7 Best Practices for Reapplicants
At many of the top MBA programs, admission rates are as low as 7-13%. Significantly, this means that 87-93% of all applicants in a given year are rejected! So if you received a rejection letter from one of your top-choice MBA programs, you are not alone. You may find yourself doubting whether you put your best application forward and whether it is possible to have a better outcome if you correct weaknesses in your candidacy or in your application. But you may also be wondering, “If I was rejected once by my target MBA program, is there any hope of success on a second try?”
You will be happy to know that most MBA programs will look at a candidate with fresh eyes if the candidate fixes whatever served as the main reason(s) for the rejection. We have seen many candidates succeed in gaining admission to schools – the very schools from which they were rejected in the past (even when they had applied just the year before), including schools such as Harvard Business School, Stanford Business School, Wharton, Columbia Business School, Booth, Kellogg, Tuck, Fuqua, Haas and MIT, among others. Success in achieving a better outcome with a reapplication is not a matter of mere luck. Improving the application alone can have magnificent results. The actual application – essays, recommendations, resume, application form – matter that much! Improving key credentials can also be crucial. There are many best practices that can help boost your odds of success with a reapplication.
Best Practice #1: Do a complete and accurate diagnostic.
If you want to reapply with a better shot at admission, a key step is to gain a good understanding about the factors that were obstacles to your admission. You need a complete diagnostic. This is absolutely a crucial first step. Why? Because you cannot fix the problem if you don’t know what the problem is.
The list of things that could have been a “problem” for an applicant can be extremely varied. For some candidates, there might have been a problem with their academic credentials, by which we mean their GPA or GMAT score. For other candidates, the problem might have been timing – the Round in which they applied, or the week in which they applied if the admissions process involved rolling admission. For candidates with extremely competitive profiles – particularly candidates who are foreign national East Asian men or foreign national South Asians (men and women) – applications can be very affected by the Round at some schools and applying too late in a rolling admissions cycle can also be a notable problem.
For some candidates, the essays they wrote did not aid their quest for admission and they need to re-write the essays with much better content. That alone can sometimes allow a candidate to go from rejected to accepted at their top-choice business school. For some candidates, the recommendations were weak. Many candidates do not realize that one weak recommendation alone can close the door to admission at the most competitive schools, even if the rest of their application is impeccable. (And sometimes, the weakness in the recommendation can boil down to one or two horrible sentences that dealt you a fatal blow.)
Too little work experience, too much work experience or disjointed work experience can all be problems. The list goes on! Your first step to reapplying successfully is to determine what the weaknesses of your application were and to strengthen those weaknesses so that you put forward a stronger application and candidacy when you reapply.
How can you get an excellent understanding of the precise factors that caused your rejection? First, try to reach out to the business school that declined to admit you. Some schools offer formal feedback sessions in which they will discuss with you many of the factors that contributed to your rejection. Even in the absence of such a formal process, some candidates succeed in making contact with admissions officers and are able to arrange a feedback session. If you cannot speak directly with a school, you can consider hiring a reputable consultant to review your application and provide feedback. Among the important factors that should be assessed are these:
GPA – undergraduate
GPA – graduate (if applicable)
Impact of citizenship
Timing of application (Round, etc.)
Essay content – topics chosen
Essay content – writing quality
Strength of recommendations
Strength of resume
Strength of application form
Prestige of college/ grad school
|Impact of age
Adequacy of work experience
Quality of work experience
Consistency of work experience
Industry – asset or negative?
Prestige of company
Effectiveness in conveying work experience
Quality of personal story
Quality of extracurricular activities
Effectiveness in showing a fit with the school
Best Practice #2: Strengthen your academics as needed.
Your academic credentials comprise a key area to assess at a deeper level. Were your GMAT score and GPA sufficient for the school you were applying to? Please note, to answer this question, you cannot necessarily just look at the average GPA and GMAT score for the school to which you applied, because where your particular GPA and GMAT score need to be is impacted by your profile. In general, underrepresented candidates (ethnic minorities who don’t apply in large numbers, as well as most women) can be a little lower on the GMAT and GPA than the average for matriculating students of a particular school. Overrepresented candidates’ scores (such as East Asian foreign national men and South Asians) often need to be higher than the average for matriculating students of a particular school.
How important is the GMAT in particular? The GMAT provides MBA admissions officers with a standard metric by which to compare candidates from all over the world and offers an indication of whether a candidate will be able to excel in a rigorous MBA program. Because of this, a GMAT score plays an important role in admissions outcomes. If you find your GMAT score is really low relative to where it needs to be for admission to a particular school, you should consider taking a formal GMAT prep course or otherwise studying and taking the test again.
If you have a lower-than-ideal GPA, you should to try to override it through different means, such as securing a high GMAT score, securing other indicators of your strong analytical skills like certifications or a CFA credential, building an alternative transcript (take courses at a reputable school in business-relevant areas and get As), and earning promotions and awards in the workplace. Time is also a useful factor: the more time you put between your less-than-ideal GPA and applying, the less important that GPA will be. If you apply only two years after college and you had a low GPA, the low GPA will likely factor much more strongly in your admissions outcome than if you put four years in between college and applying.
Best Practice #3: Re-examine your recommendations.
This is a very key step! It is a rare day when we review a rejected application and find that the recommendations did not play a role. Many candidates do not realize how important the recommendations are in determining admissions success. You can have a wonderful application in all other ways (essays, GMAT score, GPA, resume, app form), but if the recommendations are lukewarm about you, this alone can often close the door for an interview to the top MBA programs. The admissions committees want to hear that you are a great performer capable of success in business school and beyond. If any one of your recommendation writers indicates that you are just “second best”, the admissions committee may lean instead toward other candidates with much stronger recommendations. If your recommendations were a problem, be certain to make sure that with your reapplication your recommendations support your candidacy excellently.
Best Practice #4: Assess your essays – both in terms of “strategic content” and presentation.
Your MBA essays are absolutely critical for admission to business school. It is hard to underscore this enough. Nearly every time we review the application of a candidate who failed to gain admission to their desired business school after applying on their own, we see a great deal of room for improvement in their MBA essays – both in terms of their strategic content and the specific wording they used to talk about their achievements and credentials. Did you shine a light on the credentials and experiences that are very impressive, distinguish you and are most likely to get you admitted? Did you highlight personal, professional or academic experiences that make you stand out? Did you skillfully address weaknesses, directly or indirectly, to minimize the importance of those weaknesses? If not, it may be possible to revise or completely re-craft the essays and achieve much better outcomes.
Best Practice #5: Re-examine your designated short-term and long-term goals.
Sometimes a key contributing factor to a rejection is the stated short-term or long-term goal. When assessing whether your short-term goal worked for you, think about whether the admissions committee would have thought that you could attain your short-term goal relatively easily. If not, they could be concerned that with you, they would have a job placement problem on their hands (bad for their statistics and their rankings), and hence they might reject you on the basis that you were seeking a goal for which you had inadequate preparation or credentials. In fact, Cornell issued a feedback sheet to some of its unsuccessful candidates that explicitly indicated a problem was “planning a significant career transition without prior preparation.”
When considering whether your long-term goal worked for or against you, consider at least three things. First, was the goal clear? Don’t sound too uncertain or mention multiple possible career goals. Second, given your work experience and training, do your long-term goals look realistic? Some candidates find themselves rejected when their past experience on the surface shows no relationship to their stated long-term goal. If you do indicate you will be making a big change, you need to spell out how you will get from point C to point F. What are steps D and E? Third, does your career goal distinguish you? For example, if you are a foreign national male engineer and you have indicated that you want to start you own manufacturing company, you can only imagine the number of candidates with similar backgrounds who are indicating the same thing. Without providing more definition about your goal, you will look very “generic”.
Best Practice #6: Re-examine non-essay portions of your application.
What are the key non-essay portions of your application to consider? Your resume, application form and interview performance. Because many top MBA programs have adopted shorter MBA admissions essay content, the resume and application form are all the more important. Interviews have also seemed to play a greater role in admissions outcomes at several top MBA programs. Was your application form a strength of your application? Or did you fill out your application form quickly and fail to give deep thought to how to summarize your jobs and your achievements on the application form? Did the resume highlight your key achievements in the professional, academic and extracurricular arenas? Was it presented in a very business-like fashion using action-oriented words? How did your interview go? Did you prepare adequately? Did you perform poorly in the interview? If you did not maximize your use of these items, be certain to correct this in your reapplication.
Best Practice #7: Show improvement by the time of your next application!
Knowing that the top MBA programs value excellence professionally, academically and in your extracurricular activities, you should strive to strengthen your credentials in these areas even if you have no glaring deficits. During the time you have between your last application and your reapplication to a business school, you should be certain to continue to build your credentials and be able to articulate those improvements in a reapplication or reapplicant essay. For example, if you had a low college GPA, you ideally should be able to point to some online courses you have taken since applying that have helped strengthen your academic and/or analytical skills. If your feedback session with an admissions committee member indicated you did not perform well in your interview, you should be able to point to some opportunities you have taken to get more practice with public speaking. If you determined that your extracurricular activities were weak, you should be able to point to new activities you have engaged in since your last application. Even if you did not have a notable weakness in these areas, showing continued growth is a plus. For example, even if a candidate had a high GPA and GMAT score, it will only impress the committee if that candidate moves forward to gain extra training, takes an online business-relevant course or gains a reputable certification. A demonstrated commitment to continual growth, even when a weakness is not present, is an asset. Be certain to articulate through your essays all you have done to make yourself an even better candidate as you reapply.
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