When asked “Should I even consider applying in Round 3?” we usually answer, “It depends.” Applying in Round 3 is not automatically a bad idea (after all, some people get in every year), but in Round 3 the rules are definitely a bit different than they are in Rounds 1 and 2. There are fewer seats available, yet far fewer people apply in Round 3. Then again, you’re not only going up against Round 3 applicants, but also against many Round 1 and 2 applicants who have been waitlisted. Yet, if you bring something special to the table that admissions officers can’t find anywhere else, they may really like seeing your application come through in Round 3. As we said, it depends.
Should you take a shot in Round 3, or you should wait to submit your applications in Round 1 next year? Every applicant is different and there are a variety of factors to consider for this very crucial decision.
One thing we know for sure: Applying in Round 3 does not mean automatic rejection. As Kurt Ahlm, Chicago Booth’s Associate Dean of Admissions, recently wrote:
We frequently hear that applicants feel they have little chance of getting accepted in Round Three. While it’s true that the third round can sometimes be more competitive simply because we have fewer spots in the class that are available, we still admit applicants in Round Three every single year. We are continually seeking those who exhibit a strong fit with Booth and who we believe will be active members within our community – and those applicants apply in every round.
Still, since in Round 3 your chances of success will be impacted somewhat by what happened in the previous rounds — Did your first-choice school admit more students than it originally had planned? Are yields higher than historical averages? — you can’t help but wonder how much the odds are stacked against you. Ultimately, however, how well you do in Round 3 depends far more on you and your application than on what numbers the admissions office saw in previous rounds.
Round 3 partly gets a bad reputation from those applicants who throw together their applications at the last minute (rather than waiting until next year) and end up getting dinged. “See,” they say, “I knew I couldn’t get admitted in Rond3.” But Round 3 wasn’t the problem… The problem was their lousy applications. As Kurt Ahlm wrote in that same post:
Make it your best effort, not a last-ditch effort to get accepted. Treat this round with the same drive you would for any round, for any of your target schools. We know when an application has been rushed, so make sure you’re putting together a product that you can be proud of and is an accurate representation of what you can do. Don’t use the opportunity to reapply a few months later as a back-up plan.
In short, if you apply to a top-ranked business school with a flaw that you just know is a weakness — e.g., a low GMAT score, or a weak undergrad transcript with nothing to compensate for it, or sloppy essays, or I-hope-he-spelled-my-name-right letters of recommendation — then you can safely assume that flaw will also bother MBA admissions officers enough to keep you out. In that case, we almost always strongly recommend that an applicant wait, takes steps to improve things, and then apply next year, when things are in order.
Waiting is always a good idea if you can apply with a notably better application next year. But, if you don’t expect to have a significantly stronger story in eight months, and if you’re already on the more “experienced” side compared to your target schools’ averages, then applying in Round 3 might be just the thing to do. Ultimately, yes, it depends.
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