Takeaways from HBS's first year without Round 3, and what is to come


HBS’s admissions director Chad Losee announced HBS’s 2019-2020 application due dates, keeping the same essay prompt: “As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA Program?”. He also announced that HBS would continue to only have two admissions rounds, instead of the usual three - the last one it dropped this past year.

Many applicants have asked us what the loss of Round 3 would mean for their applications. Now that we have seen what Year 1 looked like, we feel that we are able to provide the following answers:

1. If you can, apply early!

If you are a traditional applicant (consulting, finance, fortune 500), the unspoken rule is that you need to apply in Round 1. That is when HBS is expecting you to apply and so that is when it is going to give away almost all of the admissions spots for your industry.

Even if you are not a traditional candidate, it is always a good idea to apply early. While HBS offers only need-based financial aid, other schools use merit-based aid to woo desirable candidates (check out our testimonials section to see just how much money some of these schools shell out). Almost all of that money is issued to those admitted in Round 1, so if you feel like saving upwards of $100,000 on your MBA, apply early so you can get it.

2. HBS waitlist decisions are made quickly, so engage early

Normally we see HBS accumulate candidates with great stats but only okay narratives on its waitlist, culling them in Round 3 and keeping a small, chosen few on through the “summer melt” phase where they admit students only to replace another admit who had to decline for one reason or another. This year, we saw HBS give definitive yes-or-no decisions earlier in the process, coinciding with the Round 2 notification date. Whereas in the past, a significant number of our clients would be kept on the waitlist until June, this year only a couple were. Everyone else was either admitted (most of them) or rejected.

What this means for you is that if you apply in Round 1 and are placed on the waitlist, you cannot afford to wait or be silent. You need to engage with the admissions committee right away as you have a much shorter timeline to plead your case. Put another way, as soon as you see that you’re on the waitlist, get in touch with us.

3. Other schools will wait-and-see (ride the waitlist!)

HBS enjoys something of a prime mover advantage. Because it and GSB are pretty much every applicant’s top 1 and 2 choice (not necessarily in that order), they can be reasonably sure that whoever they admit will accept their place and therefore the only students who drop from the class are the ones that are forced to for reasons beyond their control (military deployment, death in the family, illness, etc). That gives those two schools much more certainty in shaping their class and allows them to carry far fewer students on their waitlist.

In contrast, the rest of the M7 can never been too sure of their class composition because they are constantly losing admits to HBS and GSB when they get in off the waitlist or apply in subsequent rounds. This forces those other M7 schools to carry many more students on their waitlists, as well as admit many students from those waitlists.

The net effect is that if you are waitlisted at such a school, it is much more important for you to grit your teeth and ride the waitlist as there is a better chance of success than in years past.

4. Expect other schools to follow

HBS sets a lot of trends in MBA admissions, from making application dates earlier to streamlining the applications. While there are no immediate indications that other schools are going to follow HBS’s lead this year, it would be a safe assumption that some others will follow in the years to come. After all, Round 3 is traditionally a very small round at any school, comprising only around 10% of the admits in a given class.

If you are a few years away from applying, count on not having the Round 3 option available to you. Instead, reexamine your timeline and account for the fact that you will likely need to accelerate your applications to apply in Round 2 or delay them to apply in Round 1 of the following year.

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Given its small class size and bucolic location, Tuck offers one of the most intimate MBA experience in the Top-10. Students are intensely social -- traveling around the world together on treks and participating in intramural sports in record numbers (about 90% of the students play on one of the school's many hockey teams -- it's a way of life!). To thrive in this environment, Tuckies pride themselves on their collaborative and social culture and are looking for applicants who can fit in and are equally fanatical about Tuck as they are.

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When is the right round to apply to business school?

The conventional wisdom can be summed up as follows: apply when you’re ready but as early as you can. The common fear is that later in the cycle, particularly Round 3, it becomes “impossible” to get in. One admissions prognosticator I read said that she believes HBS admissions rates drop from 14% in Round 1 to 7% in Round 2 and below 3% in Round 3.

This is baloney. If you ask the admissions deans and dive into the data, you will find that while the number of applications fluctuates with each round and cycle, the acceptance rate remains reliably constant.

However, the key insight is that the applicant mix in each round is different.

Round 1


Round 1 is for all the traditional MBA candidates: consultants, investment bankers, private equity investors, etc. If you worked at McKinsey or Goldman, your time to apply is in Round 1. And why wouldn’t you? You’re on “the path.” You’ve known since the day you started at your firm that everyone expects you to go to business school one day, maybe even with the company’s sponsorship. That means that you took your GMAT early, had your recommenders at the ready, and kept your resume up to date. All you needed was the essay prompt and you were ready for Round 1.

What happens to a candidate in this bucket who instead decides to apply later in a later round? Well, at the start of each application season, the admissions director allocates the number of admissions spots for each kind of profile. Because the traditional candidate applies early, by later rounds, almost all the spots for them are filled. You might be just the consultant the admissions committee was always looking for, but unfortunately they already gave your spot away. To prevent this from happening, follow the herd and apply with your cohort.

Round 2

Are you literally any other type of candidate? Someone with a background in entrepreneurship, manufacturing, military, corporate finance, or healthcare? Then feel free to apply in whichever round you like. If you apply early, all the spots will be open to you, but you will be competing with the most prepared and impressive applicants. HBS usually places some Round 1 applicants under “further consideration” each year, bumping them into the Round 2 applicant pool. It can be nerve-wracking waiting for months while your application collects dust, so if you apply early you need to prepare yourself mentally for this possibility.

Round 3

As for Round 3 – it’s not just for super impressive Olympic athletes and ex-presidents. Spots in the class are in short supply, but then again the applicant pool is much smaller too. More volatile industries like start-ups give less runway for employees to make important decisions like returning to business school. Accommodating those candidates are the reason why MBA programs have later admissions rounds. It is perfectly fine for those individuals to apply with confidence in Round 3; they should just make sure they’re applying then because that is the right time, not because they were lazy.