Bouncing Back from B-school Rejection

December 05, 2015 | by Matt Symonds

Nobody likes rejection. It can make you feel hurt and wonder why you weren’t good enough. Although your spirits might be down, the bright side is that you have an opportunity to learn even more from failure, and to set yourself up for success in the future. And how you respond to your current situation will be a critical step in achieving your ultimate goal.

On a daily basis we speak to MBA hopefuls asking us about their chances of getting into top MBA programs like Wharton, HBS, or Stanford. All applicants are unique, with their own interesting personal stories, work achievements, and professional expertise. They’re aware that their competition for a coveted spot at a top school is fierce but they still want to apply, preparing themselves to dedicate large amounts of time to their applications. With schools like Stanford admitting just one applicant out of fifteen or sixteen, the risk of rejection can be very high.

One of our proudest moments is when our clients are successful with their applications and in one recent week alone, seven (out of eleven) of our clients received interview invitations for Stanford. We feel a great sense of satisfaction when we learn this positive news, but for others who didn’t receive interview invitations, there’s disappointment. These applicants are left wondering what went wrong, whether they’re even good enough, and should they try again.

Our advice is simple: don’t despair. Often, bad news does not mean they are not well-suited for an MBA. Rather, it can be that their target school wasn’t a good fit and instead they should consider applying to other MBA programs. Applicants should consider the possibility that they actually do have the right background for their desired school but did not communicate well in their application. There’s also the possibility that the sheer volume of qualified applicants was overwhelming. Fortuna’s Judith Silverman Hodara, former Acting Director of Admissions at Wharton, explains how difficult it was to deny qualified candidates since there were simply not enough spots in the class.

So what should your next step be to bounce back and get back on track? First, take time to understand why you weren’t accepted. This might not be easy since schools rarely offer feedback. Use a critical eye to review your application and ask yourself how your profile compares to the school’s class profile. If the answer is not apparent, for example, if your GMAT scores and undergrad grades are close to the school’s average, then evaluate other factors including your essays, personal positioning, resume, and recommendations. Identify any areas that were not as strong as they could have been. For example, were your career goals unrealistic or ill-defined and did you do enough to demonstrate what you would contribute in the classroom and to the school’s community. We suggest that you ask for feedback from someone who is very familiar with your target school and the admissions process. 

Here are a few additional suggestions for anyone not admitted the first time:

  1. Reapply as soon as you can. If you’re still focused on your target school(s), take immediate steps to demonstrate tangible improvements (such as a better GMAT score, increased work responsibilities, a class to strengthen your quant skills, and improved messaging in your application). Once your application is as strong as it can be, consider re-applying. We also suggest you re-evaluate your resume, essays and personal data forms.
  2. Take time to get additional experience and valuable skills before you reapply. If you conclude that your profile is weak on key skills and experience, consider taking a longer-term approach. For example, if you only have one or two years of full-time work experience, your chances may improve with additional experience, especially if you can show growth since the first time you applied. Make sure to focus on how your profile has improved.
  3. Broaden your list of business schools. Think beyond the biggest name schools to others that can still help you reach your goals. You’re the only person who can decide which is the best business school for you so don’t make your decisions based solely on rankings. Often, having a big brand name MBA is not necessary, especially for schools offering a strong curriculum. Spend time researching alternative MBA schools and pay particular attention to post-graduate career opportunities to decide which other programs could be suitable for you.
  4. Spend more time learning more about your target schools. Some candidates are denied admission because they didn’t convey an informed vision around why they’re a good fit for the school. Before you apply, set up campus visits, meet with school students/professors/alumni, network and attend information sessions.
  5. Determine if an MBA is your only option to progress professionally. How critical is an MBA to get where you want to be and are there other options available? Maybe you can increase your knowledge through other Masters programs or even through a wide number of online course options. Talk to professionals working in your target profession to see if an MBA is the only way to reach you career goal, or if alternate routes exist.

Whatever you choose to do next, consider this a learning opportunity. Every successful person has faced setbacks at some point – even Steven Spielberg was rejected twice at USC film school – and if you fall down three times, get up four.

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