Best MBA Programs For Round Three Applicants

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Either you’ve washed out in round one or two, or you got a late start and couldn’t get your MBA application in earlier. Which highly ranked schools give applicants the best shot in the third and often final round?

We recently asked that question of all the leading MBA admission consultants in the world, including the founders and CEOs of the largest firms. Their answers are surprising and, sometimes, unexpected. Altogether, the consultants singled out 14 MBA programs, including a dozen highly prominent U.S. business schools and two leading European options, INSEAD and London Business School.

The best bet, according to our survey, is Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. Nearly one in four admission consultants believe that the Hanover, N.H., school gives applicants the fairest shake in the final round. New York University’s Stern School of Business and INSEAD come next on the list for the final round, typically the application deadline that attracts the fewest applicants at a time when most of the seats in a class have already been given away.


INSEAD, no doubt, makes the cut because of its January intake. The deadline for the cohort that enters in September of this year is already past, Feb. 24th. But there are four deadlines, from March 2 to July 27th, for the class that will enter in January of 2017. Columbia Business School, which closes down the admissions gate to its fall cohort on April 13th, also has a January cohort that represents 30% of its full-time MBA students. The final deadline for the New Year class to apply is October 5.

Noticeably absent from the list of 13 schools singled out by the admission consultants was Stanford, Wharton, Chicago Booth, and MIT Sloan. Some schools, of course, come very close to discouraging round three applications, even while keeping the door open for them. Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, for example, even tells applicants that if they plan to apply in round one or two, they are “strongly encouraged” to apply in the first round. “Over the last few years, the number of applications we receive in round two has increased, making it more competitive,” explains Stanford.

And there’s no doubt that the final round is often thought to be the toughest round, no matter where you apply. While application volume varies from school to school and from cycle to cycle, generally the third round amounts to not much more than 10% to 15% of a school’s application pool.


Yet, there are obvious explanations for why you might take a shot. As Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions points out, “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.

So why are Tuck, NYU and INSEAD at the top of the list of the best final round options? Generally, because there is a somewhat cascading effect in the MBA application game. Most competitive applicants aim very high, often applying in earlier rounds to an M7 school. But MBA admissions is such a random game that a high percentage of exceptional applicants are turned down or released from a waitlist.


It’s generally believed that 80% of the applicant pool at highly selective business schools are fully qualified to attend the MBA program and do well in it. But typically fewer than 25% are admitted (at Harvard it’s just 11%, while at Stanford it’s 7%). That leaves a lot of very good people outside the admissions door.

Admisson consultants believe that Tuck, NYU and INSEAD recognize that many of their final round applicants fall into this group and some of them can be better candidates than those who apply in the second and traditionally biggest round that attracts the most applications. Other schools that cropped up the list of recommendations include Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and the London Business School

Then there were a host of schools that fewer consultants–10% of our respondents–identified: Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, UNC’s Kenan-Flager Business School, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, USC’s Marshall School, the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business, as well as Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, Columbia Business School, and even Harvard.

(See the following page for the full list of recommended schools)

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