Posted on March 1, 2017

Round 3 or Round 1- That is the Question

At this time of the year, applicants reach out to us with the perennial question. “Shall I apply in Round 3, or should I wait for R 1 in the next application season?” Well, I tell them that there is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to this question. The answer depends on their personal situation, profile, level of preparation, preferences, and a bunch of other factors.

Without a doubt, Round 3 is the last round and the most competitive round, especially for M7 schools (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Booth, Kellogg, MIT Sloan, and Columbia). The schools beyond the top 10 also receive tons of applications from applicants who were rejected by top schools in the earlier rounds. So if you are one of those applicants who  couldn’t apply in earlier rounds due to certain professional and personal circumstances and are now considering applying in Round 3 (or R 4 or 5 for some schools), here are some facts that you should consider:

1. Most Competitive Round:

By the time Round 3 comes around, most of the top programs' class seats have been filled, with only a few available spots left. At this time, the Admission Committee is looking at filling any gaps in the class with applicants from unique backgrounds. If you belong to an already represented industry well by the class, then your chances may be bleak. Also, the Admission Committee is re-evaluating waitlisted candidates alongside Round 3 applicants, which makes the competition more fierce for the limited number of available seats.

2. Few Scholarship Opportunities:

In addition to fighting for a few available spots, Round 3 applicants will also have very few chances of getting a scholarship as most scholarship money is allocated at this point. So if you are looking for scholarship money, then Round 3 may not be a good time for you to apply.

Even though Round 3 is the most difficult round for MBA applicants, it is also true that schools have this round for a reason, and amazing candidates are accepted every year in the last round. You can apply to Round 3 for the following reasons:

3. Compelling Reason to Start MBA in Fall:

If you MUST start school in Fall and feel that waiting for a couple of months will not work for you, you probably should take a shot in this last round given your professional and personal situation.

4. Unique Background:

If you have a highly unique background that would truly add to the class, and you have put a significant amount of time and effort into putting together a stellar application (essays, resume, LORs), then you should go ahead and take a plunge.

Again, make sure that you submit the strongest application in all aspects– GMAT, work experience, leadership, EC’s, etc. In short, your application should jump off the page and amaze the Admission Committee. Also, I strongly recommend that you explain why you waited until the last minute to apply in the optional essay.

In a live chat with admission consultants this month, Booth Associate Director of Admissions Kimberly Ge explained, “We have three rounds of applications for a reason, and we accept people in every round. Rounds 1 and 2 tend to be larger, but we certainly have admitted great people from Round 3. We always instruct prospective students that they should never rush an application, making sure they apply when they feel 100% ready. It’s more important for prospective students to take time to get the best recommendations, think thoughtfully on all of their answers, etc. If they are rushing the application to try and fit into a specific round, it will come through in their answers.”

Given this advice, it is worthwhile to wait until Round 1 if you fall under the following categories:

A. Less than Stellar Application:

If your profile has the slightest weak area, it’s time to buckle up and use these few months before Round 1 to work on those areas and strengthen your application. For example, if your GMAT is not very competitive for the program you are applying to, then it is time to retake the GMAT for a better score and apply in Round 1 with a stronger application. We often see applicants putting off their application to the next admission cycle because they are not happy with their GMAT score.

Another reason to wait until the next round can be your work experience. If you have about three years of work experience and are targeting US B schools, adding a few months of experience to your résumé will benefit you. Make sure to volunteer for leadership roles and challenging projects at work and get involved in volunteer activities to boost your candidacy.

B. Re-applicant Status:

In my past eight years, I have seen that sometimes applicants apply in Round 3 just to gain some experience of the application process, and they end up getting rejected. After 4-5 months, when they decide to apply to the same school in Round 1, they apply as reapplicants and have to write a reapplicant essay to show improvement areas. This can become truly challenging for them if they haven’t achieved anything significant in this short period. To avoid this, they sometimes have to change their options and apply as first time applicants to other schools, which may not be on top of their priority list. Considering this risk, it is in your best interest NOT to apply to your dream school in Round 3.

Whatever decision you make- Round 3 or Round 1- you must carefully evaluate all the pros and cons of that decision. We wish you good luck with your application.

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