There are a lot of opinions out there about whether or not it’s a good idea to apply to business school during Round 3 (the period between April and May—and the final application round for the year).
On the one hand, many programs have selected the majority of their class by the time April comes along, so the odds of getting in are stacked against you. On the other, applying at the end of the cycle does work out for some people, and if you don’t even try, you’ll definitely have to postpone business school by an entire year.
So, which path is right for you? If you’re trying to determine whether to go for Round 3 or wait until next fall, consider these factors to decide how to proceed with your top choice b-school.
What Type of Candidate Are You?
Because most of the spots in a given b-school class have already been filled, admissions committees often use Round 3 candidates to fill in any gaps that they feel they have in their incoming class. While it can be difficult to predict what each school is looking for, if you are a candidate with a unique background (e.g., you come from a non-traditional industry or you’ve achieved extraordinary recognition in your field), you probably have a great chance of standing out and being considered for acceptance. On the flip side, if you come from a more traditional background such as finance or consulting, Round 3 may be harder because the school is likely to have already accepted a lot of people who look very similar to you on paper.
Also keep in mind that b-schools typically deter international candidates from applying during Round 3 because it can sometimes be hard to get the necessary paperwork approved in time to start school in the fall.
Where Are You Applying?
The types of schools and programs you’re applying to actually make a big difference when it comes to figuring out whether submitting during Round 3 will hurt your odds of getting admitted. For example, part-time and executive education business school programs, such as University of Virginia’s Executive Education Degree or Georgetown’s part-time MBA typically hold many more spots open for later applications. Deferred admissions programs that are geared toward college seniors who won’t be matriculating right away, like Harvard’s 2+2 Program, are also good candidates for Round 3 applicants because admissions committees aren’t thinking about hitting a certain number or mix of students next fall—they’re just admitting great people to be a part of the future of the program.
The full-time programs at the top 10-15 American business schools are the places where it is statistically the most difficult to get accepted during Round 3. Many of these programs admit about 90% of their classes in Rounds 1 and 2, so they’re just not planning to admit very many Round 3 candidates. If you’re looking at these programs, you may want to wait until next fall to increase your chances.
Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get in if you really want to apply this year! Dee Leopold, Dean of Admissions at Harvard Business School, puts it well: “Are there as many spots open as in Rounds 1 and 2? No… Do I think a strong candidate has a fair shot? Yes.”
What Shape is Your Application In?
Time to be honest with yourself: How do you feel about your b-school applications right now? Most Round 3 applications are due at the beginning of April, so you don’t have a ton of time to make major changes, especially if you’re busy at work in March. While it’s definitely possible to hammer out your essays in a short period of time, something like (re)taking the GMAT can be a longer process depending on how much studying you need to do.
In other words, if you feel pretty good about your application and just need to work on a few pieces before sending it in, Round 3 could be a good option. If, however, you have a lot of work to do and don’t think you’ll have a lot of time during the next six weeks to put the hours in, then it might be advisable to hold off until the fall. With just a few spots available in Round 3, you want to make sure that you’re not rushed to submit something but rather are able to put in your best application.
Why Didn’t You Apply in Round 1 or Round 2?
Finally, keep in mind that admissions committees will likely be curious as to why you didn’t apply during the more popular rounds earlier in the season. If you have extenuating circumstances (e.g., you had a family or health issue, a major project came up at work, you moved), make sure to mention them so that the people reading your application don’t question your commitment to the program. If you just decided to wait a little longer or you had a hard time getting your materials together, that’s OK as well! In that case, I would recommend really highlighting why you’re interested in the program so the school doesn’t feel like it’s a back-up plan that you’re applying to because other options didn’t work out.
If, however, you didn’t apply earlier because b-school wasn’t on your radar or you weren’t sure it would be a good fit—or you’re applying now because you got rejected from your first-choice programs—and you aren’t under time pressure to start school this fall, you might want to consider holding off until September to submit your application. It will give you more time to really think through your essays, pick your recommenders, and structure your materials, and you won’t get any hard-to-answer questions from admissions officers doubting your interest.
Putting together a great b-school application is hard work, so before you cram to make the Round 3 deadline, you want to make sure your efforts have a good chance of paying off. That said, schools don’t penalize re-applicants, so if you decide to go for it and it doesn’t work out, you can always try again in the fall. Good luck!