wait list. Best to hope for a very low matriculation rate!
- It can’t hurt your chances for next year, right? Of course not – except it does. Let me be clear, I’m not saying it hurts your chances for the future, in general, so no need to panic just yet. What I am saying, however, is that your likelihood of MBA application success in the FOLLOWING year just went down considerably because you’re probably submitting close to the same application. The timing between finding out about round 3 application decisions and round 1 is typically a few months, and your profile is not liable to change much during that period. Unless you’ve done something meaningfully different (promotion, improved test scores, board position in the community, etc.), the admissions committee is likely going to ding you - again. Why? Because the admissions committee just saw the same application a few months ago and not much has changed. Reapplicants are required to explain what has changed since the last MBA application submission. Coming up with something compelling after just a few months presents a real challenge. It’s sort of like the overly confident guy at the bar who keeps asking the same girl for a date. If she said no the first time, chances are she’ll continue to say no since not much has changed. The same goes here. However, your admission chances aren’t dashed for all of eternity. If you apply in round 3, give yourself at least a year before re-applying, as this will allow ample time to make substantive improvements to your application.
- If you’re a good candidate, you’ll get in. Nope. Nope. Nope. Good isn’t good enough in round 3 – you need to be great. Applying this year is going to make a tough job even harder – the numbers just don’t work to your benefit, and you are likely to be denied even if your stats and profile would have been good enough to get you in during a round 1 or round 2 MBA admissions cycle. This topic is the cause of great denial in the MBA admissions world. Many of my Admit Advantage clients ask why schools even have round 3, and the answer is their job is to optimize their class, not make you happy. They do, in fact, admit some round 3 applicants, but the numbers aren’t great. We usually get a few folks in during round 3 each year, but we certainly don’t promote it as a part of our standard MBA application strategy.
- There should be plenty of financial aid available. Remember 2AM in college when you were going through the couch cushions for $1.00 to get that slice of pizza because you were starving (OK, maybe that’s a personal story)? Anyway, that’s basically what you’ll have to do to find financial aid in round 3. Most financial aid is gone by round 3, and if it’s not claimed, the admissions office is likely looking to use this money to entice their top candidates to matriculate. If you’re an international candidate, you can basically forget about any financial assistance in round 3; you will definitely be looking in the couch.
- Round 1 is so far away. By the time you apply in round 3, round 1 MBA applications are likely ~ 3-6 months away. Unless you are a card-carrying member of AARP, I would say you can afford to wait.
Not sufficiently deterred from round 3? If I haven’t swayed you to wait until next round, let’s at least make sure you fit the bill. Under what circumstances should you consider applying for round 3? Here are a few common situations where it may make sense for you to apply:
- You are in a unique time-dependent situation. You may be facing Visa challenges, maybe you want to get out of your home country, or you’re dealing with another urgent situation that requires you to apply this year. In that case, you need to come up with an executable strategy that gives you the best chance of success. Compile a list of schools that includes stretch, target, and safe schools. Do your research on the schools—reach out directly to admissions officers (if you can get to an MBA Tour event to speak directly to an admissions representative, that’s ideal). Try to visit schools to get a feel for your competitiveness and the availability for round 3. Remember, the categorization of a school as “safe” may change later in the admission cycle, so broaden your school list to ensure acceptance. Also, if you can find rolling admission schools to get an early acceptance, you can be more aggressive with your school selections since you will be playing with house money.
- You are quite awesome. Strong GPA at a top-tier school, GMAT above the average, differentiated work experience, and leadership at work and in the community. If you can check each of these boxes and have no holes, you have a chance. The key here is to be clear about why you are applying for your MBA round 3. Maybe your circumstances recently changed or perhaps you just exited your company, and now you’re ready to pursue your MBA. Just make sure to incorporate the reasons you’re applying in round 3 into your application, so they have a clear understanding of why you have chosen to apply now.
It may feel like waiting until the next MBA application cycle is like giving up, but I would say it’s just taking a strategic approach to the process and maximizing your chances of MBA admissions success. In the meantime, you can spend this time focused on improving your profile. You may be able to re-take your GMAT, get more involved at work and in the community, and fill in any other application holes you have – round 1 MBA applications are just around the corner!
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About the Author: Eric Allen is the founder of www.admitadvantage.com, a leading admissions consultancy, and www.admit.me, a free admissions social network with the goal of leveling the admissions playing field. He is a proud graduate of Brown University and University of Pennsylvania; he served on the admissions committee at UPenn’s Wharton School of Business.