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Demystifying the Final Round: Top Five Things to Remember When You Apply

In our last post, we highlighted the key questions you must ask yourself to help positively shape admissions committees’ perceptions of you in this round.

In turn, this week we want to help shape your perceptions and expectations about what it takes to apply in the third round. Of course, there are similarities to applying in earlier rounds, but the third round has some unique challenges. We don’t want to deter you from applying in this round—after all, I was a third round applicant who found success—but we want to ensure you have the best understanding of the challenges of applying in this round. Based on our experiences, here are the top five things to keep in mind with the final round application:

1. Not all application rounds are created equal. Occasionally, rumors will spread that MBA programs accept the same percentage of students across all application rounds. We haven’t seen this happen, though. Most top programs seem to accept significantly less students in the final round on a percentage basis. Why might this be the case?

2. You have more than just your round of applicants to worry about. The significant bulk of MBA applications are received in the earlier rounds. In fact, most acceptance letters are already sent before the third round application deadline has even closed. Not only are you contending with other applicants in your round, but you’re also competing against every accepted and waitlisted applicant from earlier rounds. So…

3. Differentiating yourself is especially critical in the third round. By this point in the application cycle, there is a packed crowd of MBA candidates who you need to distinguish yourself from. Making matters more challenging is that MBA programs want healthy, diversified, and balanced classes—too much of one background makes for a boring class. The third round offers an excellent opportunity for programs to fine tune their classes, adding applicants from backgrounds that “fill in the gaps” of the admitted class makeup. Admissions committees, then, might be looking for something particular in Round 3: maybe you fit the bill, maybe you don’t. You won’t know what the committee is looking for though, so don’t try to game the system—just try to authentically differentiate yourself. After all…

4. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make absolutely sure your application is as polished as it would be in any other round. In fact, since you’ve conceivably have had more time to prepare, it should be even better. Even though it seems obvious, I think it’s worth mentioning: when applying in the last round, your application should not look like it was thrown together at the last minute. If it doesn’t meet your standards, don’t submit it. Remember, if you aren’t admitted this year but you’ve submitted a great application, you have an excellent opportunity to continue your story in the next application year. However, if you submit a sub-par application in the third round and aren’t admitted, an admissions committee may remember this if you decide to reapply.

5. Many scholarship and grant opportunities are exhausted by the final round. This fact won’t necessarily have any bearing on your acceptance, but it may have a very important impact on how you decide to finance your MBA. Don’t turn down opportunities at top programs for this reason, but be prepared for this reality.

In some ways, the final MBA application round is like the earlier rounds. In other ways, though, it can require better preparation, greater awareness, and a more realistic set of expectations.

If you aren’t accepted in the final round, your MBA journey hasn’t ended—it’s simply another event you can learn from to improve your candidacy in the next application cycle. That being said, DO NOT rush your application simply because the deadline is looming. If you submit an incomplete or substandard application, it may impact your chances of admission in future years.


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