Admissions 101: Round 2 or Round 3?

Business School Admissions
Despite what some may think, this is not a business school application.
This is the time of year when we get multiple calls per day from applicants who wonder whether they should do whatever it takes to finish their applications in time for most business schools’ Round 2 admissions deadlines in early January, or wait and take their chances in Round 3. As usual, the answer we give them is, “It depends,” although we do have some very strong opinions on the matter.

No two applicants are in the same situation, so the answer we give is never quite the same. One applicant might call us because he recently lost his job. He hadn’t been planning on applying to business school this year, but his sudden unemployment now makes MBA programs look that much more appealing. Another might call us because she just took the GMAT again and still can’t get above a 650. She had been planning on nailing the GMAT this month and spending a couple of weeks on her essays and letters of recommendation, but now she wonders if she’d be better served by taking the GMAT yet again and applying in Round 3 in March or April. Still another applicant just rolled out of bed last week and decided that he absolutely must have a Harvard MBA. We get all types at Veritas Prep!

First things first: 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.

Much of the bad rap that Round 3 gets is from 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 most of them would have been rejected in the previous rounds, too. They threw together half-hearted, half-baked applications, and got predictable results. We spend a great deal of our time here at Veritas Prep talking applicants out of such kamikaze missions, and the same goes for the Round 2 vs. Round 3 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 in Round 3 (or next year) when things are in order.

Many applicants act as if they view their applications as lottery tickets: “I’ll take a shot at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, Columbia, Booth, Haas, Sloan, Yale, and Ross… One of those is bound to hit for me.” Or, they say, “My odds of getting into a top school are low? I’ll just apply to more top schools then. That will boost my odds.” But applying to more schools with a bad application will only generate more rejections. Coming back to a school as a reapplicant isn’t a terrible thing, but if you’re creating an application now that virtually assures you of having to be a reapplicant next fall, then you may as well not bother.

Wait. Do it right the first time. Even if that means applying in scary old Round 3.

If you’re applying to a top MBA program this year, be sure to download Veritas Prep’s Annual Reports, 15 free guides to the world’s top MBA programs. For more business school news and analysis, you can find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!