Before we can offer any guidance on whether submitting your business school application in Round 3 is a good idea or not, we need to clarify some terminology. Business schools typically have three admissions deadlines by which candidates must submit their applications: Round 1 (usually in September or October), Round 2 (typically in January), and Round 3 (usually in March or April). However, some MBA programs have four rounds (e.g., one in September, one in November, one in January, and one in March). Four rounds is more common with European schools, but some U.S. schools have four as well. So, when we talk about “Round 3,” we actually mean a school’s last round. The advice we offer here therefore applies to the final deadline in an application cycle, whether that is labelled Round 3 or Round 4.
Business schools typically refer to Round 3 as “the shaping round.” By the time admissions officers are reviewing Round 3 applications, they have already accepted the vast majority of the next incoming class of students (in Rounds 1 and 2) and have a pretty good sense of how balanced that class is in terms of diversity (e.g., gender, age, race, citizenship, industry, college, background). Therefore, in Round 3, the schools’ primary focus is on increasing the diversity of the class, and this is the lens through which they view that round’s applicants. Of course, the programs first have to confirm that any candidates under consideration are qualified, but beyond that, their goal is ensuring that the class is as varied as possible. And remember, Round 3 applicants are competing for the few remaining spots not only with other Round 3 applicants but also with waitlisted candidates from Rounds 1 and 2.
Given these factors, we would say that if you believe you are coming from an overrepresented demographic in business school admissions (e.g., consultant, investment banker), you would likely have a better chance of being accepted at your target program if you wait until Round 1 of the next admissions season to apply. However, if, on the other hand, you are from a less represented industry or country—or have some other particularly distinctive attribute in your candidacy—you might have a better shot at success in Round 3.
We should note that these concerns about Round 3 are generally only applicable to the top 20 or so U.S. schools. So if you are considering applying to an MBA program in Round 3 (or the “last” round), one way of balancing the risks is by applying to schools outside the U.S. top 20.
One additional note: during the 2022–2023 application season, many schools added rounds to accommodate the layoffs that had occurred at many Big Tech companies. Adding a round was an attempt on the business schools’ part to give applicants affected by these layoffs more time to complete an application. If you fall into that category of affected applicant, we encourage you to apply in that new round; the traditional guidelines for Round 3 or “last round” applicants do not apply.