Who Gets An Admit In The Final Round?
Maria |
February 29, 2024

In the latest episode of Business Casual, the hosts tackle the topic of final round MBA admissions. They explore the nuances and potential outcomes for individuals applying later in the admissions cycle, offering a comprehensive overview of how various business schools perceive these late applications.

The conversation also highlights the critical importance of presenting a thoroughly prepared application, regardless of the submission deadline. The hosts emphasize the necessity for candidates to articulate their reasons for applying later and provide practical advice for those contemplating a last-minute application.

This episode helps listeners gain an understanding of the strategic aspects to consider when submitting an application in the final rounds, including insights into the differing approaches of top U.S. and European MBA programs.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:07.210] – John

Well, hello, everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast with my co hosts, Maria Wich-Vila and Caroline Diarte Edwards. Caroline, of course, is the former admissions head at INSEAD and the co founder of Fortuna Admissions. And Maria is the founder of Applicant Lab. Now, let’s say you missed round one and round two. And you’re wondering, what are my odds if I apply to the final round of a school’s admissions deadlines? Well, we want to give you a little advice. We want to tell you who gets accepted in the final round, who doesn’t, and how viable is that? Know you always hear from folks like Caroline and Maria. Apply early, put your best foot forward as quickly as you can. Of course, that also assumes that you can file the best possible application during round one or round two. But obviously, when you’re applying to round one, all the seats are open. When you apply to round two, most of the seats are open. When you apply round three, there are far fewer classroom seats available to you. Caroline, what are sort of the guidelines of applying in a final round or one of the final rounds in the event that a school has more than three rounds?

[00:01:33.030] – Caroline

So this discussion came up because my colleague Emma Bond was chatting with David Simpson, who’s the head of admissions at London Business School, and he was talking about how they see a misconception, particularly in the US market, that it’s too late to apply to London Business School in round three. And so we decided to do this session to address what are the differences, which schools would encourage applications in the final round and which schools and in which cases. May it be better to then wait until the following season? So for London Business School and for INSEAD, both schools are very encouraging of candidates to apply in the final round. When I worked at INSEAD, one of the things that we implemented was a system to do our best to forecast the volume of applications that would come in round by round. And INSEAD has four rounds and of course, two intakes per year, so eight rounds over the full year. And we allocated spots accordingly to try to keep the level of competition as consistent as possible over those rounds, because I didn’t want to be turning away people in the final round who were fantastic and who I would have admitted in the first round.

[00:02:51.790] – Caroline

Right, so you can rest assured, if you’re applying to those schools, that you have a strong chance if you do apply in the later round. Now, the picture is very different at the M7 schools. So my colleague Judith Hadara, who’d been head of admissions at Wharton, was talking about her experience at Wharton and how it plays out at the M7 schools. So there are far fewer places in round three. And so the US schools are. Those top us schools do encourage candidates to apply in round one and round two where possible, particularly the traditional feeder profiles into business schools. So candidates applying from finance, from consulting, from tech, are best advised to apply in round one or round two. She also talked about the fact that sometimes those candidates think, I have to get in round one. Round two is too late. No, that it’s fine, right. There is no difference between round one and round two. You don’t have to submit your application in round one. But for those candidates, round one and round two are the best options. But she did say that they would still get some great candidates in round three and they would keep some spots for those people because they expected that every year.

[00:04:06.860] – Caroline

But it was really a case of cherry picking specific profiles to build out the diversity of the class. All three panelists talked about how it was not uncommon to see entrepreneurs applying in the final round. Not quite sure why that is. Maybe their circumstances change and for whatever reason, they are looking to jump into business school. Perhaps it’s not such a long term plan that they formed. Like someone who’s working, consulting and has probably known for two or three years that they’re going to apply to business school. For entrepreneurs, circumstances can change much more quickly. And so the M7 schools, they do keep slots for candidates like that who have a really unusual, outstanding profile. But otherwise, particularly for those very top schools, if you don’t fall into that category, then you are probably best off waiting to round one.

[00:05:04.450] – John

My assumption has always been that round three, there is an additional criteria that admissions officials consider that is less relevant in round one and round two, and that is the crafting of the class. So you’re looking at where there are holes in your diversity, whether it’s geographic location, whether it’s industry background, could even be a more traditional diversity criteria. And you’re plugging those holes so that the crafting of the class becomes far more important in round three than it does in one and two when you’re just simply picking the best of the candidates in the pool. Maria, you agree with that?

[00:05:46.670] – Maria

I do. And I think that in round three, some other similar logistical types of factors may come into play. I only say this as someone, I can only speak anecdotally based on people who I see who have success getting in in round three. But I wonder if also part of the thing that comes into the equation is thinking about, like, okay, well, we’re already in April or May by the time these final round decisions come out. And if pre coursework types of activities start in, say, August, that only gives us a few months for someone to assemble any sort of work or study visa that they might need, assembling financing, moving to another part of the country. So I sometimes wonder also if part of it, in addition to trying to fill out the class from a diversity perspective, if it might be easier for me. I mean, it would be heartbreaking for all parties involved if a really fantastic candidate were to apply in round three, and only due to the time constraints, were then unable to enroll a few months later. That would be a big waste of everyone’s time and just lead to a lot of unnecessary heartbreak.

[00:06:49.500] – Maria

So I also think that there may be an element, perhaps, of if you do know that you are going to need either time to get a study visa or time to assemble your financing, I think you also might want to try to avoid round three. I can’t speak know. Obviously, Caroline would know better than I whether or not that actually impacts who gets in in round three. But it could just be a coincidence on my part, but it makes sense. It could just be my brain trying to make sense of otherwise random bits of data. But that’s just something I’ve anecdotally noticed.

[00:07:19.090] – John

And Caroline, I think you mentioned in our pre call that David Simpson at LBS said they get more domestic candidates in their final round. And that makes sense, because if you are an international student, you need a visa, you need a little more time. The other thing to consider, I imagine, is if you want a scholarship, if you want a discount on the tuition, you should be applying early. Round three, there’s going to be less money available, if there’s any money left at all. And round three is going to be really hard for an international applicant to actually move abroad and find a place and get the required visa to study in the country. Right?

[00:07:59.440] – Maria


[00:07:59.770] – Caroline

So both Vijay and David talked about how they do keep scholarship funds for the final round, but it may be that there are more restrictions in that round, particularly for INSEAD, where they have some specific scholarships that are dedicated to round one and round two. And those are not available in round three, but they do keep some funds available because they know that they will get some good candidates who need some support at that stage. Another thing they talked about is that, as you say, there are candidates who apply in the final round and then realize, oh, my goodness, there’s so much to organize, right. I’ve got to move countries, figure out my family, figure out funding, figure out somewhere to live, and hadn’t anticipated all of that. And sometimes those candidates will then ask for a deferral. And David talked about how, in fact, sometimes they think some candidates apply in the final round, thinking that, well, I’m ready to apply now. I’m going to submit. If I get in, I’ll ask for a deferral, because I’m actually not ready to go now. And it’s not going to be too much of a scramble to get my act together to be on campus in the fall.

[00:09:07.390] – Caroline

And they talked about how that’s a really bad strategy because schools don’t like giving deferrals. It messes up their class composition to have people asking deferrals. Lots of people do ask deferrals for deferrals, but usually those requests are denied unless there is a very specific circumstance, like there’s a medical reason, or sometimes they may get a deferral because they’re not able to get a loan, but if they had a bit more time, they can demonstrate that they would be able to get their financing. But you have to have a very good reason. And most of the time, those deferral requests will be denied. So they flagged that as an issue that sometimes people are applying without having thought through probably the implications of when they would get admitted and when they would need to turn up on campus.

[00:10:00.450] – John

The other thing here is, I wonder if there’s like a hidden booby trap in applying late, and that is admissions directors may feel, well, look, you’re one of these people who delay everything, procrastinate to the last moment, and then you try to get something done and you cram it, as opposed to someone who’s very well prepared and thought out and is applying early. This goes to the old cliche, right? The early bird gets the worm. Is there some of that psychological disadvantage that a candidate may have in applying in a late round?

[00:10:42.830] – Caroline

Well, I would say that I think they see different types of candidates in the final round, and it is often a different mix to the candidates they see in rounds one and round two. So those candidates who are on that path where they know that they’re going to apply to a business school at some point if they turn up. So your management consultant, if you turn up in round three, you probably need to explain to the school why you’re applying in round three, because that’s quite unusual. So they see some fantastic, outstanding, unusual candidates in round three. And it may be that their circumstances have changed. And also, those people are not necessarily in the mindset of someone who is working at a McKinsey or a Goldman, where they’re surrounded by people who’ve been to business school and they’re well aware of the timeline and they’ve been thinking about it so far and ahead, that it’s just much easier for those people to get their applications in early than someone who comes from a more unusual background where they’re not surrounded by all of that support.

[00:11:52.160] – John

Yes, there’s irony here, isn’t there? Because if you’re working in investment banking or consulting, you’re in a real grind. I mean, you’re putting in 60 to 80 hours a week of work. And if anyone had an excuse to delay and wait, it would be those folks. And the nontraditional candidates, I would assume, would have more time. So automatically you might think, well, those are the people who have the time to apply around one, around two, and yet that’s not the case. So it’s kind of a contrarian view of who should apply when and why. Right?

[00:12:31.470] – Caroline

Yeah, I think it’s partly the level of competition, and you just have to anticipate that there’s going to be a lot of people applying from the investment banks or from consulting or from tech firms. And so you just have to start the process much earlier. And it’s true, it is very challenging for some candidates to do all of that work, but they just have to start earlier, anticipating that the final round may not be the best idea for them.

[00:12:57.290] – John

I know that Caroline and Maria are type a personalities, and I’m sure that neither actually applied in the final round. Maria, you were around one candidate, weren’t you?

[00:13:11.530] – Maria

I was around one candidate to one school. And then when I got into that school in round one, I thought, ooh, maybe I have a chance at a better school. And then I applied to another school. In round two, though, I will say I think I submitted. I think the application was due something like midnight Hong Kong time. I think I submitted it, like, at 11:58 p.m. And 20 seconds. It was one of those things where you could keep uploading or making little edits. And so I was ready, but I was like, oh, let me change. That’s why I tell people, do as I say, not as I do. I definitely learned from the near heart attack that I had at that moment. So that’s why I tell people to not wait until the last minute, but certainly not round three. I don’t think I would have bothered.

[00:13:49.330] – John

Into Harvard in round two?

[00:13:51.100] – Maria


[00:13:51.840] – John

And where did you get into in round one that gave you the confidence. To apply to Harvard?

[00:13:56.400] – Maria

Another very good.

[00:13:58.570] – John

Oh, you don’t want to mention this school.

[00:14:02.010] – Maria

I don’t think that it’s relevant. It’s a very good school that is on par often with Harvard. So anyway, I will say, though, that going along the sort of like, okay, the overrepresented folks tend to apply in round one. I think if you are from an overrepresented group or most people, I tend to advise a lot of people, like, look, you might want to explain in the optional essay why it is that you’re applying in round three if the fact is that you were in the military and you had to go to a base or something and you were unable to apply, or perhaps you only recently found out about the MBA and you thought, oh, this is a really cool thing, maybe I should explore it. And then you yourself just didn’t simply realize, like, oh, wait, there’s this whole hierarchy of different rounds and there’s all this strategy behind it, and you go into it with very good faith and like, oh, cool, I still have time. That’s great. You might want to just sort of explain your background now. By the way, as a side note, make sure that your GMAT test history supports that.

[00:14:57.010] – Maria

Right? You don’t want to pretend that, oh, I’m in the military and I just found out about the MBA, but I’ve taken the GMAT four times already over the past two years, and that’ll sort of ruin, you know, back to the point of if you are from an overrepresented group and you’re applying in the round three, I think it does behoove you to at least realize that there’s going to be a question mark in the reader’s head. And I sort of tell people, whenever there’s a question mark, just address that question mark up front. If you think there’s going to be a question mark, there probably is. So you should probably address it up front. And maybe it’s that you just recently found out that your firm is going to sponsor you or you just recently found out some sort of piece of very relevant information. But I do think that most people, if they are from an overrepresented group, not only are most of the spots already taken in the first two rounds, but I think also there’s a lot of folks in your bucket that are also already on the waitlist. So you’re not simply competing for one of a few spaces that is left but you’re also realizing that other management consultants and other bankers and other tech people are already on that waitlist.

[00:15:56.710] – Maria

It just makes it so much harder. And sometimes I tell people, like, don’t think of it as being too late to apply this year. It’s that you’re super early to apply next year. Hooray. That’s a positive spin on its hazard.

[00:16:08.470] – John

Now, Caroline, you did apply to INSEAD round one, didn’t you?

[00:16:12.890] – Caroline

I think so. It was a long time ago. I can’t quite remember, but I think I did because I remember being admitted well ahead of the program. So it must have been either round one or round two out of the four rounds. But then I was a management consultant, right, and I was surrounded by people who’d been to business school, several of whom had been to INSEAD. So I decided very early on in my career that I really, really wanted to go to INSEAD. So. And I actually went after six years of work experience, because I worked in London as a management consultant for four years and then I worked in Paris for two years. So I had been thinking about it for about five years, I think, before I applied. So I had plenty of time to plan. But Maria is absolutely right. If you do apply in the final round, and especially if you come from more of those common profiles, then just explain, and that’s perfectly fine. If there’s ever anything that seems like something that they might want to ask you about, as Maria said, don’t sweep it under the carpet, just address it up front, because it’s just better to be transparent with the schools.

[00:17:25.050] – Caroline

And they also understand that people’s circumstances change and that’s perfectly fine. Sometimes people apply in the final round because they’ve been made redundant from their jobs. Right. And that happens. The economy goes through ups and downs. Younger people are often the first to be laid off. If there is a wave of layoffs, schools understand that it doesn’t count against you. There are always people heading to business school who applied right after being made redundant. So if you’ve been laid off, then that might be a reason to apply in round three as well. So the schools always have those candidates coming through, especially in economic downturn. So that’s a perfectly valid reason to be applying late as well.

[00:18:08.800] – John

Now, Maria mentioned the dreaded word in admissions waitlist, and I’m going to bring this up because obviously there’s no waitlist for round one, there is one for round two, but that’s a big round. Round three, when you’re getting. Now you’re facing not only the lack of seats that have been taken by round one and round two candidates. Now you’re thinking about, oh my goodness, these schools are holding a bunch of people in limbo for round three. So doesn’t that even more narrow your prospects or are they just safeties? And we know some schools carry fairly significant waitlist into the final rounds, right?

[00:18:56.010] – Caroline

Yeah, that is a good point. They will be comparing especially round three candidates with what they have on the waitlist. So that is your competition as well. But again, if you have a common profile, then there’s going to be more of those common profiles on the waitlist. So that will be your competition as well as your round four fellow candidates. But if you have a more unusual profile, then probably you don’t have as much competition from the waitlist. So it really depends on the profile that you have.

[00:19:29.830] – John

And isn’t it true that practice makes one better? So in other words, I could justify applying in a final round on the basis that, number one, it gives me practice for the next year and then I can be an early candidate. So all is not lost because you can always reapply. And I don’t think that’s really taken against you if you were rejected, particularly in a late round. Maria, do you buy that?

[00:19:56.270] – Maria

I agree that being a re applicant is not necessarily held against you, though I do know realize that as a re applicant, you may need to either answer a different set of essay questions or add an additional essay, the reapplicant essay, where you pretty much explain, like, okay, you just applied three months ago, six months ago. What’s new? What’s changed? Why are you back again? So I would not take it frivolously if someone is, especially if they’re younger in their career and there isn’t some sort of economic emergency or reason why they must enroll in the upcoming months. I do usually tell people that I would rather see you wait until round one and just submit one really strong round one application than to send in a half baked round three application and then three months later like, hey, it’s me, I’m back again. But now my career goals are a little bit better because I’m a little bit savvier about this whole thing and it’s a little too much to, I always try to tell people, like, look, even if you’re so young in your career that you’ve never been in a hiring position before, put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager, right?

[00:21:00.390] – Maria

Like, what if someone in your group, you had an open job opening and you had a certain deadline and someone was really late and then they just applied to that and their resume was a mess and then they applied again a few months later. At a certain point you’d say, like, well, why did you waste my time the first time? So I think if you think you’ve got a solid application in round three and a good reason for why you didn’t apply, you know, but on the other hand, don’t just say like, whoop, I’m just going to throw in a round three Hail Mary with no real intent. I know I’m not going to get in, but why not just realize that then you would then have to explain your reasoning later on? I don’t think it’s held against you to be a reapplicant, but there is an actual change to your application strategy. You will have to write either a different essay or an extra essay later on, so just be cognizant of that extra layer of scrutiny that will be given later on.

[00:21:48.470] – John

Yeah, good point, good point. My goodness, there’s a lot to think about here, isn’t there?

[00:21:54.390] – Caroline

There is. And something else that came up is that Vijay mentioned an interesting point about the dynamics in the early round versus the final round. So she talked about how often round one candidates, they know that they’re applying to multiple schools, right? So it’s often those early birds who are applying to a laundry list of schools to see where they’re going to get in. And they may therefore be less loyal to any of those individual schools, whereas what they see in the final round is that often those candidates have not applied to so many schools. And so the good candidates in the final round are often more loyal than those round one candidates. So that’s something that the schools observe and that they appreciate about the strong candidates that they see coming through in that final round. But they also do mean. David talked about how there’s a polarization in the final round where you have some really strong candidates who are coming through. Maybe it’s the entrepreneurs, some really great. I mean, for LBS, some of the best domestic candidates come through in the final round, or just people for whom their circumstances have changed and round three is the right time for them.

[00:23:11.360] – Caroline

But they’re really dedicated to going to business school and they’ve put together a really strong application and they probably haven’t applied to many schools at that stage. So you have those candidates and then you have the candidates who applied to laundry list of schools in round one or round two didn’t get in and they’ve gone down their list and clearly they are not as well prepared, have probably submitted a rushed application, which is always a bad idea, as Maria said, and they just don’t have a deep understanding of what the school is about. And that comes across. Right. The schools want to be your number one choice, right. And they know that you may well be applying to other schools and you probably are, but you still need to put together a convincing argument in your application for why that school is the one that you love the most and that is your number one choice. And they do get a batch of final round candidates who do a very bad job at that. So it’s interesting that they see these sort of two cohorts in the final round, some really strong candidates and some very weak candidates, or not necessarily weak candidates, but just people who have done a bad job of putting together their application.

[00:24:20.530] – John

Is there ever a waitlist for the final round? In other words, admission says, wow, this person is terrific. This person is as good as any we saw and admitted earlier. But frankly, we don’t have any more room. Do I then tell the candidate, hey, look, we really like you. Unfortunately, the class is full, but if you apply in round one in the next year, you’re going to get preferential treatment, so therefore you’re effectively on a waitlist of sorts. Does that ever happen?

[00:24:53.390] – Caroline

Well, I would occasionally waitlist people when I was in it yet in round three, but it’s a much smaller number of people. Right. Because you know that you’re going to have fewer places, but with every round, you’re waiting to see who is going to accept the offer. And so if there are some borderline cases who are just as good as the people you’ve just admitted, and you know that you would love to accommodate them. If other people turn down the offer, then they may be waitlisted. But schools try not to waitlist many people in the final round because they know that they will have very few spaces left. And as for waitlisting to roll forward to a next class, that’s quite unusual at the top schools. I know that, for example, at INSEAD they did do that during the pandemic when there was this massive surge of applications, and it was also a time when a lot of the classes were virtual. Everything was disrupted. So then they did offer people places for a subsequent class, but that was quite an unusual time for many reasons. So normally the schools are not going to waitlist someone and say, okay, we’ll just roll your application forward to the next class.

[00:26:10.170] – Caroline

But it may be that you can get some feedback from the school on whether they would encourage you to apply so reapply in a subsequent class. So I would give people feedback on waitlisted candidates whether we thought that they should reapply or whether we thought they should not reapply, so that they have some clarity on whether they have a chance in a future class. But as Maria said, if you’re going to reapply, ideally you can show some evolution, and that can be difficult to show if you’ve applied in the final round and then you want to reapply in the next class in round one. Right. You will just have the space of a few months, so it’s difficult to show that you’ve come back as a new, improved candidate in just three or four months. So it’s better to wait. If you think that your chances are very slim in the final round, then you’re better off waiting for that round one rather than rushing to submit in the final round.

[00:27:14.250] – John

So let’s do a summation here in the form of do’s and don’ts. Clearly, if you work in investment banking, consulting, or in tech, the three big feeders to MBA programs, you should be applying early. If you’re more of a nontraditional candidate and have a decent reason for applying last, you should. And you should probably do the optional essay that explains why you’re applying then any other do’s or don’ts. Maria to end this with, I think.

[00:27:52.120] – Maria

Just be realistic about what the situation is going to be, what the odds are going to be, and what the ramifications are. If you are not accepted, then realizing that as a reapplicant, there might be some additional things that you might have to do. And therefore, if that does impact your strategy, you may want to wait.

[00:28:12.750] – John

Right? Another do is if you’re an international applicant, you’re better off applying early than later because of the visa issue. And even though schools may reserve some scholarship money for late candidates, the truth is most of the money is gone. If you really are expecting in need a discount on the tuition, you’re probably better off applying early as well. So there you have it. Right? I think that sums up everything that we’ve discussed. Of course, there are a lot of nuances to this and a lot of subtleties which have made this a really fascinating discussion. I think that if I were applying, I’d be a non traditional person, right? I’m a poet and a writer, so I can get away with applying late.

[00:28:58.590] – Caroline

There’s still time for you to get in in the fall.

[00:29:01.200] – John

John oh, there is some hope for.

[00:29:04.050] – Maria


[00:29:07.950] – John

Right, for all of you listening, thanks for tuning in. And if you’re going to apply in a final round, do so with confidence. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward and make sure you’re in the pocket and you’re not in the mainstream as an applicant because most of those positions are going to be taken. All right. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. You’ve been listening to Business Casual, our weekly podcast.

Who Gets An Admit In The Final Round?
Maria |
February 29, 2024


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