5 Key Tips For Your HBS Reapplication Strategy

Essential tips for you HBS reapplication strategy


Don’t assume Harvard Business School isn’t interested just because you’ve been rejected. Many MBA candidates go through more than one admissions cycle before earning admission to their dream school (and roughly 1 in 10 HBS candidates apply more than once).  Going through the process once gives you a much better idea of what HBS really wants and how to deliver a more polished performance this time around.

As a former member of the MBA Interview Board at HBS and Associate Director of Doctoral Programs, I’ve seen many a promising candidate allow rejection to turn them into a vastly stronger candidate. I’ve also supported rejected applicants in positioning a successful reapplication as a Fortuna Admissions coach. Here’s what you need to know about reapplying to HBS, and the key elements to consider for maximizing your chances.


  1. Craft your reapplication to stand on its own.  Don’t assume HBS will read your past application. The general philosophy has always been that it’s really about the current application, and it stands alone. It’s true that previous application(s) are always made available to the designated reader, but it’s up to this person’s discretion how much time they invest in past work. Make sure to convey what you’ve accomplished since prior applications, and how you’ve grown and evolved. Just know that past records won’t be scrutinized unless something in your current application sends up a flag.
  2. Seek outside feedback. Do you think what you wrote or communicated was found lacking, as opposed to the more quant-driven factors in admission? Maybe you made it all the way through your interview stage but delivered a performance that failed to connect. Know that HBS will sometimes offer feedback, so you should always ask. Feedback from a discerning friend, or an admissions coach with former experience as an MBA gatekeeper, can give you confidence in understanding what went wrong and what the opportunity is for the future. Get grounded in an understanding of where you can improve to determine how to best enhance your story.
  3. It’s okay to redefine your goals. If you suspect your career goals were the weak link in your previous application, take the time to get introspective as well as do the research. Maybe your goals were too vague or were unrealistic (an engineer hoping to pivot to investment banking, for example). HBS wants to see a blend of realism as well as ambition. This means positioning your short- and long-term career goals to be coherent, credible and powerful. Use LinkedIn to research different individuals who may have followed your proposed trajectory and see if you can identify models of success with the goals that you’re developing. This can give you a stronger sense of whether your goals make sense or if your pathway is viable. Sure, you can be a pioneer, but understand how you’ll be perceived and be prepared to make a compelling case.
  4. Revisit & reassess your recommenders. Should your recommenders be the same, or different people? Should their letters be a light revision and update, or something more substantive? The answer is, it depends. Some applicants have a sense of what their recommenders wrote, others have zero access to the content produced on their behalf. And if the latter is the case for you, ask yourself, is this absolutely the ideal person to write about my case? If you’ve changed jobs, that’s a signal to consider someone different who’s a direct supervisor (though sometimes a move is too recent, so a switch isn’t always appropriate). If you’re returning to a previous recommender, supply them with new developments to share that reinforce your fit and potential. Ensure they have sufficient detail to write this refreshed letter with specificity, depth an enthusiasm.
  5. Take your essay to the next level by going deeper & more personal.
    I’ve written previously on What HBS Really Wants, and it bears repeating in this context: Once you’ve reached a certain level of exceptionalism in terms of being brilliant, dedicated and driven, it’s about your story. And great stories inspire an emotional connection with the reader. For the HBS essay, know that it’s your willingness to get truly personal that can often make the difference. To echo my Fortuna colleague, Sharon Joyce, in Writing a Powerful MBA Essay, “This is a medium to be courageous.”

A terrific example is this third-time reapplicant to HBS, whose astonishing essay gave my Fortuna colleague, Judith Silverman Hodara, goosebumps. “Unlike in previous years, this individual revealed an achingly personal account of the family dynamics that shaped her, which conveyed a level of depth to the positive impact she was advancing in her community and company,” writes Silverman Hodara in her recent reflection. This applicant’s willingness to share an intimate story that typified her underlying motivations for pursuing the MBA revealed a level of depth and clarity of purpose that hadn’t come across in past applications.

Finally, don’t consider your status as a reapplicant a disadvantage. Instead, think of it as further evidence of your determination, tenacity, and commitment to HBS, yourself, and the process of becoming a wiser and more self-aware human being. Approaching your reapplication from this perspective will allow your sincerity, courage, and confidence to make it shine.


Karla Cohen is an Expert Coach at MBA consulting firm Fortuna Admissions as well as former
Harvard Business School Associate Director of Doctoral Programs and MBA Interview Board
member. For her team’s candid assessment of your chances of admissions success at a top
MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.