Was your b-school application rejected? This blog post offers a step-by-step process for evaluating your rejected application and crafting a standout application for your next attempt. If you implement the principles discussed here and reapply with strong essays, letters of recommendation, and an interview, you should find yourself preparing to attend a favorite business school in the not-too-distant future.
Here’s to your successful reapplication!
A track record of success with reapplicants
Over the years, I have coached many clients who successfully reapplied to their target schools. One client from India with a 770 GMAT, stellar GPA, and strong international work experience was rejected from all the M7 schools to which he applied. You would think he would have gotten a slam dunk somewhere with those stats!
Once I read his application, I knew immediately why he had been rejected. His essays were, frankly, boring and generic. The elements of his profile that made him so exceptional (his low-income background, being the first child in his family to attend university, his cutting-edge tech experience) were barely mentioned at all. His resume read more like a list of duties, rather than highlighting his impact.
We worked together to refashion his essays. First, he narrated the journey of how he beat the odds and transformed into a true leader. He also reworked his goals to reflect an exciting vision, informed by experts in the field.
The candidate also conducted research and engaged in networking, which really paid off. He first reached out to clubs at his target MBA programs where he had a natural affinity. Through those conversations, he developed a better understanding of why he was a good fit for the programs and of specific aspects of them that could help him achieve his vision.
Some of that information went into his reapplication essays. Other insider knowledge he gleaned helped him prepare for his interviews. All that work paid off – he was accepted to two M7 schools in Round 1!
He had the stats, the story, all the raw ingredients, but better essays and better timing were what ultimately got him accepted.
Reasons for rejection
First of all, it is important to consider any possible reasons for your rejection. There are two main types of rejections. The first type is a rejection because of the numbers: At the most competitive, top 15 schools, chances of admission are slim – they often have a 10%-20% acceptance rate. Thus, even if you possess impressive qualifications, there were too many highly qualified candidates, and you simply did not make the cut. Any more specific reason remains unclear. The school might have run out of available spots. Waitlisted applicants certainly fall into the category of the qualified but not quite accepted pool. Think of it this way: If you were waitlisted, you were acceptable. You met the bar. But somehow you weren’t as acceptable as somebody who got an acceptance letter. (Applying late is frequently a risk factor and something you should consider if you were rejected but are fundamentally competitive.)
Again, while applying in the second round is not late, some spots are going to be already taken. And applying in the third or fourth round further increases your chances of rejection simply because of the decreasing spaces available, regardless of your qualifications.
Let’s consider a different group now – those who were rejected because of an application weakness. Usually, one of the “five pillars” of a rejected candidate’s application was weak. These “five pillars” are the most critical aspects of one’s application:
- Work experience
- Personal qualities and characteristics
- The “Why should we admit you?” factor
Unless you are 100% certain which of these pillars might have caused your rejection, you should seek feedback from the programs that provide it. Several schools do offer feedback. The adcom at Michigan Ross says that if they have time, they will offer feedback. UCLA Anderson admissions provides feedback to candidates at the end of the admissions cycle. Dartmouth Tuck and UVA Darden offer feedback to applicants who accept a place on their waitlist.
Check the FAQs of your desired program to learn whether and when they give feedback. Getting feedback often involves a 15- to 20-minute session with an admissions officer, who will go through the different aspects of your application.
Prepare for this session by developing a set of questions that you would like answered. The first should be “Could you point out areas of weakness in my application that contributed to my rejection?” (They probably will answer this question without prompting, but just in case, that should be at the top of your list.) After you get their feedback, even if they have addressed this fundamental question and while being respectful of the adcom member’s time, go through the five pillars and ask the following questions:
- Were my academic stats competitive? If not, how so? Would additional coursework improve my application?
- Was my work experience MBA quality? If not, what can I do to make it more competitive?
- Did my essays convey the personal qualities you value? If not, how can I do better?
- Did I show why I am a good match for your particular institution?
Now, if you walk out of your feedback session and don’t have answers to these questions, you’ve missed a golden opportunity. At the same time, as valuable as feedback from an admissions officer can be, just like everything else you read or hear, you have to evaluate it. If it appears vague, general, and unfocused, you were probably rejected for subjective reasons.
However, if the feedback points to specific issues in your previous application, then you will have to change those aspects of your profile or apply to a different school. Most adcoms, when considering your reapplication, look at how well you addressed their concerns in the new application.
If your schools don’t give feedback, then you will need to do a self-evaluation and/or seek feedback from a firm such as Accepted.
Look more closely at the five pillars of your application.
Compare your stats to your target school’s averages. If you applied to a program where the average GPA is 3.5, and your GPA is 2.8, you’re in trouble. You need to take classes and show that you are capable of applying yourself in an academic setting and of earning As. Calculus, statistics, accounting, economics, and finance are all excellent preparatory, quant-based courses that relate to business school. You might also want to consider online options such as Harvard Business School’s CORe or MBAMath.com.
If your verbal or English skills are weak, take advanced English courses. Consider hiring a one-on-one tutor. Garnering A grades will demonstrate that you’re working to address this weakness.
If your test score was weak and your target school requires the GMAT, GRE, or Executive Assessment, you need to prepare for and take whichever test you find easiest.
If you applied to two or more schools where your stats are significantly below the schools’ averages and you are not a member of an underrepresented minority, you are probably aiming too high and not applying realistically. Furthermore, evaluate the program(s) you applied to. If you applied exclusively to M7 schools (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan, Kellogg, Booth, and Columbia), and you simply don’t have the stats for them, mix it up; apply to some lower-ranked schools. We recommend that you apply to a range of schools (four to six) with varying reputations for prestige and selectivity, particularly if there is a weakness in your candidacy that you’re asking the school to overlook.
Now, if you decide to apply to a few lower-ranked schools, then look for ones that are well regarded in your specific area of interest. For example, U.S. News & World Report ranked Tepper number two in business analytics and information systems. Overall, however, the school is typically ranked in the mid-20s. Babson is consistently placed by both Bloomberg Businessweek and U.S. News in the top five for entrepreneurship, yet it ranks in the top 50 overall. Georgetown University ranks very highly in international business but overall ranks much lower. So, consider your areas of interest: If you are having trouble qualifying for the schools that are ranked highly overall, then these alternate programs, and others like them, might be excellent options for you.
2. Work experience
Now in terms of the professional pillar, you have to examine both quantity and quality. Another year has passed, and presumably, you’ve moved up. If lack of work quantity was the issue with your application, time has been your friend, and you’re already in better shape. On the other hand, if you’re an older applicant and time is working against you, you have an embarrassment of riches in your experience. Consider applying to more experience-friendly schools. Another option is an executive MBA program; if you have the stats for them, look into the Sloan Fellows Programs at London Business School and MIT Sloan, USC Marshall’s International Business Education and Research MBA program, and the Stanford MSx program. These are full-time programs aimed at more experienced applicants.
For more information on overcoming the challenges of both early career and more experienced applicants, please see:
- Applying for an MBA with No Work Experience: What You Need to Know
- MBA Application Advice for Younger Applicants
- Applying to Regular Full-Time MBA Programs as an Older Applicant
However, quality is just as important as the length of your professional experience. If you determine through your self-assessment that your work experience didn’t measure up to that of other candidates, or if the school notes this in its feedback, then perhaps a promotion or a change in your responsibility has already addressed this problem. If it hasn’t – in other words, you haven’t earned a promotion, or you’re in a very narrow technical role and need to broaden your horizons – try to move to a more business-oriented position. If you have been in a strictly domestic role, try to add an international dimension to your experience. Any of these changes will improve the quality of your work experience from an admissions perspective.
You also have to present your work experience effectively. Be sure to quantify how you’ve improved, advanced, or gained more responsibility. Admissions officers want specificity, such as, “I’m now managing a department of 20” or “I now have budgetary responsibility twice what it was” or “I have a sales territory three times the size.”
Another way you can show significant change is to take initiative, especially for elite MBA programs, which like to see leadership outside of work. Start a charity, lead a fundraising drive, or take a significant role in a mentoring program. There are endless opportunities.
3. Personal qualities and characteristics
Demonstrating your personal qualities is one of the central purposes of your essays. Your essays should reveal how your personal qualities match the values of the school, particularly those attributes not shown in your transcript, resume, or job history. The most desired MBA applicant qualities are leadership, interpersonal skills, initiative, and teamwork. The schools also look for impact. For example, if you mentor someone and have a significant impact, that stands out in your application (and in the life of others!). Showing community service is important, no matter what form that takes. And understand this: Community service does not mean just working in a soup kitchen; it can also mean helping your community in whatever way you relate to “community.” It can be your professional community, ethnic community, political community, or religious community. The bottom line is that by assuming responsibility, taking a leadership role, and having an impact on those around you, you’ll be demonstrating all kinds of qualities that business schools value.
Did you clearly convey how and why the specific school’s program would help you achieve your particular goals? That’s a key question. To answer it, you must also have a clear answer to this question: “What are your goals?” Once you clarify your personal and professional goals, you can figure out which programs are best for you. Start by researching each school you are interested in. You can perform this research by visiting the school’s website and examining the school’s curriculum and special programs. You can attend an online info session or visit the campus in person. In most years, school representatives travel throughout the world, meeting with prospective students and pitching their programs. Attending school receptions and MBA fairs is a good way to get an introduction to the different programs. Additionally, talk to students and recent alumni. Ask them about professional opportunities in your field of interest. Make sure that the school’s graduates get the kinds of jobs you are most interested in.
Finally, look into what the professors at the school are doing. Would you like to take a particular professor’s class? Are they doing research or consulting for a firm that you’re particularly interested in? That kind of knowledge can really add authenticity to an essay with respect to why you want to attend the school.
5. The “Why should we admit you?” factor
This key question must be answered if you’re applying to an intensely competitive school or have a common applicant profile. On some level, the question is code for all the following questions: How will you make a difference at our school? What can you contribute? How are you unique? What can you add to the class? Do you have an unusual level of professional achievements? Do you have musical talent? Unusual energy? Initiative? A spiritual bent? A mania for running? Experience abroad? What are you going to bring to the b-school party? This is an exceedingly important question for all candidates but especially for very traditional applicants. Non-traditional applicants have a different challenge, in that they must show how they’ll fit in. But the more traditional you are, the more you have to show how you will stand out.
How do schools view my reapplication?
Generally speaking, most MBA programs look favorably on applications from reapplicants. This is especially true if you are reapplying after being on the waitlist; although there are no guarantees, you are a little bit ahead of the game.
Harvard requires an entirely new application and says, “Reapplicants do not have an advantage or disadvantage in comparison to other applicants.”
Wharton requires a new application and an extra essay. But this extra work can pay off: “We encourage you to reapply for the next academic year. Reapplications make up approximately 10% of our applicant pool in any given year.”
About the percentage of reapplicants that are accepted, MIT Sloan says it “varies year-to-year but typically the acceptance rate for reapplicants is a few percentage points higher than our average.”
Again, reach out to your target school, seek feedback (unless the adcom specifically states on the school’s website that feedback is not offered), evaluate your prior application, and follow instructions.
Types of reapplications
Schools generally ask for one of two kinds of reapplications. The first kind is a whole new application. In this case, you have to submit all new essays, new letters of recommendation, your same transcripts, and your test score. (If you have improved your score, submit it!) If you received feedback from the school on your first application, the adcom will want to see that your new application addresses the issues that were raised in their feedback. They won’t read your entire file from the prior year, but they will very likely read the previous reviewers’ notes. If they have questions, then they’ll consult your previous application, but usually, they don’t.
The other kind of reapplication just requires you to submit one or two essays, or a letter to update the school on what has changed since your previous application, plus any new scores, new transcripts, and so on. In this kind of reapplication, your earlier application is far more significant. If you feel your old essays were dismal, that your letters of recommendation need to be “adjusted,” or that your old application was really flawed, you can ask the school if you can submit an entirely new application. You should make that request if you feel your previous application was really weak and problematic. There are also schools, of course, that fall in between these two extremes. Again, it’s a judgment call as to whether it’s worth putting in the additional effort to rewrite your application or whether you should simply augment the original version. If you are unsure which path is better for you, our expert Accepted consultants can help.
Timing a reapplication
We advise you to aim to submit your reapplication in the first round if at all possible, particularly if you were waitlisted, because this demonstrates preparedness and eagerness. Furthermore, a few schools require reapplicants to apply in the first round, so be sure to check the reapplication requirements. However, if your work experience was lacking and applying in the second or third round would allow you crucial time to build up that resume, and the school does not require a Round 1 reapplication, this deserves some serious thought. While this is the type of question to navigate with an admissions consultant, it might be advisable to prepare your application for Round 1, and if you feel something is going to change at work significantly that you would like to include in your application, you can hold off on submitting until Round 2. Another possibility: Apply in the first round, and if something does change, let the adcom know about it. But make sure that any later updates you send are reporting significant changes, not minor or superficial adjustments.
Reapply with confidence
The reapplication process can be tricky and requires careful consideration, but it is also a fantastic opportunity to claim your place in your dream program. Don’t waste this chance! The experienced admissions consultants at Accepted know how to help you craft excellent essays, improve your interpersonal skills, and perfect your profile so that you can beat the odds the second time around. Check out our reapplication packages and get back on track to MBA success.
Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant. Want Michelle to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!