In a typical year, if you applied to several business schools and didn’t get in, my advice for the aspiring MBA reapplicant was to reflect on your candidacy, identify the gap in your application, and course correct. Key to strengthening your candidacy is making a significant evolution, which usually requires more time and effort to achieve than is credibly possible between R3 in spring and R1 in fall.
For example, as Minted CEO Mariam Naficy told Fortuna’s Matt Symonds in a Forbes interview, positioning her successful reapplication to Stanford GSB meant retaking the GMAT for a higher score as well as writing a book on investment banking and management consulting that sold to a major publishing firm. The point is that it’s not about making small tweaks to your application but taking your life and career to the next level before you reapply.
But this is not a typical year, and your strategy should adjust accordingly. The past MBA admissions cycle was wholly reshaped by the Coronavirus pandemic: Droves of candidates seized the opportunity to apply to top tier MBA programs during extended R3 or newly created R4 deadlines, while schools were flexing to accommodate candidates by waiving GMAT scores among other COVID-related admissions changes. And while the circumstances prompted schools like HBS to expand waitlists, and programs like Wharton to invite many more candidates to interview, the reality is there was still a slim number of seats for late-round candidates compared to R1.
The challenge for anyone who was dinged in R3 or 4 (or was thrown into limbo on the MBA Waitlist) is you can’t necessarily look at your application and derive a clear gap – your results may have little to do with your candidacy, and much more to do with the landscape. There were very few seats and a huge spike in application volume. As P&Q reported, UVA Darden saw a crazy 364% jump In R3 apps, while apps at INSEAD surged 57%.
‘STRENGTHEN YOUR CANDIDACY’ IS DEFINED DIFFERENTLY THIS YEAR
Still, you don’t want to submit looking like the same person who just applied. The big difference in this cycle is that the notion of strengthening your candidacy is defined differently. Below are five key tips to repositioning your MBA application for maximum success in R1.
1. Leverage your previous application experience to your advantage.
This year, admissions committees are likely to be understanding if you’re someone who was originally aiming to apply for fall and gave it a shot early given the circumstances. This is where it’s okay to be honest that you were driven by your enthusiasm and can reenter the process with the benefit of experience. For example, I spoke with a candidate who was recently rejected from Darden, but who gained valuable insights through the interview process and various interactions with the admissions committee, giving her a more solid foundation to reapply. If she chooses to do so in Darden’s early action program, she’ll have the opportunity to share how these interactions with the school deepened her commitment to Darden as her #1 choice. As you reapply, you’ll want to convey a greater clarity of purpose and why R1 is even better timing for your candidacy.
2. Go deeper & get more personal.
This is your opportunity to offer some genuine reflection on how the events of past year have shaped and changed you, from the coronavirus pandemic to the protests for racial justice to any number of interconnected events that have upended systems, lives, and livelihoods worldwide. This fall, admissions committees will be looking to see how you’ve spent your time, how you or your career goals have been impacted, and, perhaps most importantly, how you’ve responded to the changing circumstances. Several schools have introduced new essay questions like Wharton, Berkeley Haas, and UCLA Anderson to solicit this level of reflection and self-awareness. Know that it’s your willingness to get truly personal that inspires an emotional connection to the reader and can often make the difference.
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 not clearly tied to your past professional or extracurricular involvements. Most business schools want 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. Seek outside feedback.
Get grounded in an understanding of where you can improve to determine how to best enhance your story. If you’re someone who submitted with lackluster test scores or a rushed essay, you probably know it and should tune your attention to dialing in these foundational elements. But, if you’re at a loss about where to focus your efforts, feedback from a discerning friend or an admissions coach with former experience as an MBA gatekeeper can give you confidence in understanding where the greatest opportunities lie to enhance your application.
5. 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 idea about the content submitted 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, remind them of new developments to share that reinforce your fit and potential, so they have sufficient detail to write this refreshed letter with specificity, depth, and enthusiasm.
For more advice, view these related articles by my Fortuna Admissions colleagues: MBA Waitlist Strategy: Key Tips for Navigating the Covid Cycle and Round 1 Strategies Amid Covid.
Karen Hamou is an Expert Coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions as well as a Columbia Business School alum and former Deloitte Consulting recruiting lead. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.