Just because you love someone doesn’t mean they’re going to love you back. That motif probably covers 75% of country songs. And it’s good advice if your heart is set on a specific school.
Candidates get rejected (or waitlisted) for the darndest reasons. It’s really no different than job hunting (or dating). For some adcoms, it is all about the numbers. Your GMAT or GPA is too low compared to your peers. In some cases, your numbers fit, but your candidacy isn’t compelling enough for them to take a risk. For others, your track record – personal and professional – doesn’t stand out. You’re simply not as impressive as you think. And they just don’t see you making much of a dent as an alum.
Alas, some will even knock you for a gut feeling. They may not like you or they’ll sense, right or wrong, that you’re enrolling for the wrong reasons.
So forget competing against your peers. When it comes to admissions, there are more ways to knock you out than keep you in. So how do you know where you went wrong…and what you can do to jump-start your candidacy?
You can start by meeting with the admissions committee, according to U.S. News and World Report. For example, students rejected by the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business can meet with staff members after the admissions cycle to learn how to improve their candidacy. And North Carolina State’s Jenkins Graduate School of Management will meet with applicants anytime.
To be more proactive, some candidates meet with admissions staff before submitting an application. Cory Kizielewicz, who was rejected three times by Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business (before eventually graduating from there in 2013), spoke with staffers ahead of applying so he could make “a more personal connection with them.” Kizielewicz also took it a step further and shared his application with Georgetown students and alumni, which gave him an insider’s viewpoint when drafting his resume and essays. He even hired a coach, who helped him align the “story” on his resume with his essay responses.
Sidhartha Thakur, a Darden student, followed a similar path as Kizielewicz. After his initial rejection by Darden, he met with the admissions team. In the process, Thakur was humbled to learn that many applicants had similar backgrounds. What’s more, the team didn’t view his growth at IBM as particularly noteworthy. Thanks to this feedback, he sought out international assignments and eventually earned a promotion. By showing this growth and potential, Thakur became more appealing to the school.
Stacy Blackman, author of The MBA Application Roadmap, points out that applicants should look inward before deciding where to apply. For starters, she warns them not to get their hearts fixed on one school, particularly elite programs like Harvard or MIT, where admissions range from 8-15%. Instead, she encourages candidates to look at their appeal realistically and identify suitable fallback schools that fit their goals. “Being realistic about your profile and aligning yourself with programs that mesh with your particular academic and professional background is the surest recipe for success,” she says.
Blackman adds that candidates should perform some soul-searching before applying. “It is true MBA programs are skewing younger these days,” Blackman notes, “accepting applicants with five or fewer years of work experience rather than the typical seven of the past, but that just means candidates need to be even more amazing in less time…Ask yourself if you have had enough life experiences to provide an interesting perspective to a class. Will your potential recommenders act as champions for your cause, or is your relationship with a supervisor still new and untested? Can you devote time to improving your test score in order to expand your portfolio of program options? Would taking another year to strengthen your profile make more sense and yield better results?”
In short, be humble. Assume everyone has similar credentials. And understand that the differences between accepted and rejected candidates are hair thin. So take the time to really understand your aspirations and value proposition, along with the culture and expectations of your target schools. Any small advantage can make a difference.