Category Archives: Round Two

Building a Round 2 MBA Admissions Strategy

It’s that time of year. Many top-ranked business schools have just (or about to) release their Round 1 admissions results, and many applicants will face this unfortunate situation: “I didn’t get in anywhere. I need a Round 2 strategy pronto!” If you’re reading this, hopefully you got some good news this past week. If you didn’t, then hopefully you have been ahead of the game, and have done at least some planning and some work in the event that you didn’t get good news from the Harvards and Stanford of the world.

By “some planning and some work” we mean that you, at a bare minimum, thought through which schools you will apply to in case you didn’t get into any programs in Round 1. Perhaps you applied to all of your top-choice MBA programs in the first round, and now you’re prepared to fire off applications to a few more schools that also appeal to you. Note the last part of that sentence — never, EVER bother applying to a safety school which you have no interest in attending. Assuming you have identified one or more business schools that are perhaps not your first choice, but you would still be excited to attend, there’s no better time to start working on those applications. After all, most Round 2 deadlines at top U.S.-based business schools come in the first 10 days of January.

But what if you’re not even that far along? What if, either through unbridled optimism or a lack of enough time to do more research, you never even thought ahead to the possibility that you might need too apply to more business schools in Round 2? Really, your strategy shouldn’t change very much. Your post-MBA career goals, ideal learning style, geographic preference, and preferred culture — these are the types of things on which you should base this decision — probably haven’t radically changed in the past few months. So, go back and apply those same criteria and figure out which other schools may fit your needs.

It’s at this point that many honest applicants admit, “Well, I really just applied to the top-ranked schools. I really don’t want to go too much lower in the rankings.” That’s not a great way to select schools, BUT if that’s really what matters to you, then don’t stray now and pull together Round 2 applications lower-ranked MBA programs which you don’t really want to attend.

We’ll put it this way: If you liked a school back in Round 1, but decided to hold off and maybe apply in Round 2 after hearing from other schools that you simply like more, then full steam ahead! Or, if you never really paid attention to a certain school, and now (after a kick in the pants from some Round 1 rejections) you’re digging deeper and like what you see, then go ahead and apply. If, however, a given school didn’t get you excited three months ago, and now you’re trying to make yourself fall in love quickly because Round 2 deadlines are just around the corner, STOP! Take some time to really evaluate what you want, and whether maybe applying to those first-choice schools next year is a smarter approach. It often is.

Want to get into one of the world’s most competitive MBA programs? Take a look at our MBA admissions book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Should I Apply to Business School in Round 2 or Round 3?

This is one of the most common questions we get from MBA applicants at this time of year. With Round 2 deadlines at most top American MBA programs just four or five weeks away, applicants start to realize how much work they have to do to take their applications from good to great (the latter being what they really need), and those extra two months start to look awfully appealing. On the other hand, everyone knows that applying in Round 3 is the worst possible idea, right?

First, let’s get this out of the way: Applying to business school in Round 3 is not always a bad idea! Business school admissions officers go out of their way to tell applicants that they have three rounds for a reason, and that they do indeed accept people in Round 3. Yes, all things being equal, your odds of admissions success are better if you apply earlier, but truly terrific applicants — the kind MBA admissions officers are really looking for — always get in to every top business school every year.

But what if you’re not a GREAT applicant? Should you apply now, in Round 2? Or keep working at it until you are one?

It really comes down to this: Is there anything in your direct control that will make you a much stronger candidate if you wait an extra month or two? If you have a significant weakness in your profile that you think could give admissions officer pause and you can improve upon or compensate for within the next month or so, then there is a very good argument to be made for waiting and applying in Round 3. For instance, if you know there’s a good chance that you can significantly boost your GMAT score between now and Round 3 — say, from a 650 to a 710 — then waiting is usually a good idea.

If your candidacy has a significant weakness that you can’t significantly improve upon in the next two months, then the question becomes just how big of a weakness it is. The bigger it is, the more we recommend waiting until next year. If it is something that definitely hurts, but can be fixed in two or three months, then we often recommend waiting until Round 3.

Note that there are no clear-cut answers here. Just remember that, as impatient as you may be to get into a top-ranked business school, this is something that can set you up for success for the next half a century, so take the time to do it right. It is very, VERY possible that waiting an extra month or two can actually work in your favor!

Want more advice on getting into the world’s best business schools? Take a look at our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

When Waiting for Round 2 Is a Good Idea

At this time of year, many business school applicants ask the frantic question, “Do I need to hurry up and apply in Round 1, or should I wait until Round 2?” There is no simple answer to this question, but there are a few things you should consider.

First, applying early is a signal that you’re committed to a school, are serious about the application process, and are an organized person. That doesn’t mean that Round 2 applicants don’t look committed or organized, but why not look more committed and organized if you can? If you write that getting into Harvard Business School has been your plan for the past five years, then applying by the first deadline is consistent with this message.

Second, although admissions officers say (truthfully) that they know that more applicants tend to apply in Round 2, and therefore plan accordingly and make sure they don’t give away too many seats in Round 1, the truth is that in Round 1 your competition mainly comes from everyone else who applies in Round 1. In Round 2, meanwhile, you’re not only up against everyone who applied in Round 2, but you’re also competing with all of the Round 1 applicants who were waitlisted or were pushed back into Round 2. Would you rather be the 50th banker from New York that admissions officers have seen this year, or the 500th?

Finally (and building on the previous point, really), some MBA admissions officers have started to give explicit guidance that they would prefer that you apply in Round 1 rather than Round 2. Stanford GSB even says this on its own website. As they say, “Over the last few years, the number of applications we receive in round two has increased, making it more competitive.” So, the school knows and expects the normal trend of more applicants applying in Round 2 than in Round 1, but this trend is becoming more prominent over time, meaning that they have had a bit of a harder time offering seats to Round 2 applicants than they may have originally expected. If you can apply in Round 1, that’s your best bet.

However, you should take note of that magic word in the last sentence: “If…” You should only apply in Round 1 if you are ready to send in your best application then. Maybe you know your GMAT score is weak and have thought about retaking it, or you have been told you should get a post-college course under your belt to offset a low undergrad GPA, or you have a good feeling that a significant promotion is coming before the end of the year… These are all things that can almost instantly move you from the “Eh, maybe” pile to the “Admit” pile. If you know of something you can fix between Round 1 and Round 2, or know of something in your career or personal that will likely happen and can strengthen your candidacy, then waiting until Round 2 is a good idea.

What everyone else is doing does matter for your application. If more people are applying in Round 2 and you’re a marginal candidate who looks like many others, then getting your application in earlier makes some sense. But, doing something to significantly improve your application almost always trumps that.

So, in short: Will you have virtually the same profile in three months that you have now? Then apply in Round 1. But if you can significantly improve your candidacy between now and January, focus on that now and get ready to apply in Round 2!

Want more advice on getting into the world’s most competitive MBA programs? Take a look at our industry-leading book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Contrarian Advice of the Week: You Should Wait and Apply in Round 3!

This is inevitably the time of year when many applicants ask, “Should I hurry up and get my applications in by the Round 2 deadlines, or should I take some more time and apply in Round 3?” As stressful as Round 1 deadlines are, Round 2 deadlines give applicants the extra fear of “If I don’t make this deadline, I’m doomed!”

Before you read any further, let’s get one thing out of the way: Applying to business school in Round 3 is NOT automatically a bad idea. MBA programs always go to great lengths to let applicants know that they have three rounds for a reason, and that they do indeed accept people in Round 3. Yes, the numbers do support the argument that, all things being equal (which they never are), you’re better off applying earlier, but GREAT applicants always get in to every top business school every year. And if you’re not a GREAT applicant, then should you apply? Or keep working at it until you are one?

Our answer is almost always, “Keep working at it,” which brings us back to the topic at hand, which is whether you should apply by the Round 2 deadline or make some moves to strengthen your candidacy and take a stronger shot in Round 3. If you have a significant weakness in your profile that 1) you believe will give admissions officer pause and 2) can be improved upon or compensated for within the next several months, then there is a very good argument to be made for waiting and applying in Round 3. Obvious examples include a low GMAT score, a weak undergraduate transcript, or a lack of certain experiences on the job. In those last two cases, you may be able to make up some ground within two or three months (by taking a college course and seeking out a new opportunity at work, respectively), although it often takes some luck for things to fall into place and for the timing to work out.

There are many other types weaknesses that are just as critical, but which may be harder to fix, at least in a short amount of time. The most common examples here are a lack of meaningful community service, a big hole in your work experience that you will have to deal with no matter what, or a serious lack of any good candidates who will write your letters of recommendation. These all take much more work (and time) to overcome, and in these cases we often advise that an applicant wait until next year before applying. When they don’t want to hear that, or have a good reason for wanting to take a shot now, we’ll advise that they aim lower in terms of the programs to which they’re applying.

Some still march ahead with what we call the “lottery ticket approach” — they know their odds of getting in to a top-ranked school are low, but they apply, anyway. We don’t recommend this approach, but we are willing to welcome them back as reapplicants when they (almost always) apply again next year!

To sum up: If your candidacy has a significant weakness that can’t be overcome in two to three months, you need to assess how big of a weakness it is. The bigger it is, the more we recommend waiting until next year. If it’s something that will hurt your chances, but can be fixed in two or three months, then we often recommend waiting until Round 3. These are all shades of grey — the answer is “it depends” more than anyone would like — but that’s essentially the decision tree we go through every day with our admissions consulting clients at this time of year. Just remember that, as impatient as you may be to get into a top-ranked business school, this is something that can set you up for success for the next half a century, so take the time to do it right now!

Looking for more business school admissions advice? Take a look at our book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition! And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Should You Wait Until Round 3?

If you’re scrambling to get your Round 2 business school applications complete, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I maximizing my chances of success by applying in Round 2?” As usual, the answer is, “It depends.”

No two business school applicants are in the same situation, so the answer we give is never quite the same. One applicant might have lost his job recently. He hadn’t been planning on applying to business school this year, but his sudden unemployment now makes MBA programs look that much more appealing. Another might be in a quandary because she just took the GMAT again and still can’t get above a 650. She had been planning on nailing the GMAT this month and spending a couple of weeks on her essays and letters of recommendation, but now she wonders if she’d be better served by taking the GMAT yet again and applying in Round 3 in March or April. Still another applicant just rolled out of bed last week and decided that he absolutely must have a Harvard MBA. That happens a lot!

Let’s be clear: Round 3 is NOT an automatic black hole where applications go to die. As we wrote earlier this year, top business schools know that great applicants can come in any round, and many schools have very specific reasons (such as U.S. schools needing to stay competitive vs. international programs) for paying close attention to the Round 3 applicant pool.

Still, since in Round 3 your chances of success are very much 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 if you’re going to get fair shake in Round 3. 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 has a tarnished reputation because of applicants who throw together their applications at the last minute (rather than having to wait eight months before applying in next year’s admissions cycle) and end up getting rejected. “See,” they say, “I knew I wouldn’t get in. Round 3 is impossible.” But most of them would have been rejected in the previous rounds, too. They threw together half-baked applications, and got predictable results. We could have saved them a lot of time and money.

If you apply to a top-ranked business school with a flaw that really concerns you — 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 concern 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 in Round 3 (or next year) when things are in order.

Many applicants act as if they view their applications as lottery tickets: “I’ll take a shot at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, Booth, Stern, Sloan, Anderson, Yale, and Tuck… One of those is bound to hit for me.” Or, they say, “My odds of getting into a top school are low? I’ll just apply to more top schools then. That will boost my odds.” But applying to more schools with a bad application will only generate more rejections. Coming back to a school as a reapplicant isn’t a terrible thing, but if you’re creating an application now that virtually assures you of having to apply again next year, then don’t bother submitting it.

Do it right the first time. Even if that means applying in Round 3. A great Round 3 application beats a good Round 2 application every time.

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How to Think About Round 2 (When Round 1 Didn’t Go So Well)

If you applied to one or more business schools in Round 1, by now some of your results may already have come in. Maybe you got an interview invitation with at least one school (great!), or you haven’t heard anything yet (don’t worry!), or perhaps you’ve already gotten the dreaded “No thanks” message from one of your target schools (oh no!). In any scenario, you may already look at Round 2 differently than you did just a month ago.

If things are going well, then you probably don’t need much help, at least not in the application preparation part of things. If you’re starting to get bad news, though, you may have started thinking different about Round 2. That’s not a bad thing to do — any smart manager always incorporates new information as it comes in, after all — but don’t let one or two rejection letters completely throw you off of your game.

Diagnose the Situation
If you’re already getting bad news, then you probably were rejected without an invitation to interview. That means that you weren’t able to do at least one of the two things that every successful applicant must to when applying to the world’s most competitive MBA programs:

  • Demonstrate fit with your target school
  • Differentiate yourself from other applicants

The first one is normally easier to diagnose, since there is often (although not always) a “smoking gun” that stands out in your application. Perhaps your GMAT score or undergraduate GPA was simply too low for the admissions office to take a closer look at your application. Or, maybe your career goals didn’t seem to mesh well with the types of employers the school normally attracts. Or, perhaps your essays or letters of recommendation painted the picture of an aggressive overachiever, when a school really values teamwork and a softer touch. (Remember, each of these attributes is just one piece of the puzzle, but the more you ask admissions officers to look past a weakness, the more likely they are to turn to the the next application in the pile.)

The second challenge — differentiating yourself — is sometimes a tougher one to spot, particularly if you try to diagnose your own candidacy. The reason is that you’re not able to see the thousands of other applications that admissions officers see alongside yours, so it’s difficult to put yourself and their shoes and determine why they should dig deeper into your application than into an application from someone else who, at least at first glance, looks very similar to you. Your parents think you’re amazing, your boss loves you, and your co-workers call you a rock star… Why don’t admissions officers see the same things in you? This is where an MBA admissions expert can help, since he or she has worked with dozens — even hundreds — of applicants and has seen enough applicant profiles to be able to tell you what stands out vs. what looks and feels like “just another applicant.”

Round 2 Is a Whole New Ballgame
If one or more of these things seem to conspire to keep you out, then you can start to work on them before Round 2, but of course there will only be so much you can do. Your undergraduate GPA and your work history until now aren’t things that you can change. You do, however, still have a lot of time to do the following to improve your candidacy before you submit your applications: You can retake the GMAT, go back to the drawing board on your admissions essays and make sure they achieve the two strategic necessities described above, find recommendation writers who may be able to do a better job then the ones you chose before (and/or you can coach your recommendation writers better), and focus your energy on getting one more great experience in the workplace. These are all positive, constructive things that you can do to at least marginally improve your chances. (We’re always big on encouraging applicants to take additional college coursework, too, but time has probably run out for that option if you’re targeting Round 2.)

A negative, reactionary response to a rough Round 1 is firing off three a bunch of additional applications (beyond what you originally planned) in Round 2, or applying to some “safety” schools which you you have no true desire of attending, in the blind hope of getting in ANYWHERE. More times than we can count, we have seen applicants fail with a certain playbook, and then simply apply that playbook to many, many more schools, hoping that it works in just one case. Odds are that it won’t.

If Round 1 is turning out to be a rocky one, take a step back, think about what you can do differently (or whether you need to do anything differently at all), and then move forward with a deliberate plan. Remember that admissions rates are VERY low at the top graduate schools for a reason — because thousands of people are gunning for the same seats! The odds are very slim that you’ll be successful with every application. The solution is to create better applications, not more mediocre ones.

For more advice on making your MBA candidacy a great one, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!

Three Reasons Why Round 2 Beats Round 1

It’s mid-October, and the MBA admissions season is in full swing. By now you’ve probably realized that the business school application process is a lot more involved than you originally thought. Maybe you’re even wondering if you’re going to get all of your applications done (and done well) in Round 1. Today we explore the question of whether you should apply to business school in Round 1 or Round 2, and whether this decision really matters at all.

Our advice here is often very consistent: As long as there are some things in your application that can be significantly improved between October and January (and we’ll explore ways to improve your application in a moment), then it’s almost a no-brainer to wait. Why? We’ll give you three reasons:

The “Numbers” Advantage Isn’t Much of an Advantage
“Wait,” you ask. “I read that more people apply in Round 2, and that applying in Round 1 means that you will have less competition in the early going, so it make sense to apply as early as possible.” While it’s true that more applicants tend to apply in Round 2 (in a traditional three-round admissions schedule), admissions officers know this as well, and they plan accordingly. Do you really think that, for Harvard’s class of about 910 students, the admissions committee will gorge on Round 1 applicants, leaving no room for Round 2 and 3 applicants? Of course they know that more people will apply in Round 2, and they have been doing this long enough that they can plan accordingly.

Further, as we wrote in a previous Admissions 101 installment, the number of applicants in a given time period really affects your chances less than you might intuitively expect. We’ll let you read that post for more details, but suffice it to say that what you submit matters FAR more whether 3,000 or 3,500 other applicants apply when you do.

You Still Have Time to Improve Your Candidacy
Yes, fall is upon us (although we wouldn’t know it here at Veritas Prep HQ, in this record Southern California heat this week), and the MBA admissions season is officially upon us, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still significantly improve your application in some way. As we’ve written before, if your GMAT score takes any sort of explaining, why not devote yourself to a few weeks of serious preparation and try again? (Schools really only care about your highest score, so you have nothing to lose, other than the $250 GMAC test fee.)

If your work stories are underwhelming, you still have three months (that’s a lot of time!) to take on a new project and make a significant impact on your organization. The same goes for your extracurricular activities — while you want to avoid the appearance of expediency, that’s still a lot of time to lead an event, raise some funds, or otherwise positively impact the community around you.

By this time of year it’s easy to think of all of these part of your profile as being set in stone, but the fact of the matter is that, for someone who’s only been working for several years, you still have a chance to make some significant moves that will shape the story of your career and your community involvement. If you can even think of some ways that you might be able to make something happen between now and January, it very well may be worth a shot.

Your Recommenders Could Probably Use the Additional Time
By now you’ve probably realized that you underestimated how long it takes to coax letters of recommendation out of people. Or, you may even be sorry that you chose a certain person to write one of your recommendations. Well, this is your chance to give them more time, or to get a second chance. There are many ways a business school letter of recommendation can go wrong, and they normally boil down to the recommendation writer not knowing what to do or not being invested enough in the process. Both of these can usually be fixed by giving them better preparation. If that doesn’t work, you can always pull the plug and move on to someone else.

While that may be an uncomfortable conversation to have, it’s better than the empty feeling in your stomach that comes with a ding email from Stanford. Of course, switching gears and asking someone else to do it means that new person may not have enough time, unless you delay to Round 2. We’ve seen many applicants’ chances torpedoed by lackluster letters of recommendation… It’s far better to submit terrific ones ones in Round 2 than so-so ones in Round 1.

For more news and advice on getting into the world’s most competitive MBA programs, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!

Round Two Admissions Advice from Chicago Booth

Earlier this week Rose Martinelli, Chicago Booth’s Associate Dean for Student Recruitment and Admissions, posted some advice for applicants who are trying to hit today’s Round 2 deadline. Here’s what she covered:

  • The school will accept letters of recommendation as late as January 13. As long as YOU get your materials in by 5 PM CST today, Booth will accept your application as part of Round 2 even if your recommenders are a few days late. Note, however, that the admissions committee won’t start reviewing your application until they receive both letters of recommendation.
  • Chicago Booth only requires an official transcripts after you have been admitted. All you need to submit with your application is a scanned copy of your transcripts.
  • Similarly, you only need to report your own GMAT score in your application by the deadline. Assuming you’ve let the test providers know that Booth is one of your target schools, the school will receive the official score reports. This does not need to happen by the deadline.

Good luck to all of our readers who are applying to Chicago Booth in Round 2!

If you’re working on your application for Chicago Booth or any other top business school now, subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter for all of the latest updates in the world of MBA admissions.

How to Get into Business School in Just Five Weeks

Okay, that title may be a bit strong, but many top business schools’ Round 2 admissions deadlines are just five or six weeks away. This time of year, many applicants find themselves way behind. If that sounds like you, don’t worry — there’s still plenty of time to maximize your chances of admissions success.

For applicants who still have lots of work remaining before their applications are done, following this template will ensure that they spend their time where it can help them the most:

  1. Get the GMAT out of the way. There’s a good chance that you’re already done with the GMAT, but if you still haven’t taken it, or you want to take it again to try to boost your score, we recommend getting the test out of the way as soon as possible. This allows you to put the test out of your mind and focus on all of the other important parts of your application. You don’t want to end up cramming for the GMAT, hounding your recommendation writers, and trying to finish your essays all at the same time. Since the GMAT is a single, concrete step in your application process, we recommend getting it out of the way and then focusing on the more fluid parts of of the process.
  2. Start working with your recommendation writers now. There’s probably no part of the MBA admissions process that applicants underestimate (in terms of time and involvement) than letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation are inherently risky since you’re putting your fate in someone else’s hands. Even the best-intentioned recommendation writer will need lots of time and preparation to write a great recommendation for you. Start early, give your recommenders specific examples of your past achievements, and stay in close touch with them!
  3. Step away from your essays before editing them. One of the best things you can do with your admissions essays is to step away from them for at least a couple of days, before you get back to editing them. Why? Because when you edit a passage in the same moment that you wrote it, you will tend to read what you thought you wrote, not what you actually wrote. Step away from your essays and look at them with a fresh pair of eyes, and you will not only catch typos, but you will also spot inconsistencies, awkward transitions, or even the fact that you failed to answer the question asked! An MBA admissions expert can also provide you with a valuable second pair of eyes, but this first round of feedback on your own works best when your eyes (and your brain) get a break.
  4. Focus on a handful of schools.If you’re just getting started now, odds are that you wno’t be able to create half a dozen strong applications in time for most Round 2 deadlines. There is no hard limit to how many schools you should apply to, but the reality is that creating half a dozen applications from scratch in less than six weeks is normally not a recipe for success. Be smart about how thinly you spread your efforts — applying to four or five schools is possible, but beyond that you risk creating sub-par applications. Only apply to an ultra-competitive MBA program if you’re putting your best foot forward — doing anything less is just asking for a rejection letter.

In short, there’s a lot that you can do in the next five weeks, but you need to be smart about what you do, and when you do it. For up-to-the minute news and advice about the MBA admissions process, be sure to follow us on Twitter!