The Round 2 MBA Rollercoaster

Scenario #3: Still no offers in R2. How do you prepare for R3?

“I saw many amazing, highly qualified candidates apply in Round 3,” says Fortuna’s Jessica Chung, former Associate Director at UCLA Anderson. “But the reality was there simply wasn’t enough space to admit them all. The ones who did stand out, and made an impressive case, were those who portrayed a genuine and authentic enthusiasm for the school and took time to strategically include unique aspects of their backgrounds, experiences and personal qualities that can enhance the Anderson community.”

The biggest caution Jessica has for R3 candidates is avoiding a hasty application. “It was quite obvious when applicants made the mistake of rushing the application, as they failed to articulate more than superficial knowledge of our program and their motivations for pursuing an MBA at Anderson.” Here are her top tips for R3 success:

  • Don’t get too hung up on rankings; now is the time to do your research and compile a list of schools that have other desirable qualities you’re looking for – like location, employment stats, alumni network, etc. – but weren’t necessarily on your short list before.
  • Start engaging the schools’ admissions offices or student ambassadors ASAP, and attend a campus visit if possible.
  • Contact current students with whom you share similar backgrounds and/or goals for informational interviews, especially if you can’t visit campus.
  • When putting together your application materials, take a fresh look at your overall narrative and see what distinctive experiences you can emphasize in your essays.

“By round 3, many schools are looking to round out the class to enhance diversity,” says Jessica, “So emphasizing your unique qualities and characteristics can help you to stand out if you come from a more traditional pre-MBA background.”

Scenario #4: Accepted to your safety school. Take the offer, or reapply again next year?

“I think that it matters what you considered a safety school,” says Fortuna’s Judith Silverman Hodara, former head of Admissions at Wharton. “I had client this year who got into Booth, and his bosses are telling him he should hold out for GSB and HBS. Given his profile, I advised that he should take Booth. Why? In all honesty, he would never really know what had kept him out of GSB and HBS, and, as they say, a bird in hand in this case was well worth it.”

“It’s different if you suspect your application wasn’t good enough or that you didn’t give it your best effort,” says Judith. “Maybe you realize an additional year of work experience or leadership could make a difference. Or you might feel you got into your safety school too easily, and that it’s not as worthy because you didn’t have to struggle.”

While each situation is distinct, Judith proposes the following questions for reflection:

  • Will that second choice school give you what you want and need in terms of community, network and career progression?
  • Will you always be thinking you should be somewhere else?
  • Do you think what you wrote or communicated was found lacking, as opposed to the more quant-driven factors in admission?
  • Is the ROI of taking the offer you have already better or worse than the ROI of a possibly unknown better offer, with no guarantee?
  • What are the pros and cons of taking on another year of the application process – another year delaying your career track progression or switch, and another year with more experience (which isn’t always strategic for schools who favor candidates earlier in their careers)?
  • While re-applicants are certainly welcomed and encouraged, how will you enhance your story in the coming year? What will have changed since you last applied?
  • Are you willing to re-examine everything?

“At the end of the day, I like to tell students to flip a coin on the answer: Not to do what the coin says, but gut-check how you feel about the outcome,” says Judith. “This can tell you a lot about how to proceed.”

Scenario #5: You’ve won a scholarship, but not from your dream school. Should you take it? 

“Business school is a huge investment, so when you receive a scholarship – even when it’s not from your first-choice school – it’s obviously something to take seriously,” says Fortuna’s Catherine Tuttle, former Associate Program Director at Duke Fuqua.

According to Catherine, you can tell your top choice school you have money on the table somewhere else when this happens. While this doesn’t guarantee a counter-offer, here’s her advice on optimizing your chances:

  • Have a clear strategy and practice your approach; be clear about why you want to be at your top choice school and be clear you’re open to a conversation.
  • Make sure you follow the school’s protocol and provide all the necessary information to the right people.
  • Be humble; this is a human process and people advocate for individuals they believe are taking their needs into consideration; if you come across as arrogant or demanding, it’s likely your request gets denied.

“And if your top choice school can’t provide additional funds, at this point, school culture should play a huge part in your decision,” says Catherine. “Whether you go with the scholarship opportunity or not, you want to be confident your chosen school is the right fit from an academic, career and cultural standpoint.”

Author Heidi Hillis is an MBA admissions consultant at Fortuna Admissions. A Stanford MBA (’98), her 24-year career in business has taken her across the globe. She has worked as a director of micro-finance for a non-profit in Russia, a management consultant for McKinsey & Co. in London, a senior product manager for a European e-commerce company, and a Finance director for a major South American telecommunications company. Most recently she helped launch an industrial minerals company in southern Chile.


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