Not being accepted to business school when you first apply can strike hard, filling you with doubt, uncertainty and fear about trying again. I want to reassure you that success can still be yours when you reapply. Of course, success comes with careful reflection and self-evaluation so that your next round of applications stands out and best represents the “true you.”
Fortunately, there are three practical steps that you can take today to positively influence your MBA application the next time you apply. Follow these and your MBA dreams will begin to fall into place.
Step 1: Find out why your first application was rejected.
Determining why the board passed on your application will offer insight into what changes or updates are needed when you reapply. The following are the seven main reasons why applicants are rejected by business schools.
1) Unrealistic expectations. Sometimes applicants are adamant that they must attend a specific school without realistically considering the quality of their competition. If the majority of the admitted class has GMAT scores of 700 and GPAs of 3.5 and your numbers are significantly lower, you must broaden your list of schools. Similarly, if you don’t bring strong work experiences, consider looking at a school that may better suit your background.
2) Rushed applications. Applicants often underestimate how much work is required to submit a strong application, causing them to rush through the essays, under-prepare for the standardized exam and resort to cut-and-paste answers that don’t account for the nuanced differences of each school. For example, one sure way to be rejected is to recycle your Harvard Business School (HBS) essays for Stanford. Rushing also leads to errors: applications riddled with typos or the wrong school name will significantly hurt your admission chances.
3) Weak rationale for needing a MBA. Remember that the board is concerned with admitting individuals who will thrive at their school and who will be employable after they graduate. Career plans that are not anchored in reality will likely result in a rejection. If you don’t have a vision for your career, the admissions board may reject your application. Do enough homework on each program so that you understand their interests and invest time in soul-searching to determine genuine career goals.
4) General red flags. Common red flags include arrogance, lack of team commitment, weak communication skills, or poor interpersonal relationships. These issues are often picked up through interviews, recommendations and your essays.
5) Lack of fit. Avoid the temptation to apply to popular programs just because everyone around you is applying. Instead, reflect on the type of environment that excites you. Are you best fitted to a small, close-knit program away from a city (consider Tuck) versus large, urban programs (Columbia, London Business School, and Wharton) or a program with exceptional curriculum flexibility (Chicago) versus a program that has rigid first year requirements (HBS). Consider whether you would enjoy being taught in a completely Case Method context (HBS, Darden) versus a combination of lectures, cases, and projects like you will find with most MBA programs.
6) Demonstrating poor judgment. There are many ways applicants reveal bad judgment. The first is not addressing a gaping hole, such as low grades, academic sanctions, gaps in work experience or termination of employment. The second is the tone and topic of your essays, which may raise questions about your maturity. For example, blaming others for a project’s mishap instead of taking personal responsibility will make the admission board question your judgment overall.
7) Luck of the draw. Luck does play a role in the evaluation process. You may apply in the year when your school happens to be looking for candidates from a different industry than yours. For instance, HBS just disclosed the profile of their recently admitted class and it shows a decline in percentage of bankers and those from private equity backgrounds. I suspect that some bankers who would have been admitted a year ago were rejected this year.
If you continue to question why your initial application was rejected, an objective review by an admission expert will allow you to identify your Achilles heel. This can be done by an admission consultant who has served on a MBA admission board or by the school itself (Be aware that most schools do not offer feedback anymore).