Posted on February 1, 2021

Round 3 or Round 1- How to Make This Crucial Decision?


Round 3 Vs Round 1_R

Round 3 deadlines for MBA applications are closer than they appear. At this time of the year, MBA hopefuls who could not apply in Round 1 and Round 2 consider taking advantage of Round 3 (or R 4 or 5 for some schools). Many candidates reached out to us for advice if they should apply in Round 3 or wait for R 1 in the next application season. Some of them requested us to review their resume and help them resolve their dilemma based on their credentials. The fact is- a résumé does not give us enough information to enable us to offer prudent advice on this crucial decision. Also, there is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to this question. We provide them advice after careful analysis of their personal situation, profile, level of preparation regarding school research and story building, and many other factors. Let’s take a closer look at the factors that applicants need to consider for making this decision carefully.

1.      Most Competitive Round:

Undoubtedly, Round 3 is 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.  By the time Round 3 comes around, most of the class seats at the top programs are filled, and only a few available spots are left.  At this time, the Admission Committee is looking at plugging any gaps in the class with applicants from unique backgrounds. If you belong to an industry that is already represented well by the class, then your chances may be bleak.  Besides, the Admission Committee is re-evaluating waitlisted candidates alongside Round 3 applicants, which makes the competition fiercer 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, Round 3 may not be a good time for you to apply.

3.     Low/Average GMAT:

If your GMAT is not very competitive for the program you are applying to; then it is in your best interest to utilize the next 6-7 months to retake GMAT and apply in Round 1 with a stronger GMAT. We often see applicants putting off their application to the next admission cycle because they are not happy with their GMAT score. Undoubtedly, GMAT is a crucial differentiator in the admissions process, so a 740+ GMAT will not only give you the confidence to apply to your dream schools but also give you an extra edge.

4.     Weak or Average Work Experience:

Another reason you can wait until the next round is your work experience.  If you have 2-3 years of work experience, adding a few months of experience to your résumé will benefit you. If you are waiting for a promotion in the next 1-2 months, it makes sense to apply in Round 1, so you can put that promotion in your résumé.  Also, make sure to take the initiative for leadership roles and challenging projects at work so you can showcase those accomplishments in your essays.

5.     Insignificant ECs:

If your résumé lacks any outside-of-office activities, this is the time to pay attention to this area to boost your candidacy. We have seen many résumés where the candidates were actively involved in extracurricular activities and volunteer work during college; however, after graduating, they got so engrossed in work and personal life that their extracurricular activities went from top to bottom. It is still not too late to pick up a new hobby or get involved in community work that will add value to your résumé. Please note that business schools like well-rounded candidates who have other interests beyond their job.

6.     Reapplicant Status:

In my ten years of experience, I have seen that sometimes applicants apply in Round 3 in a rush to join the business school in the Fall of the same year, and they end up getting rejected.  After 4-5 months, when they decide to apply to the same school in Round 1, they must write a reapplicant essay to show improvement areas.  This can become truly challenging for them if they have not achieved anything significant in this short period.  To avoid this, they sometimes had to change their options and apply as first-time applicants to other schools that were not on top of their priority list.  Considering this risk, it is in your best interest NOT to target your dream school in Round 3. If you want to gain some experience about the application process (some people make this decision), you may still apply to 1-2 of your second or third choice schools in Round 3.

7.      School Research:

Application building is a highly time-intensive and demanding process, and school research and school selection demand a significant amount of your time. This includes attending online events, reaching school websites, and talking to current students and alumni. If you are confident that you have already invested sufficient time in this area and have a decent idea of which schools you will target, then you may go ahead with Round 3. If not, then it makes sense to wait until Round 1.

8.     Recommender Selection:

Letters of recommendation are another critical part of the MBA application package. You will need time to select your recommenders, reach out to them to request them for this favor, make sure that they are willing to invest their time in this vital part of your application. After they agree, you must guide them about the process to ensure that they paint your accomplishments in the best possible manner. If you have not made any progress in this area, it may not be a good idea to consider Round 3.

9.      Career Goals and Stories:

The purpose of pursuing an MBA is to acquire skills and knowledge to fulfill career objectives. However, some people do not have a clear idea about why they want to pursue management education. If you are one of those applicants, you should pause and give yourself some time for self-reflection. Dig deeper and ask yourself what you want to achieve in your career and how an MBA can help you get there. Consider applying after you have figured out your career goal, your purpose for pursuing an MBA, and your personal and professional stories.

10.    Older Applicants:

Often people tell us that they want to apply in Round 3 for the sole reason that next year they will be considered ‘too old’ for the top MBA programs. Recently, I talked to a candidate who told me that he has heard that B-schools do not accept candidates who have more than 4-5 years of work experience; since he has six years of work experience, he must apply in Round 3. While it is true that the average work experience for most US B-schools is 4-5 years, it does not mean they will reject a candidate only because he has worked for two additional years. The key is your story should make sense to them, and you should be able to convince them of your rationale for an MBA from their school at this stage of your career.

11.    International Applicants:

If you are an international applicant, you will need time to get the necessary visa and financing. Most schools advise international applicants to apply in earlier rounds, so they do not have to face issues in obtaining visas. Targeting previous rounds will give them extra time in handling these issues.


Apply in Round 3:

  1. If you have put a significant amount of time and effort in putting together a stellar application (essays, resume, LORs)
  2. If you have a unique background that would truly add to the class
  3. If you want to take a chance now and do not mind spending your time and money in applying again in Round 1
  4. If you faced rejection in earlier rounds by applying to only dream schools, you may consider targeting your second choices
  5. If for some personal or professional reasons, you cannot wait until next year

Wait until Round 1 in the Next Application Cycle:

  1. If you need time to brainstorm your stories or goals
  2. If you want to boost your GMAT score
  3. If your recommendations letters are not ready
  4. If your work experience is weak or you are expecting a promotion soon
  5. If you are an international applicant
  6. If you need 6-7 months to accumulate some volunteer work or research your target schools
  7. If you must need a scholarship

Whatever decision you make- Round 3 or Round 1- you must carefully evaluate all the pros and cons of that decision. We advise our Round 3 students to write an optional essay to explain why they waited until Round 3 or the last round.

Most importantly, please do not submit a rushed application. Apply when you are ready.

We wish you good luck with your application.

Free Resources:

  1. 10 Key Essay Tips with Examples
  2. Essay Analysis of Other Top Programs-2020-21
  3. MER Students Share Their Success Stories
  4. E-book of 30 Essays that Worked
  5. Case Studies

Do you have a question about your application for the 2020-21 admission cycle, email Poonam at or fill out the free consultation form