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Applying in Round 3: Everything You Need to Know

March 08, 2023 :: Admissionado Team

We’re here to figure out the ins and outs of applying Round 3 to business school.

Well, if you’re looking to ensure a positive outcome, then the answer is clear… never! Do it? Don’t do it? Do it if certain conditions are met? Never ever do it no matter what? It’s an application round that exists, schools offer it, so why all the controversy? Well let’s start with the basics.

MBA Round 3 Acceptance Rates are – SPOILER ALERT – Not Great!

That’s our starting point. If acceptance rates were even close to normal, then the discussion isn’t so much whether to do it, it would be more “should I apply Round 1, or Round 2, or Round 3”? But whereas acceptance rates for Round 1 and Round 2 will account for the vast majority of admits to top business schools, we find ourselves in this awkward place of needing to determine WHETHER applying Round 3 makes sense as a sound proposition, at all.

Should I Apply in Round 3?

Rather than get fluffy, here’s a smart way to think about it: Generally no. You should wait to matriculate one year later, spend a ton of time doing everything in your power to mount the most kickass application you possibly can to as many schools during the next Round 1 phase, and then relegate a handful of “hedge” options for Round 2 to cover your bases in case you’re not successful in Round 1.

If your circumstances are such that you can’t wait that extra year, or things are just uncertain enough that doing so is not bulletproof, or if you have zero intention of applying ever again and have nothing to lose, now we’re getting to a place where you may as well throw the Hail Mary and see what happens. Because folks DO get accepted during the Round 3 cycle every year, yes, even at many of the most elite schools. Remember though, the classes are mostly set, and there’s a waitlist from Round 1 and Round 2, so the odds have shifted away from how amazing are you in general as a business school candidate and how much can you contribute to the incoming class…and is now much more about what the gaps are given what the class is shaping up to be. What strange (and few) pieces are missing that might “complete” this puzzle? Looked at in that sense, you may not have stood a chance in Round 1 or Round 2, but have––just like that––gone from longshot to frontrunner. The problem is, you’ll never know what the gaps are (it changes every year), so you don’t know whether the thing you’re selling is what the adcoms are looking to buy. 

That’s okay though. Let that liberate and not frustrate you. Because we’re here anyway, and no one wants to be applying for round 3 if they can help it…let’s focus on optimizing your round 3 MBA application!

How Do I Get Accepted in Round 3?

Like we’ve said, there’s no bulletproof path. However, there are a few smart things to keep in mind to maximize your chances of getting accepted in Round 3.

1. You need a killer reason for ‘Why, when all the smart planners applied in Round 1 or Round 2, did you wait in Round 3?”

Suppose you live in Los Angeles and a friend in New York says “I’m coming to visit you, I’m dying to see you, and I’m going to make sure I get there as fast as I possibly can! I leave tomorrow at 9am EST!” If they then follow it up and say “If all goes smoothly, I should be there in about seven days…” your response should be something like “Wait, if you can afford to fly, which I know you can, then… why……….” The point here is that, unless and until they provide a reason why it would take them seven days when it SHOULD take no more than six hours on a direct flight, ten hours with a stop, it raises a red flag.

That’s you, applying in Round 3. “Everyone else is flying direct you ninny, why did you choose the option that takes seven extra days.” Is there a reason? Sure. Lots of em. Here’s three:

  • “I’m afraid of flying.”
  • “I would have flown, but my mother is 95, and I’d like to drive out to see her and spend a few days with her and drive her around; she doesn’t have a car and we have beautiful memories in my car, which is actually her car that was a hand-me-down.”
  • “I have business meetings in five separate cities, and then my final meeting is in San Diego and I’ve planned it so that I can train up late at night on the seventh day…”

All legit. A reasonable person would go “Okay, well at least that makes sense. Now we can move onto the next item!”

Without a sense of that explanation though, you’ll leave people scratching their heads.

Good Reasons:

  • Prior Obligations – “I just finished in the military / law school / Teach for America.”
  • Family Situations – “I just got married / had a baby / buried my great-uncle.”
  • Personal Situations – “I just recovered from deadly illness / moved from Europe.”
  • Market-force Reasons – “Right NOW, my target market is rocking, so I need to get started immediately.”

Bad Reasons:

  • Reapplicants – “I applied in Round 1 and didn’t get in so guess who’s back!”
  • Desperation – “I want to go SOMEWHERE this fall.”
  • Narcism – “Earlier matriculation is better for me (files nails).”

2. How cool is your profile and story?

Any sharp edges? This is where quirkiness and ‘warts’ that might have been riskier in Round 1 or Round 2 may actually be part of the Hail Mary. Remember, most programs have filled 90%+ of the incoming class, and they have ridiculously strong waitlists. They want qualified folks, sure, but they have more than they need. What they don’t necessarily have yet is a perfectly-balanced class. Maybe they’re shy on the military side. Or some kind of diversity component that they were aiming for but don’t yet have (this could be anything by the way, it could be demographic, geographic, industry, function, anything). 

Normally, our recommendation for taking smart risks is higher than most. Well, it’s even higher here. Admissions committees are exhausted by now. Everything blurs together. They are craving weird. Different. Something they haven’t seen yet. A perfectly competent and strong candidate with stellar everything who doesn’t punch through as unique runs the risk of being ANNOYING simply by being similar to something the admissions committee has seen a thousand times already. That’s that guy’s curse. You might be less qualified, but if what you offer is something that wakes the adcom up because it’s (refreshingly) new, that could be your ticket in. So put away the sandpaper, go in rough and raw and prepared to CHAFE aggressively. In the best way possible.

3. Have you chosen target schools carefully?

By applying for your MBA Round 3, you’re saying that getting into business school a year earlier is more important than potentially getting into a better school one year later (95% of the time). If you’re Top 5 material, you can probably expect to get into a Top 15 school in Round 3. There’s a trade-off between timing and ranking, except for those folks who really couldn’t have applied earlier (military, etc). 

Let’s put it another way. What’s your back-up plan? What happens if Round 3 doesn’t work out for you? If you’re aiming for those top schools and you don’t get in Round 3, you can’t re-apply to those same programs again in Round 1. Not enough time will have passed for you to show enough progress and difference to emerge as unrecognizably improved as a reapplicant. With that in mind, make sure you’re applying to as many schools (and loosening your grip on your dream Echelon a bit) to try to maximize your chances of scraping one admit out of it. 

If, however, you have a Top 10 or bust mentality, then that’s cool too. As long as you go in with eyes wide open. 

Keep in mind that this only applies to full-time MBA programs. If you’re trying for part-time MBA programs or EMBA, then odds are more in your favor. These programs are generally less competitive and tend to get applications at different times, since everyone is working and no one is quitting their job. Also, Round 3 isn’t a big challenge for schools that have 4 or 5 rounds. It’s only the LAST round that’s the toughest.

The wrong way to think about this is to ask “What is the acceptance rate of Wharton Round 3”, “How do I guarantee a Wharton Round 3 admit” or “How many students does Chicago Booth accept Round 3” or any variation therein. The answer is “it doesn’t matter, it’s like winning the lottery.” That doesn’t mean you should never play the lottery. Just do so with the knowledge that chances are not great, there’s a bit of dumb luck involved, and you can still give it a sincere effort if you must apply now and not in the following cycle.