Last Minute MBA Application? 8 Crazy Things to Think About

by on December 24th, 2017

1With about two weeks to go before deadlines come fast and furious some of you may start thinking about more schools to which to apply. This may be a product of not getting into your dream school, and now you want to pursue plan B. Or, hopefully, you have gotten into your target school and now you are thinking about shooting for that what-was-once-considered-out-of-reach school.

In the spirit of the eight nights of Hanukah, here are eight things to think about before you start writing the essays.

1. Be realistic.

Recognize that that first round of acceptances and rejections is telling you something. Rejected from all your top choices? Maybe instead of a top-five school, a top-ten school would be a better match.

Accepted to all your choices? Maybe your chances at the very top schools are better than you think. In that case, push ahead, but relax, you already have a great place to go.

2. So what did we learn?

Or another way of saying this is why were you rejected? For some of you the earnest answer is that you don’t know. That’s fair. But for many of you, you do know. Now you just have to admit it so you can take action. A below average GMAT score? Low GPA? Mediocre recommenders? A TOEFL that does not reflect your abilities? Each has a strategy to mitigate the impact. I suggest you figure this out, and take action before sending in another application.

3. Up the chain or down the chain?

Recognize what is truly a reach school, and what is a backup school, and then apply accordingly. Rejected by Stanford? MIT is not the R2 backup. HBS not in your future? Most likely neither is Wharton. Instead think this way: You loved HBS but were rejected, how about UVA which is also all case method, all the time. You won’t be getting the hard core finance curriculum that Booth offers? NYU may just be right for you, while Columbia probably isn’t.

4. Do your research.

Obviously, schools know applicants like nothing else. Therefore, they are certainly more attuned to the machinations of the admissions process than you are. Specifically, they are on the lookout for applications than have just been repackaged, as a “might as well” attempt to back your way into another school. The way to mitigate this is by explaining to that last school that they really are a top choice. That you really want to be there and not just any ‘ole b-school. To this end, you must do your research to able to tell the schools specifically why you want to be in their program and nowhere else.

5. When do you really want to be in school?

As you craft that last minute essay, take a pause and question whether you want to—or need to—be in school in September 2018? If the answer is yes, you must – then full steam ahead and expect to work on those essays by the tree. If the answer is maybe not, then recognize that you are likely to put together some lousy applications, Maybe you are better off doing a great set of applications for R1 next year, when your chances of acceptance are substantially better.

6. Harder or easier?

Keep in mind that the acceptance rates for R2 and R1 are different. So a school that had a 20 percent acceptance rate for Round 1, may fall closer to 10 percent for Round 2. In actual fact, the acceptance rates per round are notoriously difficult to find, so here’s my instincts: for top schools, the R2 acceptance rate is probably lower than R1. For schools 10-20, R2 and R1 are likely even. But, for schools 20+ R2 acceptance rates may even be higher than R1.

7. R3? Never … well maybe.

I frequently tell my clients two things: First, a good application beats a bad application, no matter what. Meaning that if you need more time to create the best application you can, take that time, even if it means applying a later round. Second, I also tell them, R3 is for losers. Well, maybe I am not quite that direct but I try to make that point.

The first point makes perfect sense: if you are only starting an application now, it is pretty likely it will be crummy. Good essays and good applications need time. Time to let things gel, and time to polish. You don’t have the time. But you will if you apply R3. With regard to R3, the reality is more subtle. There are in fact schools that love R3 candidates because these candidates are frequently above average in many ways. After all, maybe they are applying because despite being great, luck just didn’t fall their way at Stanford. See if you can find these schools, though it is hard to do.

8. It’s not just you.

Recognize the constraints on submitting a last minute application. Yes, the obstacles are crafting the essays, answering the short answer questions, filling out the online application but it is also the recommendations. While you can power through writing a few hundred words, and you can stay up late struggling to upload your transcripts. But, can you really ask a recommender for one more letter of support? You have to have a pretty special relationship for someone to spend time away from vacation, their family, and the beach to get something like this done. If they will, you better send them a fruit cake.

So in the end, what should you do? My thoughts are these: if you must be in school in Fall 2018, and only have a pile of rejections in front of you, full steam ahead. However, think this thing through and see if you should kick your applications to R3.

If you have the luxury of being able to attend Fall 2019, then go get some rest and have a good holiday. But recognize after the first of the year, you are back to working on your essays but this time you must aim to submit all your applications in R1.

No matter what, come next December, you better not be struggling with the question “should I do a couple of hurry applications before the R2 deadlines hit?” again.

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