MBA News: The Third Round: Not So Foreboding After All?

Today’s MBA applicants generally accept that most—if not all—admissions-related “action” tends to occur during the first two rounds of application submissions, with Round 1 ending in September/October and Round 2 in January. However, as we have long told candidates, Round 3 is not some kind of practical joke the admissions committees perpetrate on hapless applicants. The top MBA programs would not have a third round if they were not willing and prepared to accept more applicants during that time frame. Why waste their limited resources reviewing candidates they could not accept?

Now the Wall Street Journal has corroborated what we have been saying for years (“B-Schools Embrace Last-Minute Applicants”), with a number of MBA admissions directors substantiating the message. The managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School, Dee Leopold, told the Journal, “We actually enjoy round three. … It takes a certain amount of confidence to apply then. Those applicants march to their own drum, and we would never want to miss them.” Meanwhile, Liz Riley Hargrove, the associate dean for admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, declared, “Once upon a time, the later rounds of admissions were viewed as candidates who were denied from other business schools,” adding, “That’s not the case at Fuqua anymore.” Meanwhile, Ann Richards, who is the interim director of admissions and the director of financial aid at the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University, permitted that Round 3 can be an acceptable option but emphasized that she wants applicants to explain why they have chosen that round. “We have really vivid imaginations,” she said. “We don’t want to imagine that you just got out of jail and that’s why you’re applying.”

So, which applicants tend to be successful in the third/final round? Typically, schools accept Round 3 candidates who are underrepresented—but what does that mean, exactly? Essentially, the schools want well-rounded incoming classes that include a variety of backgrounds and experiences. The MBA programs probably have no shortage of white, male management consultants in their applicant pool, so if this describes you, you could have a more difficult time capturing the admissions committee’s attention. However, if you can offer something a little more singular or special—for example, you worked on an oil rig in Siberia, launched a nonprofit in Detroit, completed military duty in Afghanistan, or finalized your research into a new Parkinson’s drug—your chances of standing out to the admissions committee will likely be much higher. In short, if you can contribute something truly unique to the school, then you are admissible, regardless of the round in which you apply; you should therefore proceed with confidence. If you are unsure whether you represent something truly unique, consider taking advantage of our free 30-minute consultation to find out.

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