Tag Archives | Cornell Johnson

The Official Word on Round 3 MBA Chances

I recently wrote an article for Poets and Quants on Round 3, checking in with a whole bunch of admissions officers for their official word on the subject.  The quick answer: it’s a smaller round, and if you do apply, do it with gusto.

For those with only two minutes to read, here are some quick Do’s and Don’ts to guide you:


You Should Consider Applying in Round 3 If:

  • You ran out of time in Round 2 and had some other target schools that interested you
  • You improved your GMAT or GRE score by enough to put you within the target school’s range
  • You overlooked a school and, after taking a closer look, you think you might be a good fit
  • After going through the whole application process, you finally realize you are less hung up on a Top-5 ranking.
  • You are looking at deferred-admit or a part-time programs

You should NOT apply Round 3 if:

  • You figure you can recycle the essays that didn’t work during Rounds 1 or 2
  • You are outside of the school’s 2015 class profile
  • You aren’t sure what you want to do
  • The thought of filling out another application gives you a rash
  • You hate your job and it just occurred to you to apply to business school last week

The article is here:

February and March are funny times of the year in business school admissions.  First-rounders are going to admitted student weekends and making decisions. Second-round candidates are waiting or preparing for interviews. And there are some students who haven’t applied yet. And many, who are staring at the calendar and thinking about the unknown future are asking, “Should I consider Round 3?”

Like most things in life, it depends. Like with any round, it depends on when you are ready; for example, have you even taken the GMAT or GRE? In other cases, students are wondering if it is worth a “Hail Mary” pass, and if so, what’s the downside?

Notably, there are fewer places in the class, as the super-majority of the class will have been admitted in the earlier rounds. That usually means chances are a lot lower. But not impossible.


Students do get admitted to top business schools in Round 3. It’s not a myth. As Harvard Business School admissions director Dee Leopold has written in her blog about Round 3, “Yes, we have spots available. We always do.”

Admissions officers agree: the third round is not a joke. “All applicants are taken seriously by the admissions committee no matter what round they choose,” says Amy Mitson, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Tuck. “The bigger question is are they taking the potential opportunity seriously. If an applicant just tosses their application into the last round because they didn’t have better luck elsewhere, they should reconsider applying and maybe wait until next season when they can bring some gusto to their process.”

There are plenty of legitimate reasons a student might apply in Round 3 – life or career changes, such as moving countries or companies might inspire a later-than-expected application. Or perhaps a student came to the decision somewhat late in the cycle and doesn’t want to wait a whole extra 18 months to matriculate.

Christie St. John, director of admissions at Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Business, is candid about the reasons a student might apply in Round 3. “There are various reasons, some being job dissatisfaction, layoffs, too much work to have had time to study for the GMAT– and of course, rejection from other schools,” says St. John. But they do admit “a good number of candidates in that round,” adds St. John.

The third round is perfectly OK for students in the deferred admit programs, such as those at Harvard Business School and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. As Dee Leopold explains in her blog, “Round 3 is a great choice for 2+2 applicants. Why? We can be more flexible about the number of 2+2 admits given that we are not worried about a ‘seat being occupied’ for this September. College seniors have another semester of grades to show us. And another semester of activities.”


No matter what reason you have for applying in one of the later rounds, given the odds, the bar is higher. Admissions committee members have been reviewing essays since September, and they’ve seen it all. Plus, they’re tired. And like it or not, fit is not just a three-letter word when most of the class has already been selected. Ann Richards, senior associate director of admissions at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management explains that during the final round, admissions committees are “continu[ing] to refine the make-up of the entering class.”  She advises students to make clear why they are choosing that school and what distinctive contribution they offer. “I think Round 3 candidates should make sure their application is tight, make a strong case for why a particular school is the right fit and be ready to clearly explain the unique contributions you will bring to that school and community,” says Richards.

The entire process of admissions is about shaping a class, and what Richards calls the “refining” process usually means filling in some gaps in the demographic makeup of the class, or it could even be that a certain industry is underrepresented. HBS’ Leopold writes that the students in the third round add value to the class. “We always conclude that we like Round 3 enough to keep it as an option. Although we have admitted about 90% of the class by this time, we always – ALWAYS – see enough interesting Round 3 applicants to want to do it again. I know you wish I could define ‘interesting’ with pinpoint accuracy but I can’t. Sometimes it’s work experience, sometimes it’s an undergraduate school we wish we had more students from, sometimes it’s a compelling recommendation and sometimes it’s just ‘something’. I will say that it’s always that we have absolutely no doubts about a candidate’s leadership talent, character or academic capabilities–the same hurdle we have for the earlier rounds.”


Sometimes it’s hard for a school to manage the numbers of good applicants and run out of room by the third round.  Or in the case of UNC Kenan Flagler, Round 4. (The school offers October, December, January and March rounds). Because class size is a moving target, they may have to put candidates on a waiting list. “If the class is full, we may have to waitlist candidates who might have gotten in had they applied in an earlier round,” says Alison Jesse, Senior Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the UNC Kenan Flagler Business School.

For those who are trying to plan in advance, or are international candidates trying to get visas, the uncertainty of the third round may just present too much uncertainty.  Certain schools discourage those with visa issues, but not all.  In fact, according to Stephen Sweeney, Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions at Texas’ McCombs School, they are trying to make it easier for internationals to apply all rounds. “This year, we are opening our Round 3 up to international applicants and have tweaked the timing so international admitted students can complete their necessary visa requirements. We are hopeful we get great domestic and international applicants in round 3 this year.”

So do you go for it in Round 3?  If you can put together a great application, and the timing is right for you, why not?  If you are a serious candidate, you will be taken seriously. “We spend hours selecting and trying to bring in the most talented group of students,” says Kenan Flagler’s Alison Jesse. “If someone in [the latest] deadline would add special value and we have room, we are going to try and offer admission.”

People really do get into business school in the third round. I personally know students who have been accepted at HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Booth, and Fuqua in the last round. Even so, business school is a big decision and a bigger commitment, so you should apply when you feel you are presenting your best, true self.


Incredibly useful interviewing tips from an MBA admissions officer

cornell johnson logoWe are proud to present here a special guest post by Interim Admissions Director Ann Richards of Cornell’s Johnson School

One of the key components to getting in to Business school is doing well on the in person interview. Johnson Interim Admissions Director Ann Richards has been working in the business for over 20 years and has interviewed hundreds of students from all over the world. She recently shared with us her top five tips for candidates on how to ace the interview.

Details matter.

Always be on time, no matter what.  So plan ahead when it comes to allotting time to leave for traffic and logistics. Make sure that you know the location of the interview, where to park and always leave extra time in case there are delays. If you are running behind, let your interviewer know as soon as possible.   If interviewing on campus, previous candidates recommend that you arrive in Sage Hall early to soak up some of the energy in the Atrium prior to your interview.

Look the part.

Dress professionally. You’ve heard it before but first impressions are key. Your dress for MBA interviews is business professional which means suit and ties for men and suits, for women, a pantsuit, a skirt and jacket combination or a structured (and modest) dress.  You may be wearing a great outfit, but remember to take the time to groom your hair and accessorize appropriately as well.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Be Prepared. Take time to review possible questions that you may be asked and review your resume to jog your memory. Students can often find sample questions online. I always recommend doing an internet search for “Johnson interview questions”  or “MBA interview questions” and you will find sample questions  to help you prepare.  Practice interviewing with another MBA candidate or a colleague who has earned an MBA – they can give you valuable feedback that can help you strengthen your interview skills.

Know your goals.

Reread your goals essay so that you can articulate well about major points you would like to make.  Make sure you can explain why you want to earn an MBA and why the school you have applied to can help you achieve your goals.  If you want to transition into a new career, have some examples of transferable skills that make the career transition possible.  Remember to stick with specifics and stay on point.

Give leadership examples.

Pick three examples of  your achievements or leadership to highlight during the interview.  The examples should not be a rehash of your essay. Remember that giving specific examples and anecdotes will be an advantage and help tell the story of who you are.  Try to pull recent examples of leadership or accomplishments, if your example is more than three years old, it’s not relevant.

Does this just whet your appetite for interview advice? You can find more tips from Master Admissions here.

The Resume Gap Myth

Prospective MBA students often get very nervous about resumes, worrying madly if they’ve got the perfect sequence for admission to the top business schools.

Here’s the good news:

1. It’s ok if you have a gap in your resume
2. There’s no perfect work sequence

In fact, I consider the worry about a “resume gap” one of the biggest myths in business school admissions and recruiting.

Most people I know aren’t “gapping” at all. They may not be going into an office, but they are working. Not sitting around playing video games.

It’s About Productivity

Take the example of JoAnna, who is now at Wharton. She finished a master’s degree in economics in 2009, the depths of the Great Recession. After graduating, she even moved directly to New York, but couldn’t find a job. It was hard for her, but she didn’t sit around idly. She was methodical about getting out and meeting people. She took on two volunteer internships and started studying for the CFA (she took it and passed Level 1). In her business school application she got to explain some of these activities in her optional essay, which gave her the chance to talk about a time that may not have been pretty on the surface, but was really an accelerated growth phase. And as for her resume, she can add some of her activities in the great, catch-all “other” section. What turned out to be a dry spell ended up being a winner.

Simon had a different issue. He used his summer after his junior year in college to run an eBay business. He worried about putting previous internship on the resume, assuming it would draw attention to his lack of an internship the following summer. The reality: he didn’t need an internship because he was working for himself. He made enough money to contribute to his tuition for the following year (and then some!). While not officially “employed” he learned essential entrepreneurial skills, which are useful for running your own business inside or outside of a company.

Explaining Yourself
I recently, and quite openly, advised students not to worry so much about a gap in their resumes a career panel put on by the Cornell Johnson School of Business. And I will admit I was challenged by a career service professional about the “myth.” Her worry was that you’d get questions. I agree; you will get queried. In person, and in a business school resume, you have plenty of room to explain yourself, and even use those questions as a launching pad to talk about your ability to be flexible or to do something different. Why not use this “gap” to elucidate your story.

In today’s entrepreneurial environment, working at a Fortune 500 company or a big-name management consulting company might hold less of an attraction for 20-somethings than they used to. If you are drawn to (or need to) work outside the traditional system, you’ll learn managerial and leadership skills in any number of ways. The rules are changing. That “gap” may not represent a gap at all.

The Round 3 Question

Some business school applicants are legitimately wondering whether they should go ahead and apply in Round 3 for the 2012 entering class.  Some realize that if they don’t apply in this round, they probably won’t matriculate this year. Others figure that they should take advantage of this one last chance to round out their choices.

If you are thinking of Round 3, take a look at the following list of do’s and don’ts. It just may help you decide whether to go through the process one more time. At the bottom of this post you’ll also find an unscientific list of schools that may be worth reviewing for third round. This does not mean that it’s a cakewalk, just that they may have more flexibility than, say, Harvard or Wharton.

You should apply third round if

  • You ran out of time second round and had some other target schools that interested you (and you fell within the profile of the class of 2013)
  • You improved your GMAT score by enough to put you within the target school’s range
  • You overlooked a school and, after taking a closer look, you think you might be a good fit
  • After going through the whole application process, you really realize you are less hung up on a top 5 name.
  • You are considering part-time programs when you only applied to full-time programs

You should NOT apply third round if

  • You only want to go to a top 5 school and you didn’t get into the top 4
  • You are outside of the school’s 2013 class profile
  • You aren’t sure what you want to do
  • The thought of filling out another application gives you a rash
  • You hate your job and it just occurred to you to apply to business school last week

If your scores/grades are lower than average/mean/standard distribution for your target school, take the time to retake your tests, or take a few courses in finance/accounting/business statistics and ace them.  If your work experience isn’t strong enough, take on more projects or a team leadership role.

The final round is not the death round; I know some very successful third-round admits at schools as competitive as Stanford.

As a bonus, I’m reposting excerpts from Harvard Business School admissions director Dee Leopold’s 2011 blog post about Round 3:

Round Three – Should You or Shouldn’t You?
…You may be asking yourself whether it’s worth your time and money to submit an application. Is it too much of a long shot?

…we always conclude that we like Round 3 enough to keep it as an option. Although we have admitted about 90% of the class by this time, we always – ALWAYS – see enough interesting Round 3 applicants to want to do it again. I know you wish I could define “interesting” with pinpoint accuracy but I can’t. Sometimes it’s work experience, sometimes it’s an undergraduate school we wish we had more students from, sometimes it’s a compelling recommendation …

So if you are interested in trying for HBS in Round 3, make sure you get your application in by April 10, 2012.

An Unscientific List of Third-Round Deadlines that Might Be Useful, (in date order)

Indiana Kelley 3/1

Carnegie Mellon Tepper 3/5

Duke Fuqua 3/8

Cornell Johnson 3/14  (R4)

USC Marshall 3/15

UNC Kenan-Flagler 3/16 (R4)

Texas McCombs 3/26 (R4)

UCLA Anderson 4/18


–Betsy Massar

Don’t forget to check out our new book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting Into a Top MBA Program






Finding the Right Fit in a Business School

Lots of angles (and curves) to measure

There’s a lot of talk about finding the “right fit” when it comes to selecting a business school.  But as is the case with many words du jour, “fit” is often thrown around without much explanation of what it means.  What exactly is a “right fit,” and how is this relevant to applying to b-school?

Self-knowledge is the secret

Fit is so popular that I’ve written about it myself , but more importantly so have some of the top business schools. Some schools are more specific than others, but the general message is more or less the same: Know yourself.  Understand the cultures of the schools to which you are applying.  Be able to explain exactly how you would strengthen these cultures.

Before you can even think about what schools fit you best, you have to really look at yourself.  You need to know yourself very, very well.  Your level of self-reflection will absolutely show through in your application, and helps admissions officers understand you and how you could fit into the life of their school.  Soojin Kwon Koh, Director of Admissions at Michigan’s Ross School of Business, writes in her blog, “Our ability to evaluate your fit with Ross depends on how well you know and tell us about yourself.”  So know thyself!

Common culture with the school

Rose Martinelli, then Associate Dean of Admissions at Chicago Booth, stressed the importance of fit in an admissions chat, “… it all boils down to fit. The ability of the applicant to communicate path and plan, and why Chicago is a good match for them professionally and personally.”  It’s not just about who you are at work.  It’s also about who you are as a son or daughter, friend, and community member.

Berkeley-Haas, in the “Essays” section of its admissions page, goes so far as to say that it seeks applicants “who demonstrate a strong cultural fit with our program and defining principles.”  This does not mean that everyone at Berkeley shares the same opinions and experiences—quite the opposite.  It does mean, however, that students at Haas share a common culture, as outlined in the school’s Defining Principles; students question the status quo, have confidence without attitude, are lifelong learners, and think beyond themselves.

While Stanford’s Graduate School of Business doesn’t explicitly mention “fit” or “match” on its website, it does outline its “Core Values”: intellectual engagement, respect, integrity, striving for “something great,” and owning your actions.  To be a good fit for Stanford, you need to be able to demonstrate your alignment with these values.

Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management touches on fit in its third essay question, “What legacy would you hope to leave as a Johnson graduate?”  The question explains that “the adcom wants you to really evaluate what ‘fit’ means to you for Johnson.  ‘Fit’ is different for everyone, so we want to see how authentic and purposeful you are about applying.”

— Researched and written with help from the great Alice Woodman-Russell