This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
Round three is the most competitive one at most business schools, since the vast majority of acceptances happen in the first two rounds. If you weren’t able to apply earlier because you were busy studying for the GMAT, dealing with a family crisis or completing an all-consuming work project, you’ve got to bring your A-game if you hope to land a seat at the end of the admissions cycle.
With fewer slots available, fine-tune your focus on schools where you’ll be a compelling candidate. A strong, well-thought-out application is critical. Make sure your academic profile aligns with the school’s median GMAT and average GPA and that you add something special to the class that the admissions committee didn’t see earlier in the season.
Special means unusual work experience, substantial community service, a diverse background, compelling leadership examples, unique or uncommon interests outside of business or entrepreneurial success of some sort.
“We actually enjoy round three,” Dee Leopold, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School, recently told The Wall Street Journal. “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.”
You should definitely use the required or optional MBA admission essays to explain to the admissions committee your reasons for waiting until the third – or final – round to apply. You don’t want anyone to jump to the conclusion that you are using round three as a last-ditch effort to get into business school in the fall after receiving rejections from other schools in earlier rounds.
[Read more about the best round to submit your business school application.]
Applicants who graduated from college more than five years ago should also give serious consideration to applying in round three. While every situation is different, time is of the essence, especially at programs that tend to focus on younger applicants.
Plus, it’s unlikely your candidacy will improve significantly over the next eight months after you’ve already been in the workforce for so long. If this is your situation and all you need to do is put the finishing touches on your materials, go for round three.
It’s worth noting that being admitted to some schools is not as challenging in round three as others. Elite European business school INSEAD has four rounds, and provides options for a January start date in addition to the traditional September intake. This allows later applicants who don’t mind waiting to start school to have a stronger chance at admission.
The University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School has five rounds, and Columbia Business School also offers a January intake for candidates who don’t need an internship between the first and second year.
Finally, it’s important to have a Plan B in case things don’t go your way. You can always apply to a set of schools in round three knowing there is a good chance you will need to reapply to them and add in some new ones next season.
Though the initial rejection may sting, you’ll be in a great position for round one in the fall with your essays, recommendation letters and transcripts already in hand. Or, you may find that the soul searching required for an MBA application sets you on a different path altogether. Perhaps you will decide to make a career switch now and pursue higher education later.
Round three is certainly a gamble, but you just might be that missing element the admissions committee is looking for to spice up the mix.