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Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Evan 

Welcome to the Party

So you’re a little late.  Your job got busy, the deadlines came up sooner than expected, your first crack at the GMAT didn’t go as planned.  Not to worry — Round Two was created for folks like you!  The typical top ten MBA program takes anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of its class in round two with a similar volume of applications, although the exact numbers vary from year to year.  This means that all things being equal, your odds are slightly worse in the second round than the first, but the devil, as always, is in the details.

Characteristics of a Round Two Applicant

Round One is the ‘stats’ round; if you’ve got your bona fides all lined up, if your numbers are strong, if you have brand names all over your resume and gold-plated recommenders, you’re a round one candidate through and through.  The schools are going to use this round to fill out the heart of their program, shore up their numbers and make sure their basic food groups are covered.

Round Two is the ‘story’ round; it’s where the school starts to pick and choose, pull the folks with interesting backgrounds, fill in any gaps they may have after round one (if they’re short on a particular type of job background or ethnic background, for instance) and experiment.  If this sounds like you, you'll be better off waiting until Round Two to hit submit even if you are ready in round one.

The Strategy

What should you do if you're applying round two?  You have to think very hard about your essays and your recommenders -- for you, they're going to matter more than with the typical round one applicant.  Do you understand the overall narrative of your application, and how each of your recommenders fits that strategy?  Do you know how you're going to approach them?

As for essays, you have to start asking yourself some tough questions about your reasons for coming to business school.  What about you is particularly sexy for a top institution.  Do you have a really exciting entrepreneurial idea?  An unusual background — military, the arts?  Can you offer connections to (or insight into) a paritcular type of business that might be useful for your classmates to learn about?  Do you have a really amazing life experience that would make a great optional essay for HBS or Wharton?

You should also have a good story worked up (at least in your own mind) about why you waited until Round Two — was it to shore up your numbers, secure your recommenders, make certain you really wanted to go to school this year?  You don’t need to write about it but it’s helpful to know.

Finally, be sure and use these extra months to shore up weak areas in your candidacy.  Do you have enough volunteer leadership?  Are you creating meaningful change anywhere around you?  Do you need to retake your GMAT?  Do you have enough quantitative coursework and background, or do you need to take a Microeconomics class to shore that side of your application up?

Common Pitfalls

Do you work in Private Equity?  Do you have a co-worker in your business who is also applying for the same slot?  If so, you’re in a race, since most of the top schools take a very limited number from any given firm in a given year.  Don’t wait unless you absolutely have to.

Don’t simply wait because you can, or because you’re busy.  Use that extra time to strengthen your application — time is precious, time before an application is twice as precious.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that, because Round Two is OK, Round Three is also.  Round Three, in most schools, is a much worse bet and should be avoided.

Round Two Neutral Schools
These schools generally offer no preference either way.

Chicago Booth

Round One Advantage Schools
These schools generally offer a slight preference to round one applicants.

MIT Sloan

Good Luck!

Now you know the basics of how to be a strong applicant for Round Two.  Have questions about your own application’s timing?  Contact us and I’ll be happy to help.

Ben Feuer is an educational consultant with Forster-Thomas, Inc.