Reapply to B-School and Get In
by Tara Weiss
Were you rejected by the business school you most wanted to go to? All is not lost. You can always reapply–and you can have a much better chance at admittance, if you make the right moves.
“Applicants are gun-shy about reapplying. They think the school will be, like, ‘This guy can’t take a hint,’ ” says Scott Shrum, the head of M.B.A admissions research at Veritas Prep, which offers business school preparation courses and application consulting. “That is absolutely not true. They’re very interested in hearing from you again. Just don’t show up with the same application.”
They want to hear that you’ve made progress in your career and improvements to your application since they turned you down. It can be hard to know exactly why you were rejected, though. “It’s rarely one thing,” says Stacy Blackman, author of The M.B.A Application Roadmap. But there are common reasons. The most 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.
Of course, it’s all much easier if the school tells you what was wrong with your application, but many don’t have the resources for that. Those that do offer feedback have strict guidelines about whether and how to get in touch.
For instance, the Haas School of Business, at the University of California at Berkeley, offers feedback only to students who made it far enough to get interviewed. That includes candidates who wound up on the waiting list, according to Peter Johnson, director of admissions for Haas’ full-time M.B.A. program. When you receive your rejection, you’re told how to schedule a feedback appointment, which is a 15-minute phone conversation with a member of the admissions committee. There, your application’s strengths and weaknesses are discussed, and you’re offered ways to improve it the next time around. These appointments take place in the summer.
Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management don’t offer feedback at all. But Beth Flye, Kellogg’s assistant dean and director of admissions and financial aid suggests: “As we review re-applicants, we want to see what changes and/or new, additional information their applications highlight. Examples of what we look for include an improved GMAT score, a new job or promotion, or relevant coursework completed since the previous application.”
Lackluster recommendations can hurt you without your ever knowing. When you reapply, ask for a recommendation from someone who intimately knows your leadership abilities and work style. You want him or her to be able to identify as many concrete examples of leadership skills and activities as possible.
You aren’t supposed to see a recommendation once it’s written, so you need to manage that process carefully. First, ask the person if they’d feel comfortable writing a very strong recommendation for you. Then schedule a meeting to discuss specifics. Recommendation writers often don’t understand what makes a great letter, so you’ll want to help them along.
Refresh their memory about all you achieved while working with them, providing a list. Then go over it with them. Blackman recommends 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.”
You also should be able to show how you’ve pursued your career goals since you last applied. Since applications are due in the fall, you’ve still got time to accomplish things at work that go beyond your job description. Think about how you can fix a problem at your job. Make something happen that wouldn’t occur without you there.
The same goes outside the workplace too. Volunteer activity is significant, but don’t do it just to get it onto your application. Find something you’re passionate about. Is there something in your community that you’ve always wanted to change? Now is the time to do it. If you’re already involved in volunteer work, take on a leadership role there. Have an impact.
You can easily see if your GMAT score is what you did you in. Schools publish their students’ average scores. Also, if you don’t have any quantitative classes on your college transcript, take a course in calculus, and get an A in it.
Finally, make sure you applied to the right school. “Some people apply to the wrong places for them. They need to do some soul-searching before they reapply,” Blackman says. 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.
In any case, visit your top-choice schools and take their tours. You’ll meet with students, professors and admissions officers (in groups) and get an idea of whether you’d fit in. Ask questions–but don’t think about asking an admissions officer to review your application. That is not what those information sessions are for.
Most schools have an essay question just for re-applicants. It usually asks what changes in your candidacy they should be aware of. That’s where to fill them in on all your new accomplishments. Admissions officers look for candidates who are self-aware, so don’t be afraid to address any weaknesses you had when you first applied and explain how you’ve corrected them.
“Be aware of your failures and address them,” says Blackman. “Be humble.”