The Truth About Round 3: When to apply and when to wait

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The Truth About Round 3: When to apply and when to wait

If you’re still working on your business school application, you may be facing some tough decisions, such as whether you should hurry to finish your application in order to make second round deadlines, give yourself more time by applying in the third round, or eschew the third round and wait to apply next fall.

In such a situation, every choice may seem wrong as each comes with tangible negatives: You may rightfully worry about submitting a weak application just to make a deadline, but gaining acceptance in the third round is notoriously difficult since schools have already filled most their seats, yet at the same time the thought of letting another year go by before you start business school is painful, so what do you do?

The business school application comes first

The key point to remember is that having a strong application is more important than what round you submit it in.

It’s no secret that your chances for admission to a program peak in the first and second round.  It is in these rounds that schools select the majority of their incoming class.  By the third round, applicants are not only competing against other third round applicants but also a lengthy waitlist of first and second round applicants — and all for a scant amount of seats.

Given the high competition for the remaining slots, most applicants follow the advice of GMAT tutors and admission officers and avoid the third round, submitting applications in the first or second round.  However, job commitments, difficulties with the application, unresponsive recs, low GMAT scores or other circumstances leave many facing a third round application as their only option aside from waiting until next fall to apply.

If you find yourself in this situation or if you’re considering submitting an unpolished application in order to make the second round deadline, consider the following:

First, rarely, if ever, does it make sense to submit a weak application just to make a deadline.  Only if you’re aiming low — i.e. applying to schools where even your weak application stands a decent chance of admission — would this possibly work. For all other cases, you’re only wasting your effort by submitting a weak application just to make the second round deadline.

This leads to the second, and more common, dilemma: submitting an application in the third round or waiting until next fall. Given the bad rap of the third round, it may seem that it’s a waste of time to apply during this time, but schools would not conduct a third round if they did not need to have one.  And applying in the third round in no way precludes you from applying again in the fall.

That being said, you should put some thought into weighing whether a third round application makes sense for you.  Again, the deciding factor should be the strength of your application. If by the third round you have an application that you believe will be competitive against the rest of the applicants to the program, then go ahead and apply.  By a strong application we mean an application that has:

If your application does not have these qualities, then it’s best to take the months leading up the fall application dates to build them, especially if the schools you’re applying to are highly selective.  An application that features GMAT scores with low percentile ranks, essays that need revision or other weaknesses has a slim chance against a waitlist of strong candidates and other third round applicants.

Should it come to it, waiting till the first round to apply may allow you to stack up extra qualifications, such as additional work experience or other activities, skills or recommendations, that will make you a more attractive candidate come the fall.

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