Is it worth applying in Round 3? We field this question each year from MBA hopefuls, and the answer my former admissions colleagues at Fortuna and I invariably reply is, “it depends.” There are no definitive rules, much like the rest of the MBA application process. You need to consider several factors, including your profile and the schools you’re applying to, before you forge ahead.
First, a great deal depends on your ability to be convincing and compelling to your target schools. R3 requires as much engagement and thought than R1 and 2 – if not more. Can you put together a powerful MBA application now, or should you wait until the next cycle? No school wants to be the afterthought, and admissions reviewers are savvy about distinguishing a sincere applicant from one who’s making a last-ditch effort after being rejected in earlier rounds.
If you’re on the fence or now is your moment, here are some factors to consider for applying in R3:
- Is your top target school among the US M7? If so, it may be best to hold off until next year, as the competition for R3 will be tougher than ever. Top tier schools are typically looking to fill specific profiles at this point so it’s no longer a “general” applicant pool. That said, R3 is still a viable option for schools beyond the top 10, although know that they receive a lot of apps from candidates who have been dinged by higher ranked schools in earlier rounds.
- Do you have a truly exceptional profile? Beyond stellar data points like GMAT scores and undergrad GPAs, extraordinary applicants bring something unique to the classroom, such as experience in a non-traditional industry, an unusual academic background or exceptional distinction in their field. By R3, many schools are looking to enhance diversity, so your ability to emphasize your unique characteristics and qualities will help you to stand out.
- Are you considering a top tier school outside the US? Programs such as INSEAD and LBS have a higher percentage of spaces available in R3 than their peers in the US. In fact, INSEAD and LBS have four rounds, while other of the European schools have up to five or six rounds. While you may still be eligible for aid, know that there tend to be fewer scholarship or financing options available in final rounds.
- Are you applying for an Executive or part-time MBA? There tends to be less competition overall for part-time and EMBAs, and some offer multiple start date options. So if you apply in a later round, your chances of admissions may be slightly lower but not greatly so. These are strong options for older applicants, as EMBAs are geared toward 30-45 year olds and part-time programs to 24-35 year olds (average age for a fulltime MBA is 27). The key is to ensure that the community will give you what you need and that this is really the best fit for you.
Applying for R3 can work out in your favor – the trick is being honest about your candidacy, conviction and ability to make a persuasive case. And, just in case, it’s always wise to have a back-up plan.
In her role as Associate Director at UCLA Anderson, Fortuna’s Jessica Chung confirms she saw many terrific, highly qualified candidates apply in Round 3. “The ones who did stand out, and made an impressive case, were those who portrayed an authentic and genuine enthusiasm for the school and took time to strategically include unique attributes that can enhance the Anderson community,” says Jessica. “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.”
If you’re convinced an R3 application is for you, here are Jessica’s top tips for success:
- Don’t get too hung up on MBA rankings. Now is the time to research and compile a short list of schools that have other desirable qualities you’re looking for – like alumni network, employment status, location, etc. – but weren’t necessarily on your target list before.
- Start engaging the admissions office or student ambassadors at your target schools ASAP, and, if possible, attend a campus visit.
- Contact current students for informational interviews who share similar backgrounds or goals, especially if you’re unable to visit campus.
- When compiling your application materials, give your overall narrative a fresh take and see what distinctive experiences you might emphasize in your essays.
All told, the challenge of R3 also poses a prime opportunity for certain applicants. As Dartmouth Tuck quipped in its Admissions blog, “Tuck has had a Round 3 for a long time and frankly, we wouldn’t bother if it wasn’t worthwhile. All applicants are taken seriously by the admissions committee no matter which round they choose. The BIGGER question is whether the applicant is taking the opportunity seriously.”
Matt Symonds is a Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions, author of “Getting the MBA Admissions Edge” and co-host of the CentreCourt MBA Festival. Fortuna Admissions is composed of former Directors and Associate Directors of Admissions 12 of the top 15 business schools.
More from Matt Symonds: 10 Insider Tips for B-School Admissions, Why You Should Consider An International MBA, Tackle The Berkeley Haas Six-Word Essay, Mistakes To Avoid In Your MBA Application, What MBA Admissions Really Want: Tips From Top Schools