The Truth about Round 3

If you’re wondering where the last 5 months went, how they flew by in a blur, you’re not alone! If the first two, and in some cases three, application deadlines for the top MBA programs somehow got away from you, you’re also not alone! And now you’re probably questioning if it’s worth applying in round 3 or waiting until next year. While we can’t make the decision for you, we can tell you the truth about round 3 from our experience so you’re as informed as you can be as you decide what’s right for you.
-Chances go down, way down*. Unfortunately, by the time round 3 comes around, most of the class at any of the top programs has been filled with prior round applicants. In many cases, the adcom is also re-evaluating waitlist candidates alongside round 3 applicants so competition is fierce for a finite number of seats. Although the schools don’t publish acceptance rates broken out by rounds, our friends atPoets & Quantshave done some digging and have estimated the admissions % per round based on self-reported data from GMAT Club. This is by no means a perfect sample, so please take it with a grain of salt – but it can be used directionally. For example, acceptance in round 3 at Stanford was found to decline by 75% (vs. round 1) to a mere 2% of applicants – ouch! Other programs such as HBS, Haas, and Tuck are thought to decline 65-68% (vs. round 1) to acceptance rates of <10% in the final round.
*On average. You’ll see a greater drop-off among the very top programs with less so across many lower ranked programs and European programs.
-Adcom is refining, not building the class. At this point in the application cycle, the adcom has been reviewing applications for 5 months, if not more. This means that the chances that they’ve admitted other applicants that are similar to you are quite high. It also means that the bar is set that much higher for you to distinguish yourself and stand out as a candidate vs. your predecessors. Perhaps most importantly, however, we’ve consistently heard from adcoms at the top programs that they look to round 3 applicants to refine and fill any gaps in the final composition of the class. While that’s much more art than science, it does present a challenging case for many traditionally over-represented applicant profiles (i.e. consultants, IB/PE, engineers from India, etc.) This is not to pick on these folks, but the reality is that the chances that a top program has a lack of consultants, for example, among its pool of admitted students is simply lower. Have consultants ever been admitted in round 3? Of course! But that just means they had something else highly unique and differentiated about their profile that added to the diversity of the class.
-Scholarship money is typically less available. Some schools considerallapplicants – no matter the application round – for merit-based and need-based scholarships/fellowships. Others, such as Columbia Business School, have a January (or early spring) deadline in order to be eligible for scholarships and fellowships. Since the timing and process around financial aid varies from program to program, we suggest confirming that for your specific list of schools. However, even if your school(s) awards financial aid on a rolling basis, the funds left over for round 3 applicants are simply lower as earlier applicants will have received priority.
-Additional considerations for international applicants. Lastly, if you’re an international applicant, most schools recommend that you apply in round 1 or round 2 in order to give yourself plenty of time for visa processing, housing arrangements, etc. It’s not impossible to make the timing work for round 3 but it will most likely be stressful. Also, as noted on HBS’ admissions page, applying in the last round will also give you less time to work on your English proficiency, if that’s something you need to improve on in preparation for the academic rigor of the MBA.
Although round 3 does come with its risks, it’s not all downside. Every year, dozens of fantastic candidates are admitted in round 3. If they weren’t, the schools would just do away with the late round(s), right? In our experience, round 3 could be right for you if:
1.You have a tight and differentiated application. The adcom expects round 3 applicants to be that much more buttoned up. (After all, you’ve had more time to work on your applications than prior applicants.) If you’ve done the hard work of putting together a compelling story, thoughtful and well-written essays (this takes multiple edits and drafts), and a great GMAT score, then it could be the right time for you to apply.
AND / OR
2.You have a compelling reason for your round 3 timing. The adcom will often expect you to have a compelling reason for why you waited until round 3 to apply to their program. Sometimes circumstances such as an illness or military service push you into round 3. Sometimes it’s the timing of wrapping up an important project at work, travel, or a promotion. No matter what it is for you, be sure to explain your reasoning and don’t leave it to assumption.
Not too certain after all if round 3 is right for you? Well, it may be worth waiting until round 1 of next year if:
1.You’re a younger applicant. If you have <3 years of work experience, which is below average for the top MBA programs, it may serve you well to get 6+ more months on the job before applying. During that time, you could strengthen your leadership experience, manage summer interns, take on a new innovative project, etc. which could all serve to improve your profile.
2.Generally, your app isn’t the best it could be (GMAT, ECs, leadership experience, etc.)If you’re aiming for the top programs and there are any aspects of your application that you could still impact for the better, it may be worth focusing on getting those right before you apply. No matter what the timing, we always advise our clients to submit their applications when they’re in the best place possible.
3.You don’t want to risk being a reapplicant. Reapplicants to most top programs bear the burden of showing what changed and improved since their prior application. In many cases, it’s tougher to show a meaningful improvement in your application – one that would cause the adcom to turn a ding into an acceptance – in 3 or 4 short months between your round 3 decision and when you would start on round 1 apps for the following year. If you have your heart set on going to a certain school and you decide to apply round 3, that’s a risk you run.
We wish you the best of luck with your applications, whether you decide to gun it for round 3 or start fresh in round 1 next year! If you’d like a professional perspective on your specific situation or advice on how to approach your applications, our team is ready to help! Reach out for afree consultationtoday!

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