Top Tips for Round 2 Candidates

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Caroline Diarte Edwards, Fortuna Admissions

With just three weeks to go until the first January deadlines, maximize the time you have left – and your chances of admission – with these six essentials.

The clock is ticking for applicants hoping to start an MBA program in 2018. In terms of securing a spot at a top school for next fall, round 2 may represent your last realistic shot. Given you have just three weeks to go until those initial round 2 deadlines in early January, let’s talk about maximizing your chances of admission with the time you have left.

Programs do have the most flexibility in the early rounds, although there’s always some room in round 3. A few business schools, including INSEAD and LBS, offer four rounds. Whichever date you have in mind, the single most important thing you can do is apply when your application is the very best reflection of you, and your candidacy.

Chicago Booth’s Associate Dean of Admissions, Kurt Ahlm, spoke to the issue of deciding between rounds at the 2017 CentreCourt MBA Festival. “There are a lot of people that really try to race, to get to a certain deadline because they think they have a better chance”; Ahlm says Booth takes most of its class in a fairly even distribution between rounds one and two, as well as some candidates in round three. “If you need a little more time to truly understand why you’re doing this, to talk to friends, or really get a better handle on what you’re trying to convey, or you need extra time to take the GMAT – or whatever that might be – it’s always best to apply when your application is at its best, because that’s ultimately what will help with the stand-out process.”

Here are six tips for making the most of your efforts and crafting a stand-out application, straight from our team of former senior admissions professionals at Fortuna Admissions:

1. Stay in regular contact with your recommenders.

In my former role as INSEAD’s Director of Admissions, I would field panicked calls around this time of year from round 2 applicants who discovered that a recommender had gone on a year-end vacation and was unlikely to submit the letter by deadline. Don’t let this happen to you – stay in touch with your recommenders, know where they are in the process, and make sure you’re aware of any constraints in their availability, especially during the hectic holiday stretch at the end of the year. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to write a detailed and glowing letter of support. Clear communications, ample timelines, and frequent touch points allow recommenders to shine as your outspoken champions.

2. Present a holistic, and consistent, view of yourself across your application.

Your MBA application should be greater than the sum of its parts. Every element of the application, taken together, should unify to create a picture of the real you – your ambitions and accomplishments, your individuality and your potential. Sometimes it’s a balancing act between communicating the range of experience and skills you bring to an MBA program and getting a specific message across. Ask yourself:

  • What are the key messages I want to convey, and do they come through in each element of my application
  • Do the various elements of my application – essays, resume, transcripts, online forms, recommendations – build a memorable and coherent picture
  • Are there any inconsistencies that might undermine my narrative? (Between your essays and recommendation letters, for example.
  • Can I detect redundancies between any sections? (Each section represents valuable real estate to tell your story, so be strategic by avoiding duplication.)

If possible, you shouldn’t be drafting new material after January 1; by that point it should really be a matter of polishing your presentation.

3. Double-check the details.

While it is vital to take the 30,000-foot view of the key messages you’re conveying across your application (see point 2), you should also thoroughly review it word by word, noting any points to revisit or check. Admissions file readers have an eagle eye for spotting sloppiness or errors, such as misreported GPAs or GMATs where the self-reported data on the application form doesn’t match the transcript or mixing up your birthdate with the application deadline. In my role as admissions director, I’ve read many a terrific application that unraveled when it became clear that the candidate had made a careless mistake, such as copy-pasting one section of an essay from another application and leaving in the wrong school name. (Alas, it really does happen, and with alarming regularity!)

4. Find someone else to review everything.

At this stage, you’ve likely been working for some weeks or months on your applications, having reviewed and reworked essays and application forms countless times. It can be hard to intuit how your carefully crafted work might appear to fresh eyes reading your essays for the first time. For example, you might imagine your resume is clear and compelling, but a third party may be turned off by industry jargon or not perceive the growing levels of responsibilities and leadership opportunities you endeavored to convey. It’s invaluable to enlist help from someone who can critique your applications and give you candid, objective feedback.

5. Continue networking with the school community.

There’s a lot of up-front research when you’re vetting potential schools and whittling down your list to discern which ones are truly the best fit. But don’t stop learning about the program once you commence writing your application. Stay connected through social media, newsletters and events, and continue to keep in touch with any relevant connections you’ve cultivated within relevant school communities (current students, alumni, faculty, etc.). Admissions committee members are known to inquire with connections mentioned in your essays or application, and if they do you’ll want to be front of mind. It’s also important your knowledge of the school is up-to-date when you (hopefully) get to meet an admissions interviewer.

6. Be convincing and sincere.

Schools are well aware that some candidates apply in round 2 because they weren’t accepted by their top choice program in round 1. Given this reality, it’s vital to be even more convincing. At this time of year, too many candidates can be half-hearted in their R2 efforts when they’re hoping for good news from their round 1 schools. Each program wants to feel like your number one choice. This means conveying that you’re both motivated and well-informed, that you’ve made an effort to understand their unique culture and visualize your contribution to it.

A closing caution: The irregular tempo of the holidays, from US Thanksgiving through New Year’s, creates a festive cocktail of stress, high expectations and out-of-office messages. The only antidote is time and considered planning, doing everything within your control to deliver on an application that is as brilliant as you are.

Caroline is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Director of MBA Admissions at INSEAD. Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 12 of the top 15 business schools.