The first question I am usually asked is, “What did I do wrong?” after an MBA applicant is rejected. Don’t assume you did anything wrong – it could be you applied from an overcrowded sector and/or demographic. Check your assumptions and solicit feedback but be careful not to fall prey to hindsight bias. Just because you’ve been rejected doesn’t mean Harvard Business School isn’t interested.
Many MBA candidates go through more than one admissions cycle before earning admission to their dream school (and roughly 1 in 10 HBS students had to apply more than once before gaining admission). Going through the process once is almost a rite of passage and it can give you a much better idea of what HBS really wants and how to deliver a stronger application the second (or third) time around.
As a former member of the MBA Interview Board at HBS and Associate Director of Doctoral Programs, I’ve seen many promising candidates 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.
FIVE ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR REAPPLYING TO HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL
1. Craft your reapplication to stand on its own.
Don’t assume HBS will read your past application. They absolutely can and in some cases they will, but in general, the approach is to view each application on its own merits, and it should be able to stand alone. This does NOT mean you should recycle the exact same content unless it’s unavoidable (certain elements, especially related to employment, should not change – or that would be another issue). So, while it is true that previous application(s) are always made available to the designated reader, it’s up to that individual to decide how much time to invest in reviewing past work.
Make sure to convey what you’ve accomplished since prior applications and focus on how you’ve grown and evolved. You are allowed to change your goals and ambitions (you are human, and we change our minds, especially at this stage in our lives). Just know that past records won’t be scrutinized as much as you might expect them to be. Readers are strapped for time, and pre-interview, far less time than you might imagine is allocated to reviewing applications than most applicants assume.
2. Seek outside feedback.
Part of checking your assumptions is getting different perspectives on what could be better. Many “released” applicants will jump to conclusions about GMAT or GRE scores being the issue and focus efforts on retaking that vs. considering the broader picture. It might have nothing to do with your score, if it’s in the range of what other admits have. Outside perspectives can help you understand if what you wrote or communicated was found lacking, as opposed to the more quant-driven factors in admission.
So get a second (and potentially third) opinion. Maybe you made it all the way through your interview stage but delivered a performance that failed to connect or was inconsistent with what you stated in your application. In the past, HBS would offer feedback, so you should always ask, though this may no longer be part of their process. Thus, feedback from a discerning friend, or an admissions coach, 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 and look at every area of the application for growth areas to determine how to best enhance your story and chances.
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 to gain clarity and focus. Maybe your goals were too vague or were unrealistic (an engineer hoping to pivot to private equity, for example). HBS wants to see a blend of realism as well as ambition when considering goals. 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. If you are to be pioneering, you need to demonstrate that this isn’t the first time you have mapped out success in uncharted territory.
View all five tips on how to reapply to HBS in the Fortuna Admissions blog.
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.