Admissions 101: Time to Obsess Over Round 3 Again

It must be that time of year again… Ahh, yes, early February. The phone is ringing right now, and there’s a decent chance it’s an applicant calling to ask if he should apply to business school in Round 3, or if he should wait until next year. (Okay, I was wrong… That client called for help in resetting his password for our website. But it will ring again shortly!)

At this time of year, we have the “Round 3 or wait?” discussion with applicants multiple times per day. As usual, the answer we give them is, “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 the application fee plus all of the blood, sweat, and tears that will go into your application.

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 more time for her GMAT prep and applying in the fall, with a (hopefully) higher GMAT score. Still another applicant just rolled out of bed last week and decided that the one thing he’s really wanted all his life is Harvard MBA… He just never realized it until now!

You may be wondering if it is worth the risk to apply in Round 3 or if 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.

Applicants most likely to get accepted in Round 3 include those who:

  • Apply to Part-Time or Executive MBA programs
  • Apply to schools outside of the Top 20 MBA programs
  • Have extenuating circumstances that prevented them from applying in Rounds 1 or 2
  • Have a unique applicant profile

If none of these apply to you, then that’s one more reason to wait. Balancing out that reason, however, may be something such as your age. If you’re already on the “old” side for a typical applicant (e.g., you have more than five years of full-time work experience now), and there’s not a high likelihood that you will take a significant step forward in your career in the next eight months, then that’s one more reason to apply now, in Round 3. It is never cut and dry.

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 here at Veritas Prep 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.

For more on Round 3 and how to approach it in MBA admissions, take a look at this page and these videos that we’ve put together!

Applying to business school soon? Call us at (800) 925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert about whether or not Round 3 is a good idea for you. Be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!