Rejection from business school doesn’t have to mean the end of your MBA aspirations. Every year rejected applicants reapply to MBA programs, and many of them get accepted the second time. Think of the entire MBA application process as a learning experience in and of itself. Applicants should contemplate what they would do differently now based on knowing the process—and themselves—better this time around.
If things didn’t work out as you’d hoped last season and you find yourself making another go of it, be sure to avoid these common mistakes when you reapply.
1. Don’t settle for a mediocre GMAT or GRE test score if you have time to improve it. If your test scores didn’t fall within the 80 percent range at your target schools, you need to either bring up your score or think twice about reapplying to those same programs. If it’s a simple case of not preparing enough, then use this time to ramp up your studying, take a class, or hire a tutor who can help maximize your efforts and teach you the best methods for answering the various question types.
2. Don’t overlook opportunities to receive feedback on your application from the admissions team. Find out the feedback policy of your target schools and get in touch with the admissions office right away to let them know that you plan to use the feedback toreapply next year. If you questioned anything during the application process, use this brief but valuable time to gather any actionable intel you can.
That said, don’t spend a lot of time stressing over elements of your application that you can’t change in less than 12 months. Instead, use the feedback from the admissions committee and your own honest self-analysis to determine where you can improve in order to better position your application for the next admissions cycle.
3. Don’t forget to show specific areas of change or improvement, especially if you plan to apply to the same school(s) again. Many business schools welcome re-applicants who demonstrate they’ve made a sincere effort to improve upon their previous application and strengthen their candidacy. Re-applicants need to sit down with their applications and go through each section to determine where they need improvement. You want to show how much you’ve accomplished since your application last crossed the admissions desk.
Perhaps you can brush up on your quantitative skills by taking additional classes in financial accounting, statistics and microeconomics; report a stronger GMAT score; gain more leadership experience; or more clearly demonstrate how your target program will help you achieve your specific career goals.
4. Don’t keep applying to the same set of schools if you’ve already been rejected more than once. In my experience, applicants usually know, deep down, what is right for them even if the school provides no feedback. No one should apply more than twice to the same school. It’s time to reassess your strengths and realign your expectations with programs that fit better with your profile.
Although you may have your heart set on a top-tier school, in reality, a program in the top 20 or beyond may help you achieve your professional goals just as well. Throwing other schools into the mix is one way to avoid a dead end.
5. Don’t underestimate the importance of interview preparation. You’re only human, and during your initial MBA interviews you may have gotten nervous and you might have somehow messed up. While you’ll never know for sure if you tanked the interview the first time around, the best way to prevail next time is through prep, prep, and more prep.
Come ready to discuss things you haven’t shared in your application, and armed with insightful questions that show you’ve thoroughly researched the program and that you really want to be there. The interaction in an MBA interview speaks volumes about what kind of teammate you will be when you’re in the program, so make sure the right message is coming across loud and clear.
6. Don’t forget to connect the dots from your background, to an MBA, to your future professional goals. Applicants often fail to explain clearly to the admissions committee why they need the MBA, thinking that it’s obvious based on their experience or career aspirations. Make sure to clearly detail what you still need to learn and what experience you must gain in order to reach your career goals, and why X business school is the best place to do so.
Talk about any unique programs that are related to your area of interest, or how the community will support your plans, and mention how specific clubs or classes will help you reach those career goals. Don’t be afraid to point out what gaps you have and exactly how an MBA can help.
7. Don’t recycle your previous MBA essays. This one seems obvious, but according to numerous admissions officers, it happens every season and more times than they can count. At best, you’re not answering the precise question the school is asking, and at worst, you risk accidentally leaving in the name of another school and receiving an automatic rejection.
Even if the essay prompt hasn’t changed, you likely have. Consider trying a new approach to answering the question now that you have another year of life experiences under your belt. Some schools keep your previous application in your file, so whatever you submit should demonstrate a fresh approach and show how you’ve grown academically and/or professionally.
8. Don’t panic and apply to too many schools. It’s tempting to pile on more schools to your target list as a way to hedge your bets and increase your chances of admission the second time around. While adding a few additional schools, or replacing some on your existing list, is wise, overextending yourself by applying to more than six schools seldom pays off. There’s a diminishing return on investment once you spread yourself too thin. Applying yourself to produce the absolute best four or five applications is a smarter strategy.
9. Don’t leave recommenders in the dark about what constitutes an awesome recommendation letter. You shouldn’t assume recommenders are familiar with the application timeline, online submission process, or how to discuss your work. Create a recommender package for them that contains instructions on the process, a reminder list of your strengths with on-the-job examples, as well as a growth area you’re working on, and a summary of your career goals that the recommender can use as a reference.
When it comes to your recommenders, think about whether seeking out different or additional people from the last application will re-enforce your more recent accomplishments. Choose people who like you, care about your success, and who think you’re good at what you do. If a past reference seemed less than enthusiastic in any way, don’t use him or her next time. That person’s ambivalence likely came through in the letter they submitted.
10. Don’t try to be “Joe MBA” –playing it safe by doing what “everyone else” does. If you tailor your essays in an attempt to make yourself into the so-called perfect MBA applicant, you’ve totally missed the point of the essay in the first place. The goal is to show what an introspective and interesting candidate you are. While many applicants have similar credentials, the beauty of the MBA application process is that it allows candidates a chance for self-reflection, and to discover that they are more unique than they first imagine. So be yourself, and write in a way that allows the admissions team to genuinely get to know you.
Finally, re-applicants should turn in their revised applications no later than the first round, when admissions committees are just beginning to assemble the next incoming class. Applicants have to accept that a small part of the application process has to do with timing and luck. The composition of the class matters, too. The truth is that only the admissions committees know what they’re looking for. Re-applicants often fare better than first-time candidates, but they still might not make the cut. Resilience is key, and reapplying—even if not successful—will still help you grow as a person.