How to Cope With B-School Rejections

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on

This is the time of year when final business school decisions are being released, and unfortunately there isn’t always good news. After pouring your heart and soul into the arduous MBA application process, if your status changes from hoping and waiting to officially denied, it can seem like the end of the world.

For those of you feeling disillusioned by a rejection from your dream school, remember this: a mere 6 percent of applicants became members of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business class of 2014, and just 13 percent were offered a spot at Harvard Business School last fall. Getting into a top MBA program is no easy feat.

The process of recovering from a b-school rejection has three main phases: disbelief and devastation, soul-searching for reasons why and actively striving to improve. When the news comes in, the disappointment can feel overwhelming, especially when other friends you’ve made during this process seem to be receiving acceptances left and right.

Step back and give yourself a break. Starting over without taking a breather only sets you up for failure since you’ll be mentally fried before you even begin. Take time to regroup emotionally and focus on friends and family, hobbies or other interests that got placed on the back burner over the past several months.

Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you won’t be going to business school in the fall, it’s time to swallow your pride and cast a critical eye on your initial application to find out why it was rejected.

Go through every component to suss out any weak elements. Is your work experience too limited? Did you clearly demonstrate why an MBA makes sense at this point in your career? Have you shown why you “fit” with a particular school, and what you would contribute to the class?

Though it’s rarely one thing that rings a warning bell, frequent red flags include a lack of leadership skills and experience, less than stellar recommendations and low GMAT test scores or undergraduate grade point averages.

[Learn what matters most in MBA admissions.]

Whether given intentionally or not, a lukewarm endorsement of a candidate is a definite warning sign for admissions committees. Since you usually won’t see the finished letter, it’s important to guide your recommenders by reminding them of concrete examples of your leadership skills and accomplishments.

I suggest saying something like, “I want you to feel comfortable, but I also want to make it as easy as possible for you, so I put together this list of accomplishments.” If you have doubts about whether your supervisors would be willing to write you an outstanding letter of recommendation, then you may need to postpone applying to business school until you do feel confident of their support.

Feedback on your weaknesses directly from the schools is, unfortunately, hard to come by. If you do have the opportunity to speak with a member of the admissions committee, take advantage by asking for details about each area of your application and make sure you walk away from any feedback session with action items for next year.

[Stand out as a b-school applicant with these tips.]

Also, make sure you applied to the right school. Some people apply to the wrong places for them, and they’ll need to do some soul-searching before they reapply. If your scores don’t come close to those of an average student at the school, it’s not likely you’ll get in next time unless you make tremendous strides on your GMAT and have other extremely impressive qualifications, too.

Finally, many schools include an additional essay question directed at candidates reapplying so that they might better understand what’s changed in your situation to make you a stronger candidate this time around. Of course you should stress your new accomplishments, but I encourage applicants to also address any weaknesses they may have.

Be aware of your failures and address them, and be humble. Admissions committees know there’s no such thing as a “perfect” candidate, and one of the best ways to show how self-aware you are is by acknowledging your shortcomings.

[Follow these tips when reapplying to b-school.]

Sometimes though, business school just isn’t in the cards. And that’s ok, too. Earlier this week, I came across a blog post titled, “Why I’m Glad I Got Rejected From Chicago Business School.” In it, entrepreneur Joseph Misiti explains how not getting into the University of Chicago Booth School of Business three years ago changed his life by spurring him to pursue his dream job on his own terms.

“Everything that happens to you in life can be turned into an opportunity – even rejection,” he writes. While at the time, not getting accepted into business school seemed like the worst thing that could have happened, it turned out to be one of the best.

“Success and happiness can be found in places you never thought to look,” he writes.


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