The Third Round Advantage? Nah


Third Round Advantage? Don’t Believe It

The early bird may get the proverbial worm. But when it comes to MBA admissions, latecomers are getting a bit more attention.

That was the theme of a Wall Street Journal article on third round candidates. You know the stereotype: They are procrastinators or rejects from other programs. They are throwing a ‘Hail Mary’ into the pile, unsure what they want or where they want to go. Sure, adcoms read their essays as a courtesy, but do it believing something is amiss about third round candidates. Their margin for error is slim.

“We have really vivid imaginations,” Ann Richards, interim director of admissions and director of financial aid at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management, tells the  Journal. “We don’t want to imagine that you just got out of jail and that’s why you’re applying.”

Compare that to their impressions of first and second round applicants. Most adcoms won’t admit it, but first rounders are viewed as the ambitious and talented ones. They’ve made their marks at ‘name’ employers, racking up long lists of accomplishments, activities, and advocates. They’ve generally known that they wanted to get their MBA years earlier. At best, they matriculated at the Ivy League. At worst, they earned high marks as STEM majors at Big Ten schools.  And second rounders? Well, they’re hit-and-miss, with a mix of high achievers or mediocre candidates with jacked up GMATs and carefully polished essays.

That said, neither group is a shoo-in. In fact, many candidates from these rounds seem awfully alike. Ironically, their analogous backgrounds – however successful – can become bland over time.  730 GMAT? Been there, done that. Graduated at the top of the class? So did the last three applicants.

Alas, familiarity breeds contempt among adcoms. And that’s one reason why third rounders are drawing more attention. Years ago, these candidates would fill vacant seats left when accepted applicants would choose another school. They were the leftovers who’d earn their spots through perseverance and likability. Now, they are described as ”offbeat” and “unconventional,” whose eclectic backgrounds make them perfect candidates to shake up classes stacked with quants, marketing mavens, and aspiring consultants.

“We actually enjoy round three,” cracks Dee Leopold, managing director of M.B.A. admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School. “It takes a certain amount of confidence to apply then. Those applicants march to their own drum, and we would never want to miss them.”

In other words, the Journal might have you believing that round three may be the new round two, where fewer competitors and administrative pressures to fill quotas give them a better shot to differentiate themselves from wait-listers. However, the Wall Street Journal also points out that applying late comes with great risk. Lindsay Gellman writes that, “merit-based aid can be scarce in spring, some admissions officers say. International students are also advised against filing later-round applications, since they might have trouble securing a visa before the start of classes. And often, those accepted late in the cycle won’t have the opportunity to attend an admitted-students weekend and get a feel for the program.”

So what types of candidates appeal to adcoms in the third round? The Journal relates the story of John Speer, an 11-year air force veteran who finished his service early. Despite the odds, he prepared his application over a three period, submitting it to Harvard and Booth.  And thanks to his leadership experience, he earned a scholarship to Booth – and eventually an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2014.

Truth is, in round three, the vast majority of a business school’s seats have already been given away–along with the scholarship awards. Third round pickings are slim and third round applicants are at a distinct disadvantage.

On the other hand, you can also apply the old adage:  “Better late than never.” Or wait to apply next year.


Source: Wall Street Journal

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