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)