Applying to Business School in Round 3, Worth It or Not? Here’s How to Decide

How to decide if applying to business school in round 3 makes sense

If you’re panicking with less than a week to go until round 2 MBA application deadlines begin, you might be wondering if you should consider applying to business school in round 3 instead. You’ve likely heard that your chances of acceptance are much lower in round 3, but most programs have a third round for a reason, right?

Yes, it’s true that applicants are accepted each year in round 3. But – we won’t sugarcoat it – they are the minority. Before you decide whether applying to business school in round 3 is right for you, it’s important to understand how the adcom views this part of the admissions cycle AND consider your own personal situation.

How Top Business Schools View Round 3 MBA Applications

Unfortunately, by the time round 3 comes around, most of the class at any of the top MBA programs has been filled with prior round applicants. In fact, HBS decided to get rid of its round 3 cycle a few years ago. In round 3, the adcom is also re-evaluating waitlist candidates from prior rounds, so competition is fierce for a finite number of seats.

In round 3, the schools are refining, not building their class – we’ve heard this time and again from adcoms at the top MBA programs. It is very likely they’ve already admitted applicants like you. As such, the bar for distinguishing yourself is set that much higher.

This is even more challenging for traditionally overrepresented applicant profiles (i.e., consultants, those in IB/PE, engineers from India, tech folks etc.). This is not to pick on these folks, but it is simply unlikely that a top program has a lack of consultants, for example, among its pool of admitted students. Have consultants ever been admitted in round 3? Of course! But it’s an uphill battle.

What the Data Tells Us About Applying to Business School in Round 3

Although schools don’t publish acceptance rates by round, our friends at Poets & Quants did some digging and estimated them using self-reported data from GMAT Club. It’s not perfect but can be used directionally. They found that round 3 acceptance rates at Stanford declined by 75% versus round 1 to a mere 2% of applicants – ouch! Round 3 acceptance rates at programs such as HBS, Haas, and Tuck are thought to decline 65-68% versus round 1 to <10%. Some schools have acceptance rates that round to zero for Round 3!

Other Things to Consider when Applying to Business School in Round 3

While the process varies from program to program, scholarship money is typically less available in round 3. Some schools consider all applicants – no matter the application round – for merit-based and need-based scholarships/fellowships. There is simply less money left over for round 3 applicants as earlier applicants have received priority.

Separately, if you’re an international applicant, waiting until round 3 might complicate visa processing, housing arrangements, etc. It’s not impossible to make the timing work, but it will likely be stressful.

A Few Situations When Applying to Business School in Round 3 Makes Sense

Although round 3 MBA applications do come with risks, it’s not all doom and gloom. In our experience, applying to business school in round 3 could be right for you if:

  • You have a tight and differentiated application. The adcom expects round 3 applicants to be that much more buttoned up since they’ve had more time to work on applications. If you’ve done the hard work of putting together a compelling story, drafting thoughtful and well-written essays, and achieving a great GMAT score then it could be the right time for you to apply. If it doesn’t work out, reapplying in round 1 isn’t a deal killer. You just must be confident that between now and then, you’ll have compelling updates to provide.
  • 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. Or perhaps you recently lost your job and are therefore applying this year instead of next (here’s some advice specific to those applying while unemployed). Be sure to explain your reasoning in the optional essay, don’t leave it open to interpretation.

When It Might Make Sense to Wait Until Round 1 Next Year

While it can be tough to think about waiting a year plus to begin business school, there are many instances where a little extra time to craft a stellar application can pay off. It might make sense to apply in round 1 next year if:

  • You’re a younger applicant. If you have less than three years of work experience, which is below average for the top MBA programs, it may serve you well to get a few more months on the job before applying. During that time, you could strengthen your leadership experience, manage summer interns, take on a new project, etc., all of which could improve your profile.
  • Your application has a ‘fixable’ weakness. If there is an aspect of your application that you could still improve (GMAT, extracurriculars, leadership experience, etc.), it may be worth doing so before you apply. No matter the timing, we always advise our clients to submit their applications when they’re in the best place possible.
  • You don’t think you’d make a good reapplicant. These days, being a reapplicant is NOT a bad thing. Most schools tell us that they like to see the commitment of reapplicants. We helped a third time reapplicant get into HBS and Stanford just a few years ago! However, to be a good reapplicant, you need to demonstrate growth, development, and progression since your last attempt. If you don’t think much will change for you between March and September, it may be best to apply with your best foot forward in round 1. It’s NEVER a good idea to submit a subpar application in haste. As a reapplicant, the adcom will be looking at your original application again, so a sloppy piece of work will haunt you.

We’re here if you would like to discuss your options! Request an initial consultation today.

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