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Third Round: Do I Or Don’t I?

Round 3 QuestionFebruary and March are funny times of the year in business school admissions.  First-rounders are going to admitted student weekends and making decisions. Second-round candidates are waiting or preparing for interviews. And there are some students who haven’t applied yet. And many, who are staring at the calendar and thinking about the unknown future are asking, “Should I consider Round 3?”

Like most things in life, it depends. Like with any round, it depends on when you are ready; for example, have you even taken the GMAT or GRE? In other cases, students are wondering if it is worth a “Hail Mary” pass, and if so, what’s the downside?  

Notably, there are fewer places in the class, as the super-majority of the class will have been admitted in the earlier rounds. That usually means chances are a lot lower. But not impossible.

YES, SPACE IS AVAILABLE

Students do get admitted to top business schools in Round 3. It’s not a myth. As Harvard Business School admissions director Dee Leopold has written in her blog about Round 3, “Yes, we have spots available. We always do.”  

Admissions officers agree: the third round is not a joke. “All applicants are taken seriously by the admissions committee no matter what round they choose,” says Amy Mitson, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Tuck. “The bigger question is are they taking the potential opportunity seriously. If an applicant just tosses their application into the last round because they didn’t have better luck elsewhere, they should reconsider applying and maybe wait until next season when they can bring some gusto to their process.”

There are plenty of legitimate reasons a student might apply in Round 3 – life or career changes, such as moving countries or companies might inspire a later-than-expected application. Or perhaps a student came to the decision somewhat late in the cycle and doesn’t want to wait a whole extra 18 months to matriculate. Christie St. John, director of admissions at Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Business, is candid about the reasons a student might apply in Round 3. “There are various reasons, some being job dissatisfaction, layoffs, too much work to have had time to study for the GMAT– and of course, rejection from other schools,” says St. John. But they do admit “a good number of candidates in that round,” adds St. John.

The third round is perfectly OK for students in the deferred admit programs, such as those at Harvard Business School and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. As Dee Leopold explains in her blog, “Round 3 is a great choice for 2+2 applicants. Why? We can be more flexible about the number of 2+2 admits given that we are not worried about a ‘seat being occupied’ for this September. College seniors have another semester of grades to show us. And another semester of activities.”

A HIGHER BAR

No matter what reason you have for applying in one of the later rounds, given the odds, the bar is higher. Admissions committee members have been reviewing essays since September, and they’ve seen it all. Plus, they’re tired. And like it or not, fit is not just a three-letter word when most of the class has already been selected. Ann Richards, senior associate director of admissions at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management explains that during the final round, admissions committees are “continu[ing] to refine the make-up of the entering class.”  She advises students to make clear why they are choosing that school and what distinctive contribution they offer. “I think Round 3 candidates should make sure their application is tight, make a strong case for why a particular school is the right fit and be ready to clearly explain the unique contributions you will bring to that school and community,” says Richards.

The entire process of admissions is about shaping a class, and what Richards calls the “refining” process usually means filling in some gaps in the demographic makeup of the class, or it could even be that a certain industry is underrepresented. HBS’ Leopold writes that the students in the third round add value to the class. “We always conclude that we like Round 3 enough to keep it as an option. Although we have admitted about 90% of the class by this time, we always – ALWAYS – see enough interesting Round 3 applicants to want to do it again. I know you wish I could define ‘interesting’ with pinpoint accuracy but I can’t. Sometimes it’s work experience, sometimes it’s an undergraduate school we wish we had more students from, sometimes it’s a compelling recommendation and sometimes it’s just ‘something’. I will say that it’s always that we have absolutely no doubts about a candidate’s leadership talent, character or academic capabilitiesthe same hurdle we have for the earlier rounds.”