Scott Edinburgh
November 1, 2023

What To Do After an MBA Rejection

If round 1 or last year’s applications to business school did not go as planned, do not give up hope! Remember, there are countless reasons for a rejection – so many that Personal MBA Coach developed a Ding Analysis service to help candidates understand where they went wrong! While many times candidates are rejected due to a mistake that they can fix, there are some surprising reasons for a rejection. In some cases, you might even have been dinged because you were overqualified!

Regardless of the reason for your rejection, Personal MBA Coach would like to help you develop a strategy to realize your MBA goals this time around.

To increase your chances of success, either in round 2 this year or next year, keep these guiding principles in mind:

1) Broaden Your School List

Unfortunately, not everyone can earn an MBA from Harvard Business School. For better or worse, sometimes acceptance comes down to numbers: your profile is great, but there were simply too many qualified former consultants from your native country in this year’s pool, making it even harder to stand out. If you are applying to business school as a consultant, find out how to differentiate yourself.

While Personal MBA Coach helps clients from overrepresented backgrounds develop compelling personal stories that stand out, diversity is important to MBA programs. You cannot fill an entire class with former McKinsey, Bain or BCG consultants or investment bankers. This “numbers game” is one of the key reasons we advise candidates to broaden their school lists.

Due to this numbers game, our average candidate applies to 5 to 8 schools. For some, this means having schools from a range of tiers. For others, this means putting your eggs in multiple top-tier school baskets.

Of course, for all candidates your target list must match your candidate profile. Be sure that you not only have a wide enough list but also one that is reasonable based on your GPA, GMAT/GRE/EA and professional experience. Personal MBA Coach prides itself in offering open, honest feedback on your chances of success at any given school. We want our candidates to reach high, but we also will not sugarcoat it for you.

2) Maintain Your Goals but Expand on Your Vision

You want to demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are focused and consistent. Instead of developing new goals and changing your priorities to accommodate what you think your target school’s perceptions, evaluate how clearly you laid out your vision. Was it specific enough? Did you show how you will leave your mark? Did you demonstrate an understanding of the skills needed to achieve these goals?

Even if you answered “yes” to all of these questions, take this opportunity to add a bit more detail to your vision, showing how your recent experience has fine-tuned your direction or the skills you will need to achieve these goals and how you are better able to prepare for them.

In addition, if you have taken on a new role to better prepare for your goals, be sure to explain it carefully, showing your path and evolution so you do not seem simply indecisive.

While in some cases it may be necessary to adjust your goals, tread cautiously here. If life or work circumstances necessitate a change, clearly explain how your goals have evolved and the steps you have taken to get closer to them.

3) Focus on School Interaction and Research

One reason you may have been rejected the first time around: is questionable interest in the target school. Increased interaction with schools not only will combat any doubts about your sincerity, but it also will show admissions committee representatives that you are committed to and passionate about their programs.

Visit campuses (even if you already have), sit in on classes, meet with current students and attend MBA events. Naturally, there can be too much of a good thing, so be careful to strike a balance between showing passion and being overbearing. Keep in mind that schools face varying importance on school interaction.

4) Look Critically at Your Test Scores

While your test score is not everything, it IS important. This is particularly true of your quantitative score. If you were rejected, compare your score to the school’s average. Remember, depending on your profile and background, you might need a score above the average to be competitive. This is particularly true if you had a lower GPA or are from an overrepresented applicant pool.

If you think your GMAT/GRE/EA score may have been a red flag for your target MBA program, consider retaking the GMAT/GRE/EA or switching from one exam to the other. Some candidates perform much stronger on one test vs. another, and schools largely do not have a preference on which test you take.

As you plan to retake the exam, consider your previous test preparation strategy and how you might improve it. Did you get help last time around? If not, consider hiring a personal tutor who can give you targeted advice on how to improve your score.

5) Strive for Balanced Essays

With limited space to paint a picture of who you are and what makes you unique, it is important that you submit balanced essays. If you dwell too much on one aspect of your profile, you undoubtedly will shortchange another. Similarly, for many schools you also need to strike a balance between talking about you and talking about them. For instance, did you adequately discuss classes that you were interested in? Did you share the specific skills you hope to gain on campus? Developing balanced essays is one area that we work on extensively with all applicants, particularly reapplicants.

Also, make sure your story is well developed in your essays. If your application essays could have been written by any other candidate in a similar role, it will be difficult for you to stand out to the admissions committee. Successful candidates are memorable! This does not mean you need to save the universe, of course. It all comes down to story and execution.

Defining your personal story is an area that Personal MBA Coach’s clients often need the most help with. We work on this extensively with you via our comprehensive packages. However, unless your story did not make sense or had large holes, we do not recommend changing your overall story.

Instead, look for weak areas within your story to beef up AND use your reapplicant essays (if applicable) to show how you have improved overall as a candidate in the most persuasive way possible.

If you are unsure whether your balance was right, we offer a ding analysis to review your application.

6) Evaluate Your Overall Application as a Whole

Reapplicants should focus on improving all aspects of the MBA application. As you develop a new plan, take an honest look at your applications and think about whether your story clearly and consistently comes across throughout the essays, short-answer questions, LORs, resume, etc.

Some questions you should consider include: Have you shown the unique value you bring? Did you share what truly makes you shine? Were your career goals clear? Did you actually answer the questions? Did you show passion? Did you repeat yourself? Did any aspects of the application conflict?

7) Improve Your Interview Preparation

Did you receive a lot of interview invitations but were rejected after the interview? Then it is time to hone your interview skills. Whether you work with the Personal MBA Coach team or someone else, you should ensure you have the proper training and practice to ace the interviews once you get the invites.

8) Evaluate Your Letters of Recommendation

Are you confident you had the best letters? If you are not sure, have a conversation with your recommenders from last year and get a sense of their interest and excitement. If your LORs did not extol your traits and accomplishments sufficiently, or if your recommenders were not enthusiastic enough, find someone new to write your LOR this year. You may be required to get at least one new LOR anyway, depending on the school.

9) Look for Other Opportunities to Strengthen Your Profile

One of the most important things you can do to strengthen your application when reapplying to business school is to bolster the totality of the candidate “picture” that you present.

Of course, you cannot change your life. But you can take a look at a few key factors that may buoy you the next time around. A little polishing in different areas can amount to a great improvement in your candidacy.

  • Take on More Responsibility at Work: While it is generally not advised to make late job changes just prior to applying, you can certainly try to do different things at work to showcase your talent and energy. For example, take on a new project or take on a new responsibility if you are applying for round 2. Evaluate your experience and see where you might be lacking, relative to peers. Regardless of whether you changed jobs or roles, in your reapplicant essay be sure to highlight the major projects you have tackled over the last year, calling attention to any new skills they provided. Think about where your application was weak and be sure to mention accomplishments that allowed you to strengthen these areas.
  • Look for Opportunities to Address Any Skill Gaps: Think about where you are weakest and see what you can do now to close these gaps. Is there a course you could take to improve your analytical skills? Perhaps you got an interview but did not get accepted? If so, consider options for improving your presentation and interview skills in advance. Everyone has weaknesses; take the time now to address yours.
  • Enhance Your Leadership Experience: Seek out roles and activities that can improve your leadership experience and skills. In any way you can, take on more at the office. A promotion is, of course, ideal, but even if that is not possible, look for ways to stretch yourself within your existing role. Or consider volunteering for internal committees or projects to help strengthen your company and culture. Review these tips on how to make your career work harder for you.
  • Beef Up Your Extracurriculars: While you probably had some, were they strong enough? Did they make sense with your overall profile? Think about activities you can add now. If you are applying this year, make sure that you call attention to anything you have done outside of work, or even internal initiatives at work or on-campus leadership, to call attention to your strengths. Remember, quality over quantity here, but extracurricular activities, work with non-profits or taking on an important new cause can demonstrate new passion and conviction in addition to leadership. This too may help edge you over the previous result.

10) Start Far in Advance (if Possible)

All of these steps take time! If you are applying for round 2, Personal MBA Coach will help you prioritize your efforts.
If you are applying next year, start early! Do not put your applications on the back burner until the summer or fall. By starting early for next year, you can take the time to fine-tune your story, rethink your LOR strategy and recommenders, and ensure all aspects of your application work together cohesively.

Develop a calendar for courting your dream schools. Hire a GMAT/GRE tutor (if you are retaking the test). Look at where your essays were weak and think about how you can improve this time around. A rushed application will never be the strongest possible application, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to do it right!

Every year we successfully advise reapplicants on what to change (and what not to) to increase their chances of success.