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MBA Round 3 Deadlines and Advice to Get In

You’ve decided the time is right to go earn your MBA – but it’s nearly spring and late in the admissions cycle. Deadlines for Round 3 (or even Round 4 at the international schools) are coming up (you can check at our MBA application deadlines page here.) 

At this point, business schools have already interviewed and admitted a lot of great candidates. Is there still room in the class? Is it even worth applying?
It depends, say current and former MBA admissions directors. The consensus in a recent Fortuna webinar on this topic was this:

If you’re ready, with solid test scores and a polished application, you’re sure you’re a good fit for the school and you have something special and unique to contribute to the class, absolutely apply. 

“We expect applications in the fourth round; we have places, we keep places, and expect to fill them,” says Virginie Fougea, Global Director, Admissions & Financial Aid at INSEAD. 

At London Business School, “the final round is vital. It’s all about crafting the class. Each year some of the most interesting candidates come to us in the final round,” says David Simpson, Recruitment and Admissions Director for the school’s MBA and Master’s in Finance programs. 

In contrast, in the top M7 US MBA programs, there’s a greater expectation that the class will mostly be filled in the early rounds. “By the time we get to Round 3, Wharton and a lot of schools have filled their classes with candidates that are a good fit for them,” says Judith Silverman Hodara, Fortuna Director and Wharton former Acting Director/Senior Associate of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School.  Many of these early offers tend to go to traditional candidates from finance, consulting, and the tech sector. Usually, Round 3 admits “a handful of one-offs with very interesting profiles,” she adds. “At Wharton it was a cherry pick of who was super interesting, profiles we had not seen earlier in the pool, and perhaps entrepreneurs who had maybe decided to sell their business, reinvest, and get their MBA.”


What Role Does the Final Round Serve? 

Harvard Business School has eliminated Round 3 deadlines because their classes are always full. So why do others continue to offer third and fourth rounds? 

These additional pools of applicants serve to round out the class and add to the class diversity. Simpson says it’s about building the class the school wants as the admissions season progresses. By the Round 3 admissions deadline, they have offers out to promising candidates and are waiting for acceptances. They have a fairly good idea of the potential makeup of the class – and they are looking for candidates who can fill in any gaps and bring unique backgrounds and perspectives to the whole.

Outside the M7, most US schools as well as the international schools seek to keep the level of competition and the quality of the candidates admitted in the final round pretty equal with the previous rounds. They expressly save spaces to capture talent that appears in later rounds — and for some, like INSEAD, the chances of getting in are statistically equal in each round. 

Why Do Candidates Apply at This Stage?

There are many reasons why candidates apply in final rounds of the cycle— and admissions committees understand that very well. It may be a new and compelling motivation to go to business school, or a change in employment situation. It’s not uncommon to see entrepreneurs apply in the final round; perhaps their circumstances are more fluid than for candidates working in big firms. 

Some may apply for later deadlines because it took some time to source funding for the program. Some may have faced delays studying for and taking the GMAT or GRE. Or they could be applying after being rejected from other schools. 

Simpson notes that LBS often sees a surge of UK residents applying in Round 3, possibly because domestic applicants have fewer arrangements and logistical hurdles to handle than international applicants. 

In any case, schools understand these patterns and accommodate them.


Is a Low Test Score Going to Knock You Out? 

“We can have some amazing individuals of incredible quality who for whatever reason only became available in Round 3,” says Simpson. 

However, our webinar panel agreed that test scores for those admitted in the late rounds tend to average a bit lower. That’s driven by a number of factors: at this stage,  schools are admitting distinctive candidates who will bring something unique to the class, but they may not have a stellar test score. It’s also driven by the fact that schools see a higher percentage of poorer quality applications in the final round. 

Schools do pay attention to test scores because they are a reliable, uniform gauge of ability to succeed academically in the program. Late applicants are still going to need to keep up in the classroom with candidates who applied with stellar scores. Sometimes candidates are turned down based on their academics (test score and undergraduate track record), out of a concern that they will struggle in the program; schools do not want to admit candidates who are going to have a tough time keeping up with their classwork. 


Who Should and Should Not Apply at This Stage?

Most candidates from traditional pre-MBA backgrounds such as consulting, finance and tech apply in Round 1 or Round 2. If you fit that profile, the competition to be admitted will be higher for you in the final round, especially at the M7 schools, where in general, those slots in the class may already be filled. So rather than submit your application in round 3, you may be better off waiting for the next admissions cycle – usually only a few months away. 

Outside the M7, schools may be more flexible, but if you are in that more competitive profile pool, it may be wise to explain in your application why you are applying late. It could be, for example, that you have just secured funding or sponsorship. Outlining your circumstances clearly may help you stand out from the crowd. 

On the other hand, candidates with unique backgrounds, experiences or career visions may stand a good chance of admission in the final rounds. At Fortuna, we always advise candidates to be open and authentic in their application materials and dig deep to reveal their true selves. In the late rounds, that can really pay off. 

At INSEAD, the school sees that Round 4 applicants are much less likely to be applying to multiple schools and are often clearly eager to enroll there — and that makes a difference to admissions committees. In late rounds, it’s especially important to let your enthusiasm and commitment to the school shine through.

Another important consideration is financial aid. At many schools, most financial aid is granted to applicants in early rounds. If you are depending on scholarships to finance your MBA, you’ll have better luck applying in Rounds 1 or 2.


What are the Mistakes to Avoid?

Even at schools that save some space in the class and are looking for gems to round out their cohort, the final rounds are very competitive. There’s little room for error. Every element in your application must shine.

So don’t rush it, our experts advise. Every year schools see plenty of applications from candidates in the final round that are just not well prepared, and admissions committees can tell if your essays, recommendations, career plans or motivation for going to business school are half-baked. 

They can also spot candidates who have applied elsewhere, been rejected, and are tossing off a Hail Mary pass to try to get in elsewhere. Schools understand that late applicants may be trying alternatives after a rejection elsewhere. “But this is where you have to be careful,” Simpson says. We want to be your first choice. I don’t really mind if you applied to and didn’t get into other schools, but you have to be clear and detailed about being committed to us.” 

The urge to rush is not reserved for the final rounds; there still is a perception out there that the early bird gets admissions and it’s important to apply for Round 1 deadlines in the fall. In fact, Silverman Hodara says, M7 schools are agnostic between Rounds 1 and 2 and give no preference between the two, so there is a risk in rushing to get your application in for Round 1, too. 

“If you rush your application, get rejected, and reapply soon, schools will expect to see significant growth and evidence of greater responsibility in your reapplication,” Fougea warns. That level of improvement is hard to demonstrate over just a few months.

“I say this all the time: apply when you are ready, when you feel you are really going to be prepared to present a terrific sense of who you are as an individual, when your test scores are where you want to be. Don’t rush it,” advises Silverman Hodara. You’re better off waiting until the next round of deadlines, which are never far away. 

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