Dos & Don’ts For Round 3 Applicants

As with many things in life, timing is the key for third round MBA applicants. Successful applicants effectively demonstrate that now is the key point at which they need an MBA education to reach their career goals.

Unfortunately, the reasons for applying in round three for applicants often relate to the wrong type of timing: They were too unorganized to get the application complete during the first or second rounds, or worse, they got dinged from their dream schools and are now making a “last ditch effort” to get into a “back-up” program. And the burden of proof is placed on the candidate to show otherwise.

Schools use the third round to balance out their in-coming class profile, and this poses a challenge to applicants that is not present in the first or second rounds. By the final round, top programs already have reserved seats for many excellent admits and have developed very solid wait lists. While they may not know the percentage of admitted students that will matriculate, they have a good idea. The third round, then, becomes more of a case of filling a few holes on a team, rather than the start of a draft to select a new team from scratch.

Compounding this problem is the volume of third round applicants, which is fairly high relative to the available spots due to the timing issues mentioned above. For some programs, this volume is even higher than the number of first round applicants.

So, does it even make sense to apply in the third round? The answer is yes, if your timing is right and/or you have what the school really needs. All-stars are always welcome on teams, at anytime. If you have glowing credentials, you will be welcome during any round. Even if all parts of your candidacy don’t glow, you may have elements that a school needs to balance/improve their class.

Examples include an exceptional GMAT, GPA, unique work or community experience, or a compelling story. To extend the sports metaphor somewhat, we know multiple professional athletes who have been admitted to Top schools in the third round. Additionally, schools may be looking to fill holes in underrepresented groups.  So if you belong to an underrepresented population, applying in round three may make sense. Examples of underrepresented populations include candidates from the military, LGBT, women, ethnic minorities, and non-traditional professional backgrounds.

But it is not mandatory to have outlier characteristics to be admitted in this round.  Schools are very open to candidates who clearly demonstrate that their professional or personal life has led them to the point where they only now comprehend the need for an MBA (as opposed to round one or round two timing).  For example, a military candidate may get his “release” papers  during round three timing, or an applicant may have had a recent job rotation, change, or promotion. In addition, some firms allow employees to take sabbaticals, which can provide enlightenment to an alternative career during Round three timing. These transitions can bring the need for new skills or a greater awareness of career goals that require a business education to fulfill.

One line of thinking, which is completely wrong, is a candidate’s strategy to apply in the third round thinking that they will simply re-apply in the first round of the following year if they are dinged.  This is a poor strategy because to be a successful “re-applicant” you need to prove to the admissions committee that significant changes have taken place since you last applied (when they rejected you). This is often difficult to do for re-applicants because not much time will have elapsed between round three and round one.  Please do not use this strategy.

The burden is on the candidate to demonstrate that his or her timing is right. When done effectively it becomes evident that the timing of the application becomes one of perfect alignment as opposed to haphazard hope.

Jana Blanchette, former admissions director of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, is the founder of Inside MBA Admissions, an admissions consulting firm. If you’d like advice on your round three candidacy, you can get a free consultation by clicking on the link.

(See following page for round three deadlines at top business schools)

  • Gosh

    Hello Jana,

    I have a simple case to submit to you: I got admission to all the business schools I applied to during round one. I am happy with that but the whole process made me think about my future and I’m increasingly thinking that I should change my career altogether: I’m getting bored with finance, I want to be an entrepreneur, I want to take risks, I mean, real risks. As I work in finance, I wanted first to do an MBA in a finance powerhouse in order to be a better investor but now I think I would prefer to have an MBA to learn about how to lauch a company. Actually, I did not apply to Stanford because it was not the focus I wanted to have but with my new decision I’m thinking that it is the best school for that kind of stuff, mostly because it will attract people who share that ambition and of course because of the proximity of the silicon valley. So I think I would like to apply there third round (I can’t wait next year to apply).

    Do you think that this turnaround story (which is true) could be one of the compelling stories that you mention? The process being very tedious, I don’t even want to start if I have no chance to start with. Apart from that, my profile is quite common : high GMAT, high GPA, great recommandations, work in finance (IM), promoted quite fast, good extra but nothing too fancy, but for Stanford this is standard I think.

    Thank you in advance

  • Gryphon

    The deadline cited for Chicago Booth appears to be incorrect.

    With respect to military applicants, generally six months notice is required although Human Resources or Personnel Command invariably has tricks up its sleeve to retain or separate personnel (against their will) if they deem it necessary.

    A more likely scenario for a transitioning military officer is the realization that the Junior Military Officer (JMO) placement firms are not able to faciliate the transitioning officer’s career objectives. The idea of “management” at $80K per year sounded good until you learned that “management” entailed living in Sioux Falls operating a windshield manufacturing plant and you now have to pay for your own healthcare (and your family’s if you have one). Though JMO firms like Cameron-Brooks and Bradley Morris dissuade many military officers from pursuing B-school, many officers come back from hiring conferences unsatisfied with the opportunities and only then realize that an MBA will give them the opportunity for reflection and pursuit of a desired career.

    Another scenario might involve getting shot or otherwise hurt and being medically discharged.

    Regardless, I think Jana’s point regarding military applicants is sound even if not for the cited reason (although it’s a possiblity).

  • @Military applicant. Thanks for your comment. The 9-12 month timing certainly provides time to plan. However, I believe that once you submit your resignation, it can be shorter than this, at the convenience of the military. I am not sure how frequently this occurs, but it should be discussed in the essays.

  • @Jana – great advice! I especially appreciate your words of caution to those that would submit a half-baked application to the 3rd round, thinking that they’ll simply submit a better application in round 1 of next year.

    This mentality also applies to those who simply apply to as many top schools as possible instead of strategically selecting a few schools and giving it their best effort. I’ve known way too many MBA hopefuls who paint themselves into a corner by prioritizing quantity of applications submitted over quality. Not only are they risking getting passed over for admission in year 1, but they’re also diminishing their chances of being successful upon reapplication in year 2, since they’ll have to demonstrate how they’ve grown over the course of the year.

  • military applicant

    “For example, a military candidate may get his “release” papers during round three timing”

    This shouldn’t be a factor for military applicants. Generally speaking, officers submit letters of resignation 9-12 months before the desired discharge date. If the plan is to attend B-school in the fall of 2012, it’s completely possible to apply during round 1 while on active duty in anticipation of being discharged before the fall.

    A military applicant that applies in round 3 simply failed to plan, or had operational commitments that made it impossible to apply in rounds 1 or 2 – waiting for “release papers” isn’t the reason.