Should You Apply in Round 3?

by Vantage Point MBA, Feb 17, 2020

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If you’re wondering where the last six months went, how they flew by in a blur, you’re not alone! If the first two application deadlines for the top MBA programs somehow got away from you, you’re also not alone! And now you’re probably questioning if it’s worth applying in round 3 or waiting until next year.

While we can’t make the decision for you, we can tell you the truth about round 3 (spoiler alert – the answer is probably going to be that you should wait for round 1 of next year):

Chances go down, waaaaay down in round 3. Unfortunately, by the time round 3 comes around, most of the class at any of the top programs has been filled with prior round applicants. In fact, HBS decided to get rid of its round 3 cycle last year. In many cases, by the time round 3 comes around, the adcom is also re-evaluating waitlist candidates from the prior two rounds, so competition is fierce for a finite number of seats. Although the schools don’t publish acceptance rates broken out by rounds, our friends at Poets & Quants have done some digging and have estimated the acceptance rates per round based on self-reported data from GMAT Club. This is by no means a perfect sample, so please take it with a grain of salt – but it can be used directionally. For example, acceptance in round 3 at Stanford was found to decline by 75% (vs. round 1) to a mere 2% of applicants – ouch! Other programs such as HBS, Haas, and Tuck are thought to decline 65-68% (vs. round 1) to acceptance rates of <10% in the final round. Some schools have acceptance rates that round to zero for round three!</p>


The adcom is refining, not building the class. At this point in the application cycle, the adcom has been reviewing applications for six or more months. This means that the chances that they’ve admitted applicants who are similar to you are quite high. It also means that the bar is set that much higher for you to distinguish yourself and stand out as a candidate. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that we’ve consistently heard from adcoms at the top programs that they look at round 3 applicants to refine and fill any gaps in the final composition of the class. While that’s much more art than science, it does present a challenging case for many traditionally over-represented applicant profiles (i.e. consultants, IB/PE, engineers from India, tech etc.) This is not to pick on these folks, but the reality is that the chances that a top program has a lack of consultants, for example, among its pool of admitted students is simply lower. Have consultants ever been admitted in round 3? Of course! But it’s an uphill battle.


Scholarship money is typically less available. Some schools consider all applicants – no matter the application round – for merit-based and need-based scholarships/fellowships. Others, such as Columbia Business School, have a January (or early spring) deadline in order to be eligible for scholarships and fellowships. Since the timing and process around financial aid varies from program to program, we suggest confirming that for your specific list of schools. However, even if your school(s) awards financial aid on a rolling basis, the funds left over for round 3 applicants are simply lower as earlier applicants will have received priority.


Additional considerations for international applicants. Lastly, if you’re an international applicant, most schools recommend that you apply in round 1 or round 2 in order to give yourself plenty of time for visa processing, housing arrangements, etc. It’s not impossible to make the timing work for round 3 but it will most likely be stressful.


Although round 3 does come with its risks, it’s not all downside. Every year, dozens of fantastic candidates are admitted in round 3. If they weren’t, then all of the schools would just do away with the late round(s), right? But we know the bar is just a lot higher. In our experience, round 3 could be right for you if:

1. You have a tight and differentiated application. The adcom expects round 3 applicants to be that much more buttoned up. (After all, you’ve had more time to work on your applications than prior applicants.) If you’ve done the hard work of putting together a compelling story, thoughtful and well-written essays (this takes multiple edits and drafts), and a great GMAT score, then it could be the right time for you to apply. And if it doesn’t work out, you can consider that you gave them a preview of what’s to come in round 1 of next year! (And this is not a bad thing). You just have to be confident that between now and round 1, you’ll have a really interesting and compelling update to provide if you have to apply again.

AND / OR

2. You have a compelling reason for your round 3 timing. The adcom will often expect you to have a compelling reason for why you waited until round 3 to apply to their program. Sometimes circumstances such as an illness or military service push you into round 3. Sometimes it’s the timing of wrapping up an important project at work, travel, or a promotion. No matter what it is for you, be sure to explain your reasoning and don’t leave it to assumption.

Not too certain after all if round 3 is right for you? Well, it may be worth waiting until round 1 of next year if:

You’re a younger applicant. If you have less than three years of work experience, which is below average for the top MBA programs, it may serve you well to get a few more months on the job before applying. During that time, you could strengthen your leadership experience, manage summer interns, take on a new innovative project, etc; all of which could serve to improve your profile.


Generally, your app isn’t the best it could be (GMAT, ECs, leadership experience, etc.) If you’re aiming for the top programs and there are any aspects of your application that you could still impact for the better, it may be worth focusing on getting those right before you apply. No matter what the timing, we always advise our clients to submit their applications when they’re in the best place possible.


You don’t think you’d make a good reapplicant. These days, being a reapplicant is NOT a bad thing. Most schools tell us that they like to see the commitment of reapplicants. We helped a third time reapplicant get into HBS and Stanford just this past year! However, in order to be a good reapplicant, you need to be able to demonstrate growth, development and progression since your last app. If you don’t think much will change between March and September for you, then it may be best to wait and apply with your best foot forward in round 1. It’s NEVER a good idea to submit a sub part application in haste – as a reapplicant, they will be looking at your original application again, so if you submitted a sloppy piece of work, it will haunt you.

As always, reach out to us if you aren’t sure and we can help: www.vantagepointmba.com