One of the big lessons Piyush Pratik learned from his first attempt to get into an elite U.S. business school: When everyone says you have nothing to worry about, that’s when you should be really concerned.
Friends, family, co-workers, business students, peers, and others all praised Pratik’s application materials for Harvard Business School and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. His application was impeccable, they said. One or both of the schools would be thrilled to have him. He had nothing to worry about.
Then he got dinged by Harvard without an interview. He secured an interview at Wharton but got dinged there, too. And after applying to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in round 2 and getting an interview there, he was dinged a third time.
Pratik was, understandably, devastated. But after taking some time for serious introspection, he was determined to try again. And a year later — after this time ignoring the advice he received, which tended to emphasize how slim his chances were — Pratik was accepted by all three schools, as well as Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, for good measure.
“Many people at the time told me that as a reapplicant my chances were extremely slim and that I should not kid myself with these Tier 1 schools,” Pratik says. “I want reapplicants all over the world to know that it can be done.”
‘I WAS CONVINCED I WOULD NEVER RE-APPLY’
It’s hard to conclude that Pratik, 29, didn’t have the chops all along to get into a top-tier B-school. He graduated in 2011 with a dual bachelor’s-master’s in technology from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, graduating summa cum laude with a GPA equivalent of 3.5. His four years (at the time) of work experience included two as an associate at consulting giant Bain & Company. He is an executive at InMobi in Bangalore, India’s first unicorn and only the second Indian unicorn to turn profitable. And he scored a 760 on his only attempt at the General Management Admission Test — well above the average at Harvard (725), Wharton (732), and Stanford (733). And he speaks three languages: Hindi, Arabic and English.
Of course, Harvard (10.7%) and Stanford (6.1%) also have the lowest acceptance rates of any business school in the world; Wharton (19.8%) is less selective but no cakewalk, either. Nevertheless, Pratik was crestfallen in early 2016 when he learned that he would not even receive an interview at Harvard. His hopes rose, briefly, when he was invited to Wharton’s team-based discussion/interview stage, and it seemed to go well. “And again everyone told me, ‘At HBS there are a few unlucky folks who deserve to be there and don’t make it, but with Wharton you should definitely be able to make it.'” So he was all the more deflated when he was dinged again.
Despite growing self-doubt, Pratik rallied to apply to Stanford in round 2, where he got another interview. That in itself was something of a victory. But it ended with him getting rejected yet again.
“At the time I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, but it did,” says Pratik, speaking to Poets&Quants from Bangalore, India, where he is InMobi’s director of remarketing and commerce advertising. “And at the time, I was convinced I would never re-apply, as this was very demotivating for me.
“I don’t think I can describe it in words exactly how the feeling is. The kind of profile I had in terms of my academic background and work experience, and even in terms of the content of my application, everyone I had spoken to had given me some comfort level: ‘At least you will make it to the short list, because we don’t see any major flaw.’ So getting that first ding from HBS was for me completely unexpected. And everyone I knew was very surprised as to what happened.”
THE BEGINNING OF THE TURNAROUND: LOOKING INWARD
Pratik says he chalked up the first ding to bad luck, “or maybe there was some area where I had not positioned myself well.” But after the second rejection, he began to realize he needed a new approach entirely. “It started to hit me,” he says. “Is there something really wrong about my profile or the way I’m looking at it? Or even worse — is there actually something wrong with me? It was a very bad time in terms of negative emotions.
“My self-confidence was totally shattered,” Pratik continues. “You feel like you are actually good and you deserve to be in places like these, but when one after the other schools do it to you, it brings you very low.” Even with the “small bright spot” of reaching the Stanford short list despite applying in round 2, getting dinged a third time “was rock bottom for me,” Pratik concedes.
It was time to look inward. Which is what he did — and that was the first step to his complete turnaround in fortunes.
THREE MOST COMMON WAYS TO REAPPLY: A BETTER GMAT, A PROMOTION, OR NEW REC LETTERS
“I used to go to forums like P&Q and search for reapplicants’ success stories to boost my own self-confidence, and I used to find them useful,” he says. “Many applicants who are unsuccessful wonder whether they can find the courage to apply again. I was at that spot exactly a year back, thinking ‘Maybe I just don’t cut it.’ The motivation to apply again took a lot of introspection — at least a couple of months — and a lot of effort.” But by May of 2016 he had decided, “I should give it a second shot — a much better and more prepared shot, to take another crack at these three schools and see what happens.”
Of course, most re-applicants follow one or several of three routes in the hopes of getting a second chance. They retake the GMAT to get a better score. Or they progress further in their careers and can then report back to a school that they have landed a new plum job, promotion or assignment. Or, they get recommenders willing to up the game, with more specific and more laudatory letters of recommendation.