Why You Were Dinged By Your Dream School

It’s a fact of admissions life that most candidates who apply to the best schools are rejected. Stanford Business School, the most selective MBA program in the world, only accepts 6.5% of its applicants. Harvard Business School says yes to little more than 12% of those who apply. Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business denies admission to more than eight of every ten applicants. Duke University’s Fuqua School turns down roughly 70% of those who apply. MIT gets a dozen applicants for every seat it has available in the entering class.

It’s important, however, to keep in mind that getting turned down for admission to a top school is not the end of the world. Of course, you’re let down. You may even be devastated based on all the work you invested in the application process. So it’s crucial to understand that the applicant pool at any of the top business schools is teeming with smart candidates who have 700-plus GMAT scores and stellar undergraduate records.

The big question for you now is “Where do go from here?” Set aside your initial disappointment and take as objective a look as possible at what your application lacked. There are a variety of reasons why a candidate gets a rejection letter.

The key reasons:

1. You didn’t apply to realistic programs, but rather applied only to schools in which you had very little chance of gaining admission.

2. You applied too early or too late in your career.

3. You weren’t a fit for the program to which you applied.

4. While you may make a strong candidate, the overall applicant pool happened to have exceptionally strong candidates, raising the hurdle for admission.

5. Your brand was unclear or lacked focus.

6. You failed to make a compelling case for why you need the MBA.

7. Your application lacked self-awareness.

8. Your application had fundamental flags around judgment or interpersonal issues.

9. Your application lacked convincing evidence of leadership or community involvement.

10. Your application raised concerns regarding academic preparation and intellectual strength.

11. Your recommendations had a damning effect.

12. You rushed the application and didn’t spend enough time on it.

13. You didnt convince the admissions board that you would be a fit for the particular program.

14. You bombed the interview.

Take a step back and evaluate your application in its entirely. Better yet, have someone you respect and who knows you very well review your application and provide you with feedback. Current students or alumni of the program are usually effective in giving the most useful feedback.

Understanding what went wrong with the application also can come from the admissions staff at the business schools that rejected you. MBA programs vary in their policies on providing feedback. Harvard Business School, for example, offers feedback only to college seniors, but Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Penn’s Wharton School and UCLA’s Anderson School offers feedback and even encourages strong applicants to apply again in the future.

Feedback sessions are typically offered at the end of the admissions cycle, during the summer months when the workload is much lighter on the admissions staff. Given the volume of re-applicants, I recommend that you sign up as soon as feedback spots become available since they fill up quickly. Also, because the feedback from admissions can be particularly helpful, taking this extra step can play a major role in the outcome of your application if you your re-application should you chose to reapply. There are many programs that do not provide feedback to applicants whose applications were denied, so you may also wish to have an independent consultant evaluate your old application and provide you with strategic steps you can pursue to increase the chance of a successful application next time.

Chioma Isiadinso is the author of “The Best Business School Admissions Secrets” and the founding CEO of EXPARTUS, a global admissions consulting company. She has more than ten years of admissions experience and is a former admissions board member at Harvard Business School and former director of admissions at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Public Policy and Management.

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