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!
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