A b-school application is an exercise in persuasion. You’re trying to convince an admissions committee that you deserve a seat in their MBA program. As is the case with any communication, you’ll be more successful if you shape your argument to the circumstances you’re making it under.

We asked Senior Consultant and former Harvard Business School Director of Admissions Doug Braithwaite what factors Round 3 applicants should keep in mind as they prepare their applications.

To start with, Doug said, applicants need to understand three things:

“One – Admissions Committees are charged with picking the best class for their MBA programs. This means achieving balance across the class in terms of professional domains, global issues, ethnicity, gender, academic majors, et cetera. It also means making final adjustments on criteria such as legacy, development policies, et cetera. The final balancing takes place at the end of the admissions season.

“Two – The overall applicant quality goes down in Round 3 in terms of test scores, GPAs, and experience. To keep from having a ‘dip’ in overall class quality, AdComs have left very few seats open for the final round.

“Three – Even the most dedicated and enthusiastic AdCom reader becomes jaded at the end of the season. They have read all the tales of wondrous analysis, of amazing insights, of sob stories, et cetera by the time February or March or April rolls around. So don’t try to be cute or take high risks with format in Round 3.”

This may sound like an exceptionally tough audience to make an admissions pitch to. But according to Doug – who was a last-round admit himself – “Applying late can be a good strategy if a candidate has one or more of the following attributes:

“One – if they have an average, above-average, or very-close-to-average GMAT and/or GPA – for the targeted program. Their app will stand out among the (on average) lower credentials seen in the late rounds. Remember, in the last round, AdComs tend not to take risks on academics.

“Two – if they have a ‘wow’ factor. AdComs will have already admitted plenty of strong but typical candidates in earlier rounds. They will be a bit worried about whether there is ‘spark’ in their incoming class.

“Three – If the candidate has a legitimate reason for not applying earlier. That’s okay, but their story has to be told.

“Four – If they have realistic but non-traditional career visions, something that needs the skills, attitudes, et cetera of a MBA but that is really quite different from the norm. The value of this kind of career goal and the perspective it can add to the class balance might be more obvious in the last round than it would have been earlier in the year.

“The bottom line with Round 3 applications is that the candidate must – even more than usual – be honest with him- or herself. For candidates that fit the above criteria, applying in the third or last round is clearly not a negative. It can even present an advantage. I’ve had good success with the last rounds. But Round 3 admissions are a different game, and need to be played accordingly.”

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