3 Reasons for Rejection From a Dream MBA Program

rejection MBA admissions

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com

If you’ve been feeling down since receiving a rejection letter from your dream business school, I want to offer some insight into why it happened, and remind you why you should keep your chin up.

First off, all of the top MBA programs are notoriously selective. It may be that out of every 100 people who submit materials, only seven to 12 are accepted. Harvard Business School – ranked No. 1 among MBA programs by U.S. News – rejected more than 8,000 applicants for its class of 2017. In other words, it’s very much a numbers game when you’re applying to such competitive programs. There are only so many spots for an overwhelming number of extremely talented candidates.

That may be hard to accept for people who have reached every goal they’ve ever gone after. So, here are three possible reasons why your target b-schools did not offer you admission.

Overrepresented demographic: Each program strives to put together a diverse class of impressive people. However, no one knows the magic formula that any given admissions committee uses to fill open spots.

The very elements that typically make up a strong candidate for business school – solid academic background, stellar test scores, work experience in investment banking, engineering or consulting – may not have strengthened your case because too many other candidates shared those exact same characteristics in this application cycle.

Everything from your gender to your industry to your nationality to your career aspirations, community service and personality comes into play when an admissions committee attempts to build a graduating class.

While you can’t do anything to change your basic profile, if you do apply again try to hone in on elements of your background, interests and experiences that set you apart. Even the most typical MBA candidate can find something that will enhance the experience of fellow classmates.

Lack of self-awareness: They say high self-awareness is the strongest predictor of overall success. Business schools love to admit applicants who appear dedicated to their personal development, which is why the “tell us about your greatest weakness” question is so popular in both essays and interviews.

There’s no such thing as a perfect MBA applicant, however. Everyone has weaknesses, and if you don’t acknowledge them, the admissions committee will make a judgement on how introspective and self-aware you are.

If your essays or interviews contain any excuses-making, passive-aggressive comments, outright bragging or rambling answers, they will question your maturity and fitness for their program. Any doubts will likely lead to a hard pass, so answer those questions honestly, but always with a positive tone focused on continual improvement and reflection.

Low stats with no explanation: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard members of the admissions committee express dismay over applicants who don’t make use of the optional essay to explain the common red flag of low quantitative stats or proof of quantitative proficiency. This isn’t the time to cross your fingers and hope for the best, no matter how many stories you’ve heard of applicants getting into the Stanford University Graduate School of Business with a 650 GMAT score.

If you plan on reapplying, you have a few options. The surest route is dedicating more time to studying so you can strengthen your score; then it won’t be an issue next time. If your stats still hover below the median at your target programs, take a college-level course in statistics or accounting and prove to the admissions committee that you know your way around a spreadsheet.

Yet another route requires more of that self-reflection I mentioned earlier. Make sure you’re targeting programs that line up well with your stats. Look at programs outside the top 15 and see if there’s a better fit with higher acceptance rates that will get you where you need to go, career-wise.

Once you’ve pulled together a strong application and submitted it, the process is out of your hands. You will never be able to do anything about who (or how many people) you were truly competing against for a spot, who read your application or what kind of mood they were in that day.

Developing resilience is incredibly important if you need to reapply, but it’s also essential in life. Even when you put your best out there, you might still fail. However, to be successful, you need to learn how to bounce back and try again.

Image credit: Flickr user Anne-Lise Heinrichs  (CC BY 2.0)
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