“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
'You have learned something. That always feels at first as if you have lost something." - George Bernard Shaw
According to Wharton's website, "Reapplications make up approximately 10% of Wharton's applicant pool in any given year." Did you submit an MBA application in a previous year that resulted in a denial? Here are some tips for how to re-apply successfully. We start with three questions to ask yourself after being denied admission:
1. Did I apply at the right time?
2. Did I apply to the right schools?
3. Did I share the right messages and stories with the right people?
Since 2002, I have helped more than 60 clients reapply to business school. My reapplicant clients have been admitted to Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Chicago, LBS, Kellogg, Michigan, Tuck, UCLA, Duke, and UNC. In every case, applicants began the process by reassessing their approach.
Please start by challenging every assumption you have about yourself and the MBA application process. Try to look at your denial as a gift. Being rejected by a school gives you an incredible opportunity to learn from experience, but only if you are willing to re-examine all of your assumptions. Work hard, and keep hope alive.
Version 1 (Dartmouth Tuck MBA)
How have you strengthened your candidacy since you last applied? Please reflect on how you have grown personally and professionally.
Version 2 (Wharton MBA)
How has your candidacy improved since the last time you applied? Please use this space to explain how you have reflected on the previous decision on your application and to discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). You may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances.
QUESTIONS BEHIND THE QUESTION
- Show us why you're different. Each year thousands of students apply to business school and yet many qualified candidates are not offered admission.
- With MBA admissions growing more and more competitive each year, it's really important to stand out in the crowd by attempting to differentiate yourself from those of a similar profile.
- What can you do between now and the first round deadline at your target schools? Start by asking yourself the following questions.
- First, did I apply at the right time?
- Timing relates to when you applied in your life cycle (professional and personal experience) as well as when you applied within the application cycle (first round, second round, third round, etc.)
TIMING PROBLEM 1
INADEQUATE CAREER PROGRESS
Did I show enough progress and leadership potential in my career?
- Potential weakness → limited career experience
- Recommended improvement strategy → demonstrate significant achievements and leadership successes
Can you show a track record of success, with increased responsibility?
- Have you secured a promotion since your previous application?
- Even if an official promotion is not possible, how have you taken on leadership assignments beyond those expected of you?
- For example, have you started mentoring or supervising others?
TIMING PROBLEM 2
LIMITED COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES
Did I show enough leadership potential outside my professional career?
- Can you show a history of long-term involvement in activities that matter to you?
- Rather than starting new activities, you might consider showing continued involvement with undergraduate or other post-graduate institutions.
- Admissions officers believe that past behavior is the best indicator of future actions: if you actively support your undergraduate institution, you are likely to be an active student and generous alumni member who contributes time and money to strengthen the school's reputation and programs.
TIMING PROBLEM 3
WEAK NUMBERS and/or WRITTEN APPLICATION MATERIALS
Did I rush my application for an early round, or submit my application in a late round when I could have stood out more in an earlier round?
- Potential weakness → GMAT / GRE or TOEFL / IELTS score below the median at your target school(s)
- Recommended improvement strategy → retake exam(s) to improve the competitiveness of your file
- Potential weakness → unimpressive written application (resume, application data forms, essays and/or letters of recommendation)
- Recommended improvement strategy → start your applications earlier, dig deeper, work harder, and solicit professional feedback from experienced advisors who are motivated to give you honest, critical feedback
Six steps for successful MBA reapplicants
My successful reapplicant clients followed these six reapplication steps
- Assess your results
- Improve your profile
- Reconsider your target schools
- Confirm each school's application requirements
- Create a better application
- Invest more time, and apply earlier, if possible
1. ASSESS YOUR RESULTS
WHY WERE YOU DENIED?
- Nothing apparent was wrong
- Applicant pool was competitive and others were a little stronger
- Admissions needed to look at diversity issues (gender, functional background, and/or cultural background)
Some aspect of the application was weak
- Errors in application
- Admissions could not see the fit [LINK: WHAT IS FIT?]
- Applicant did not show sufficient qualifications (academics: GPA, GMAT, TOEFL if required; career performance, leadership ability, leadership potential, community involvement)
- Applicant did not make strong enough presentation (no "selling points," weak "storytelling," flat or "boring" writing style lacking details)
Here is a handy table of common suggestions that might fit your case
Recommended Strategies for Improvements
GMAT / GRE or TOEFL / IELTS score below the median
Retake the exam and send an updated score report
Limited exposure to quantitative coursework or tasks / Low GMAT quantitative score (below 65%)
Improve your GMAT quantitative score and/or complete quantitative coursework
Join Toastmasters or a similar public speaking group
Planning a significant career transition without prior preparation
Network with individuals in your desired industry and consider refining your goals
Limited career experience
Demonstrate significant achievements and leadership successes by sending updates and/or obtaining an additional recommendation
Fit and commitment to this program
Contact current students, faculty, staff, and/or alumni to learn about your target school and how you could contribute
Provide an updated statement about why this school is the best MBA program for you
2. IMPROVE YOUR PROFILE
Should you reapply?
- Yes, if you can significantly improve your performance in one or more of the following
1. scholastic ability
- GPA was at, or above, the average scores of my top choice schools
- TOEFL score was at, or above, the average scores of my top choice schools
- GMAT scores were at, or above, the average scores of my top choice schools
2. personal character
- Can you demonstrate growth or maturity that allows you to build trustful, mutually beneficial relationships among your peers, juniors, and seniors?
- Have you deepened your knowledge of your target program by speaking with current students and recent alumni?
- Have you visited campus, joined a class, and met leaders of the clubs you plan to join and lead?
4. leadership ability
- Have you received special training or mentorship from recognized thought leaders within your organization, community, or professional field?
5. interpersonal skills
- Have you joined Toastmasters or some other program that emphasizes communication and presentation skills?
6. career performance
- Have you secured a promotion?
- Have you started mentoring or supervising others?
7. management potential
- Have you taken on leadership assignments beyond those expected of you?
Other questions to ask yourself
- Were you qualified for the programs that you applied to?
- How does your GPA compare to the expected minimum GPA [LINK: ] of accepted candidates at the schools of your choice? NOTE: The average GPA for admitted candidates at most of the top MBA programs is around 3.5.
- How do your test scores compare with the average scores [LINK: ] of people who were accepted to the schools of your choice? NOTE: The average GMAT for admitted candidates at most of the top MBA programs is around 710.
- Did you demonstrate leadership at work and in your extracurricular activities?
What is in your control?
- Identify the things you can and cannot change. Put emphasis where it matters most.
- Reassess your future goals.
- Do you still need an MBA?
- Share my story
- First time denied by NYU's ITP (rivals MIT Media Lab).
- After being denied, I expanded my research on programs that fit me better.
- I changed the degree that I pursued because I'd my goals had evolved to media design for education. That is what I studied
- Then, I reapplied and was admitted to ITP, plus five top media / education programs, including Harvard, Columbia, & Northwestern
- I chose NYU because it focused on production and marketing
Show how you have improved yourself in one or more of the following ways:
- How have you taken more leadership and responsibility in your projects?
- How have you grown as a manager? ... as a team member?
- What new insights have you gained into your future goals?
- What new insights have you gained into what you seek from an MBA program? ... from this school in particular?
- What, if anything, have you been doing in your private life?
- Have you increased your involvement and/or leadership in any activities outside of your job?
- Do you have experiences that show leadership ability and potential?
- Have you been involved in projects that led to some significant contributions or changes in your company, a client's company, your industry, your country, etc.?
- Have you been the "first," or the "only," or the "youngest" to accomplish something?
- Do you have any work experience outside of your career - for example, volunteer work or extracurricular activities during university?
- Have you gained any teamwork or leadership experience from activities outside of your full-time job?
- What organization do you support?
- How do you add value to these organizations?
- What have you accomplished?
3. RECONSIDER YOUR TARGET SCHOOLS
- Did you apply to programs based on your post-MBA goals and qualifications?
- Did you aim too high?
- Or is it possible that you were qualified for these programs but that you didn’t properly establish “fit”? [LINK: ]
- Did you focus too heavily on rankings and brand instead of on whether your target school was actually an appropriate target for YOU?
- How can I improve my chances of acceptance at schools that previously rejected me?
- I applied only to the most competitive schools
- I did not receive good advice from other people.
- I was not familiar with school-specific application strategies
SCHOOL RESEARCH AND NETWORKING
- Did you do sufficient research and information gathering before you applied to schools?
- Did you attend any business school information sessions or MBA fairs?
- Did you visit any business school campuses?
- Did you contact current students or alumni?
- Did you participate in any other activities that allowed you to learn more about business schools and the application process?
4. CONFIRM EACH SCHOOL'S REQUIREMENTS
First, confirm what each schools is looking for in successful applicants. If you study their admissions criteria as I have, you will find that many top MBA programs evaluate candidates'
1. scholastic ability
2. personal character
4. leadership ability
5. interpersonal skills
6. career performance
7. management potential
Many schools streamline the process for reapplicants. But each school does so in its own way. Many schools ask you to write a "reapplicant" essay. Others ask you to submit the same materials as first-time applicants.
5. CREATE A MORE COMPETITIVE APPLICATION
- Did you effectively present your qualifications?
- Were your application essays well written and persuasive?
- Did you interview well?
- If these aspects of your application were okay, then what went wrong?
- Did you submit a powerful resume that demonstrates impressive achievements and leadership potential?
- Does your resume include your professional and university experiences?
- Did you highlight your most impressive accomplishments?
- Did you use strong "power verbs" to describe your work?
- Did you use details and quantifiers (such as numbers, percentages, etc.) to demonstrate your accomplishments and results?
- Were there any essay questions that confused you?
- Is it possible that you had not understood any questions correctly, and used inappropriate examples in your responses?
- What "selling point(s)" did you convey throughout your essays?
- What qualities and strengths did you highlight?
- Did you demonstrate your leadership ability [LINK: ] in your essays?
- Do any of your examples show that you had made an impact on someone or something?
- Did you give examples of teamwork ability and ability to work with diverse people?
- Did you show any examples of experiences with different cultures, styles, people, etc.?
- Did you use many examples, details and descriptions when writing your essays?
- Did you tell a "story" or did you list facts?
- Do your essays show balance? Did you use different examples and thus show different aspects of your background and strengths?
- Did any of your essays (for one school) overlap or use similar-sounding examples?
- How did you describe your future goals?
- Did you sound clear?
- Did you use details?
- Are your goals realistic?
- Did you explain why there is a need in society for your goals and why you are the right person to carry them out?
- Did you describe in detail EXACTLY why you want to go to that particular program?
- Did you use details that connect your needs to the school's resources?
- Did you copy anything from the school brochure or website?
- Did you include any information that would have cast doubt on your abilities? For example, did you mention any weaknesses without providing an example of how you have minimized its negative impact?
Reapplicant essays often follow this logic:
Since my previous application, I have improved my application in four ways.
- First, I advanced my career.
- Second, I took on increased leadership roles outside of work.
- Third, I clarified my career goals.
- Fourth, I confirmed my fit with [SCHOOL X] by
- MEETING ALUMNI
- MEETING CURRENT STUDENTS
- VISITING CAMPUS
- MEETING ADMISSIONS OFFICERS
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
- Were your references detailed and enthusiastic?
- Who wrote your letters?
- Did you include a recommendation from your current, direct supervisor?
- If no, did you include a note in your application explaining why?
- If you did not get a direct supervisor letter, did you include another letter detailing your recent accomplishments and managerial potential?
- Do your letters look similar to one another, in either format or content?
and what qualities/abilities did they write about?
- Relationship: How long s/he has known you
- Describe your relationship. Is / was s/he your direct supervisor? If not, what is the nature of your relationship? How frequent is/was your interaction?
- Specific project where s/he saw you show leadership potential
- Specific project where s/he saw you show teamwork skills
- Weaknesses / areas you need to develop further (with examples)
- Most important piece of constructive feedback s/he gave you (including the circumstances and your response)
- Did you take advantage of every interview opportunity? If no, why not?
- How often did you practice?
- If you interviewed, what do you think your strengths were? What do you think your weaknesses were?
- Were there any questions that you were not able to answer?
- Did you express strong interest in the school?
- Did you give the impression that the school was your first choice?
- What questions did you ask at the end of the interview?
- Did you write a follow-up thank you letter?
6. INVEST MORE TIME AND APPLY EARLIER, IF POSSIBLE
- Determine if you applied at the right time.
- You might want to consult this sample round one MBA admissions timeline.
- For some top MBA programs, the earlier you apply the better. It could be that spots for students with your background and/or qualifications had already filled up by the time you applied.
- Did you give yourself enough time to complete your applications without rushing?
- How much time did you spend thinking deeply about your past and about your goals?
- According to the AIGAC MBA applicant survey, applicants spent from 12 to 20 hours developing a career strategy and updating their resume / CV. How about you?
- How many hours did you spend preparing for essays?
- According to the AIGAC MBA applicant survey, applicants spent from 21 to 30 hours working on their admissions essays. How about you?
- How many hours did you spend preparing for interviews?
- According to the AIGAC MBA applicant survey, applicants spent from 11 to 15 hours preparing for MBA admissions interviews. How about you?
Need a break?
Memorize these lyrics and consider making this song your reapplicant theme song:
Third, you might find it helpful to watch one of these famous “setback” movies.
- Rocky I (1976) and Rocky II (1979)
- Chariots of Fire (1981)
In each of these films, the characters encounter and overcome significant setbacks, and emerge stronger.
Information is subject to change. Please verify all data with the schools.