MBA Admissions Insights on Round 3

mba admissions insights

Round 3 deadlines are nearly upon us! While the final round is the biggest gamble of the application cycle, top MBA programs have it for a reason. Chiefly, they use it to admit those stellar students that add something special to their classes. We’ve surveyed the SBC consultant team, which includes former MBA Admissions Officers, to gather MBA admissions insights on the nuances of round 3.

MBA Admissions Insights from SBC’s Team

For top US, full-time MBA programs, we almost always encourage candidates to apply in rounds 1 or 2. That’s because there are simply fewer spots open in round 3.  To gauge viability at top MBA programs in this round, we evaluate what is truly remarkable in the candidate’s profile.

What do we mean by remarkable? In some cases, it may mean unusual work experience, substantial community service, or compelling leadership examples. Or, it might mean having a diverse background, unique interests outside of business, or entrepreneurial success of some sort.

SBC consultant Sarah shared this perspective about round 3:

“You are usually being considered along with the waitlisted applicants and need a compelling reason as to why you waited so long. If you are in a traditional industry, it’s a steep climb.”

The flipside though is that R3 is perfectly acceptable for other program types. This includes part-time (PMBA) and executive programs (EMBA) and EU programs, as well as some full-time, 2-year US MBA programs.

Lisa on the SBC team clarified why:

EMBA and PMBA tend to have a more consistent application volume throughout the cycle and admit people up to the last minute. There are also full-time programs that have similar application patterns; they are just not the top-tier ranked, big-name programs.

Some full-time programs in medium to large urban areas have a decent size R3 (and R4 if they have one). That’s because they might have industries or other aspects to their area that sees a spring/summer heavy transient population.

For example, urban areas with major hospital systems utilizing residents release matches in Feb/March to start in July, so a trailing significant other might not know where s/he will be until spring. Or, if there is a large industry hub doing well, then more people might be moving to the area—and that usually coincides with promotions in the new year and/or school year.

For programs in these areas, they often know there will be a small, quality application bump in the last round. So, Lisa says, depending on your profile and the schools you target, the last round(s) can still be viable/make sense.

Use the Optional Essay

MBA admissions insights

You should use the optional MBA essay to explain why you waited until the third–or final–round to apply. You don’t want anyone to jump to the wrong conclusion. They may wonder whether you’re using round 3 as a last-ditch effort to get into business school in the fall after receiving rejections from other schools in earlier rounds.

Margaret, who has been with the SBC team for over 12 years, shared:

“It makes sense to include an optional essay about timing. I don’t think a person needs to apologize for applying in Round 3—what would be the point of giving people this option if you’re going to blame them for using it? —but I do think there needs to be a good reason for it.”

“As I recall, several of my Round 3s were military people on deployment, and this was the earliest they were able to pull together applications,” she adds.

Candidates with extremely specific backgrounds or personal reasons are best positioned for round 3 at the top MBA programs. As SBC consultant Sarah notes, “We often support round 3 for applicants who come from those ‘exception’ groups—those working offshore on an oil rig, deployed from July through November.  Military.  Those in the midst of selling a company and unable to move until the new year.”

With limited slots available, SBC recommends that you fine-tune your focus on schools where you’ll make 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. Also, ensure that you add something special to the class that the admissions committee didn’t see earlier in the season.

Standing out from the pack is imperative, and never more so than when applying later in the game. As Stacy mentioned in this US News blog post, if you want to do well in the admissions process, you have to communicate who you are, not just what you do.

Contact our team today to request tailored advice to determine whether round 3 is a viable option for your profile.

What MBA Programs Say About Round 3 (Final Rounds)

Now that you’ve read SBC’s MBA admissions insights, here’s a sampling of opinions from several top MBA programs regarding Round 3*.  Note that you’ll often see more encouraging feedback on round 3 from full-time MBA programs ranked outside of the top 7.

Yale School of Management

“My view is that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by applying in Round 3,” says Admissions Director Bruce DelMonico. His reasoning? Well, they always save room for applicants from the final round. Plus, unlike at some business schools, international students are welcome to apply in the third round.

And finally, DelMonico says, “Round 3 can be a ‘test run’ for your next application, without any negative consequences. For applicants who aren’t admitted this year, we provide feedback upon request over the summer on how you might be able to improve your candidacy, so there can even be a benefit to applying now.”

MIT Sloan School of Management

“Three years ago, we decided to add a Round 3 application deadline for a variety of reasons, one of which was because we wanted to accommodate applicants who become ready to apply later in the traditional MBA admissions cycle,” explains MBA admissions director Dawna Levenson.

“The Round 3 application deadline was designed to give these individuals—whose professional or personal circumstances have unexpectedly changed—an opportunity not to have to wait another year.  So if this sounds like you, and you are now ready to begin your MBA studies next fall, I encourage you to apply!”

UT McCombs School of Business

“Our goal in all of our programs is to build the best and most diverse class that we can, NOT to fill all of our seats as fast as we can. So the best time to submit your application is when you are ready to do so, when you’re confident it will be the best representation of you and your fit with the program. You can trust that we’ll be ready to start the review process,” writes Kimberly Jones on the McCombs MBA Insider blog.

Michigan Ross School of Business

And finally, admissions Director Soojin Kwon offers these MBA admissions insights for those considering whether to apply in Round 3.

  1. We reserve space in the class for Round 3.
  2. We like Round 3 applicants. Last year, some of our best students – academically and leadership-wise – were admitted in Round 3.
  3. There’s no chance of being admitted if you don’t apply.

MBA admissions insights

Lastly, it’s important to have a Plan B in case things don’t go your way. If round 3 doesn’t work out this season, know that you can reapply to those schools—and some new ones, too—next year.

*R3 refers to the last round’ for schools that have a R4, then R3 is still more viable.

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