Were your b-school applications rejected? Eager to go for the gold again? If this sounds like you, read on! This blog post offers a step-by-step process for reevaluating your rejected application, and submitting top-notch applications to the best schools for you. If you implement the principles discussed here and apply with strong essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews, you should find yourself preparing to attend a favorite business school in the not-too-distant future.
Here’s to your successful reapplication!
A reapplication effort inevitably starts with rejections. When you get that rejection, you realize that you’re either not going to the business school you initially wanted to attend, or not going to business school next year at all. In either case, should you decide to reapply, there are several must-knows to make your next attempt more successful.
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: if you applied to any of the most competitive, top fifteen schools, chances of admission are slim, as they often have a 10–20% acceptance rate. Thus, even if you possessed impressive qualifications, there were too many candidates possessing your overall profile who applied to that school, and you simply did not make the cut. Any more specific reason remains unclear. (One thing to keep in mind: if you had a promising application and you submitted it late in the cycle, chances are that the school just ran out of spots.)
Waitlisted applicants certainly fall into the category of the basically 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. (Again, applying late is frequently a risk factor and something you should consider if you were rejected and are fundamentally competitive.)
Years ago, Accepted had a client, an accountant, who was accepted to every single MBA program that he applied to except for one, where he was waitlisted, and which was, naturally, the one he wanted to attend. He eventually decided to withdraw his name from the waitlist, but he wrote to the school letting them know that he intended to apply again in the future and asking for some feedback. They told him that his stats were excellent; his work experience was competitive; his essays were among the best they’d ever read. Naturally, he asked the logical question, “Well then, why didn’t you admit me?” And they told him they had a policy of admitting only fourteen accountants each year. Because he applied in Round 2 due to health problems during Round 1, they’d already filled the fourteen accountant slots by the time he applied; thus, they had to put him on the waiting list.
Again, while applying in the second round is not late, some spots are taken. And if you apply third or fourth round, that increases your chances of a rejection simply based on the decreasing spaces available, never mind your qualifications.
If you’re applying in one of these later rounds, therefore, you’ll need to try especially hard to distinguish yourself from your fellow applicants. That means demonstrating professional growth; addressing whatever weaknesses there may be in your profile head-on; and, perhaps most importantly, highlighting your distinctive personal or professional background.
The good news is that reapplicants in this rather large category tend to do well the second time around.
Let’s consider a different group now – those who were rejected because of an application weakness. Usually, one of the “five pillars” of their application was weak.
The “five pillars” are the most critical aspects of your 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. You need to determine which factors contributed to your rejection in order to rectify them. Each school’s feedback protocol is subject to change so check with your programs as to whether and when they give feedback. Getting feedback often involves a 15–20-minute session with an admissions director, who will go through the different aspects of your application.
Prepare for a feedback session by developing a set of questions that you would like answered. The first and foremost one 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 that interview and you don’t have answers to these questions, you’ve missed a golden opportunity. At the same time, as valuable as the feedback from an admissions director 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.
If the feedback, however, points to concrete and specific issues in your previous application, then you have to change that aspect of your profile or apply to a different school. Most schools, when considering your reapplication, look at how well you addressed their concerns in the new application.
If your schools don’t give feedback, or if you miss the windows they have provided for feedback, then you need to do a self-evaluation, and/or you need to seek feedback from a service like Accepted.
Look more closely at the five pillars of your application:
Look at your stats and compare them to your target school’s averages. If you applied to a school where the average GPA for accepted students is 3.5, and your GPA is 2.8, you’re in trouble. You need to take classes and show that you are ready and capable of applying yourself in an academic setting and earning A’s. That’s the name of the game. Calculus, Statistics, Accounting, Econ and Finance are all excellent preparatory, quant-based courses for business school. You may also want to consider online options like HBS CORe or MBAMath.com.
If your verbal or English skills are weak, enroll in Toastmasters or take advanced English courses, such as English for Business, or Communications for Business; these are all classes that will improve your verbal skills, and again, garnering A grades will demonstrate that you’re working on this weakness.
If your test score was weak and your target school requires a GMAT, GRE, or EA, you need to prepare for and take the test that you find easiest.
If you applied to two or more schools where your stats are significantly below the schools’ averages and you are not from an under-represented minority, you are probably aiming too high and not applying realistically. If this is the case, you have two options: Either you need to improve those stats by retaking the test or earning A’s in additional coursework, or you need to apply to different schools.
Furthermore, evaluate the school(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. If you applied only to one or two schools, and you were not quite competitive at those two schools, consider additional programs that support your goals and diversify your application pool. We recommend that you apply to between four and six schools, and apply to a range of schools with varying reputations for prestige and selectivity, particularly if there is a weakness that you’re asking the school to overlook.
Now, if you decide to apply to a few lower-ranked schools, then look for schools well regarded in your specific area of interest, but perhaps not as highly regarded overall. For example, Tepper is constantly ranked number two in IT and Operations. Overall, however, it’s typically ranked in the mid-twenties. The same with Purdue – it consistently ranks in the top five for Operations, Management, Supply Chain, etc., but overall, it’s ranked much lower. Babson is consistently placed by both Business Week and U.S. News in the top five for entrepreneurship, yet ranks in the top fifty overall. The University of South Carolina ranks very highly in international business, but overall ranks much lower. So, think about your interests: if the aforementioned specialties are of interest to you, and you are having trouble qualifying for the schools that are ranked highly overall, then these programs, and others like them, are 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 quantity was the issue, 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, either at LBS or MIT or the Stanford MSx programs. They are full-time programs aimed at more experienced applicants.
But in terms of your reapplication efforts, although the time since your initial application can help you supplement your professional experience, it can also work against you if too much work experience was the problem. 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, your professional experience is not just looked at in terms of quantity. If anything, that’s the less important aspect. Quality is far more important. If you assess, or the school provides feedback, that your work experience didn’t measure up qualitatively, that it somehow was not competitive, or that the school feared you would not be able to contribute valuable insights and perspective to classroom discussions, 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, gained more responsibility. Admissions folks will want specificity, such as, “I’m now managing a department of twenty,” 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 initiative outside of work. Start a charity, lead a fundraising drive, take a significant role in a mentoring program. There are endless opportunities. And again, adding international dimensions to your profile or work experience would be a significant change. Assuming leadership for competitive schools is everything.
3. Personal qualities
Demonstrating your personal qualities is one of the central purposes of your essays. More specifically, 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. They also look for impact. For example, if you mentor someone and have a significant and long-lasting impact, that stands out in your application (and in the life of others!). Perhaps you turned around an at-risk kid and got them to study, ultimately helping them to get accepted to college; perhaps you taught an illiterate to read!
Showing community service is important, however you do it. And take note: community service does not only mean working in soup kitchens; 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 leadership roles, and having an impact on those around you, you’ll be demonstrating all kinds of qualities that business schools value, including leadership, community service, teamwork, organizational and time management skills, and initiative.
Here is a CRUCIAL writing tip: The key is to demonstrate these qualities and attributes, not to claim them. “Show, don’t tell,” is the name of the game. The essays should not represent a form of essay spam or key word choices. You want to use experiences from your life to prove that you have these qualities. You can find lots of good tips for writing the essays and demonstrating the qualities on the Accepted Admission Blog.
Did you show why this specific school’s program is going to help you achieve your particular goals? That’s a key question. To answer it, you must also have a clear answer to the question: “What are your goals?” Once you clarify your personal and professional goals, you can figure out which schools are best for you. Start by researching the schools you are interested in. You can perform this research by visiting the school’s website and examining the curriculum and special programs at the school. You can attend their info sessions online, or offline when offline programming resumes. In most years, school representatives travel throughout the world, meeting with prospective students and pitching their programs. Attending the school receptions and MBA fairs is a good way to get an introduction to the school. Additionally, talk to current students and recent alumni. Ask them about professional opportunities in your field of interest for graduates of the school. 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? Is the professor doing research or consulting for a firm that you’re particularly interested in? That kind of knowledge can really add specificity and authenticity meat to an essay on why you want to attend the school, and you are encouraged to mention professors and their courses by name in your essay.
5. Why should we admit you?
This key question must be answered if you’re applying to intensely competitive schools or you’re coming from a common applicant profile, be it an accountant, an Indian IT grad, or whatever. This question is on some level code for: 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? That is an exceedingly important question for all, but especially for the very traditional applicant. Non-traditional applicants have a different challenge, as they have to 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?
Now let’s look at how the schools themselves look at the application. First of all, let’s recognize differences in attitudes towards reapplicants. INSEAD, for example, has historically been less welcoming to reapplicants.
In the past, INSEAD would admit or reject. There were a few options for admittance: For example, if it had filled up its particular intake, INSEAD might admit you for the next year, or at a different location. But once it rejected you, that was it; there was no such thing as reapplication. That changed several years ago. Now some applicants are encouraged to reapply, and if you get that encouragement, it definitely pays to try again. But if reapplication is discouraged, it definitely does not pay to reapply. The Bottom Line: Pay attention to what the adcom tells you.
Most other schools are much friendlier to reapplicants. Chicago, Wharton, Michigan, Darden, MIT – they look at reapplication as a sign of serious interest. Again, seek feedback, evaluate it, and follow instructions, but generally speaking, most MBA programs look favorably on applications from reapplicants. This is especially true if you are reapplying after being on the waitlist; while there are no guarantees, you are a little bit ahead of the game.
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 file all new essays, new letters of recommendations, 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, they will be looking to see that your new application addresses the issues they raised in their feedback; after all, they’re not giving you feedback to waste time. They want to see that you used it. They won’t read your whole file from last year, but they will very likely read the previous reviewers’ notes. If they have questions, then they’ll go to last year’s file, 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 last application, plus any new scores, new transcripts, etc. In this kind of reapplication, your earlier application is far more significant. If you feel your old essays were dismal, or that your letters of rec need to be “adjusted,” or that your old application was really flawed, you can ask the school if it’s permissible for you to submit an entirely new application. You should make that request if you feel your previous application was really weak and problematic.
And 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 simply augment the original version. If you are unsure which path is best for you, this is something with which our expert Accepted consultants can help you.
Timing a reapplication
Particularly for waitlisted applicants, we advise you to aim for the first round as much as possible, as this demonstrates seriousness, preparedness, and eagerness. Furthermore, a few schools require reapplicants to apply 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 them know about it. But make sure that any later updates you send are reporting significant changes, not minor or superficial adjustments. And make sure they accept the update.
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 craft excellent essays, improve interpersonal skills, and perfect your profile so that you can beat the odds second time around. Check out our reapplication packages and get back on track to MBA success.For 25 years, Accepted has helped business school applicants gain acceptance to top programs. Our outstanding team of MBA admissions consultants features former business school admissions directors and professional writers who have guided our clients to admission at top MBA, EMBA, and other graduate business programs worldwide including Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Booth, INSEAD, London Business School, and many more. Want an MBA admissions expert to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!