Should You Apply In Round Three?

"Ring Girl" Announcing Round Three

Should You Apply in Round Three?


Good things come to those who wait.

Maybe, but do you really want to tempt fate?

That’s the dichotomy of applying in the third round. Perception is everything. And some still view stragglers are disorganized, unmotivated, desperate, or impulsive. No, most professionals don’t wake up after the holidays with an epiphany: “I’m going to move 400 miles and spent $150,000 to get my MBA.” Chances are, few adcoms will give you the benefit of the doubt. They’ll ask, “Why this? Why here? Why now?” They’ll wonder just how many target schools have already dinged you. And they’ll politely encourage you to apply next year, to test if you’re really serious about business school.

By March, most spots are been filled (and most scholarship money has been given out). And you can bet that the wait-listers are wearing down administrators with their persistence. To get in, you need to be different – real different – than all those vanilla candidates with the same GMATs and work histories. And that starts with a compelling story coupled with an eclectic background and unconventional viewpoint that demands attention.

In other words, you need to be “special,” says Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting and author of The MBA Application Roadmap: The Essential Guide to Getting Into a Top Business School. “Special means unusual work experience, substantial community service, a diverse background, compelling leadership examples, unique or uncommon interests outside of business or entrepreneurial success of some sort.”

In her latest U.S. News column, Blackman explores some strategies for candidates applying at the last minute. And it starts with a strong cover story that explains why you’re applying in the third round. “You should definitely use the required or optional MBA admission essays to explain to the admissions committee your reasons for waiting until the third – or final – round to apply,” Blackman writes. “You don’t want anyone to jump to the conclusion that you are using round three as a last-ditch effort to get into business school.”

Second, late comers should also look into programs with more than three rounds. In France, for example, INSEAD holds four rounds to cater to students who don’t mind start in September. Similarly, the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flager Business School maintains four rounds. “Fewer applicants apply in the fourth round,” writes Kelly Lynch who previously served as the school’s marketing communications manager. “So while the number of total offers extended during this round might be lower, the admission rate (the percentage of applicants admitted) may be just as high as in the earlier rounds.”

In her blog, Lynch also notes that the school squirrels away some financial aid for later applicants. Plus, the fourth round is used for her school to put the finishing touches on the class. “By the time the final round deadline arrives,” she writes, “we already know which of the previously admitted applicants have decided to enroll.  We can begin to see what the first-year class is going to look like and sometimes, the class will need some balancing.  It is from that final application deadline that we are able to bring the final balance to our class.”

When it comes to timing, don’t forget that each school schedules differently. For example, Haas and Johnson close round three on March 11th, while Keenan-Flagler’s fourth round ends on March 14th. However, schools like UCLA and Yale stretch the third round into mid-to-late April. Sometimes, that process even extends into the summer. For example, the University of Iowa ran a “one and done” campaign last summer, designed to attract students who might normally shy away from a long and difficult application process. Plus, every school has stories of candidates who change their minds and forego their deposits. As a result, it pays to stay in touch with adcoms. You never know when you might be in the right place at the right time.

Applying in the third round can also be part of a larger strategy. That’s particularly true, says Blackman, for applicants who’ve been out of school five years or more. “…time is of the essence,” she writes, “especially at programs that tend to focus on younger applicants. ​Plus, it’s unlikely your candidacy will improve significantly over the next eight months after you’ve already been in the workforce for so long. If this is your situation and all you need to do is put the finishing touches on your materials, go for round three.”

Even if you’re rejected, applying in the third round gives you a head start on the next cycle. “You’ll be in a great position for round one in the fall with your essays, recommendation letters and transcripts already in hand,” Blackman points out. Lynch takes it a step further. “Applying during the last round and getting denied generally will not hurt any future applications you submit,” she writes. “If you apply again the following year, we will know you’re serious about getting your MBA, particularly at UNC Kenan-Flagler.  The dedication and persistence will be noticed.”


Sources: Kenan-Flagler, U.S. News & World Report

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