Rejected From Business School? Here’s 4 Steps To Take When You Don’t Get In
Ex-Harvard admissions expert reveals how to successfully re-apply for your MBA
By Chioma Isiadinso
A while back, we got a request from a new client to look over his application materials. He wanted us to determine why he hadn't been admitted to the MBA programs he had applied to, and help him reapply successfully.
When I started looking over his MBA application package, I wasn't surprised that he hadn't gotten in to his target schools – but he had been. He wasn't a bad candidate; far from it. But the application itself was as generic as it could be:
I love finance and want a career in finance. Your school is good at finance. I will take advantage of this checklist of clubs and resources. I want an MBA to get a career in finance. The end.
It might have checked all the boxes of “What an MBA application should have,” but it certainly wasn't very compelling, and it ultimately wasn't successful. So, what could our applicant have done differently to improve his chances of getting in? Here's where he should have started:
1. Making time to visit the school.
This isn't about getting brownie points for making a trip. It's about getting serious about researching the schools where you want to apply.
Make the effort to immerse yourself in the environment of the school and really understand their approach, their schedules, their values. If it's at all possible, do it in person with a campus visit. But if that's not possible, go the extra mile to make sure you still get all the information you need.
Attend admissions events in your city and meet with adcom and alumni. Read admissions blogs and watch admissions webinars. Talk to alumni or current students. Read forums, magazine articles, anything you can get your hands on.
You won't be able to do step two if you haven't put in the effort here.
2. Getting specific about the program.
Just saying “I want a career in finance, and your school is well-known for finance,” isn't enough to make an impression on the admissions committee; it’s the bare minimum for starting to think about business school.
You need to show that you have really looked at the program in depth, and given serious thought to why their school in particular is the right fit for you to learn from and contribute to.
What particular professors are you interested in working with? What is it about the way they teach finance that appeals to you?
Let's be honest: if you're trying to get into a top business school, they will all have excellent programs and excellent faculty members and excellent student clubs. What is it that sets this school apart?
This isn't a book report. You're not showing that you read their website and filled in the blanks on a “Why I want to go to school here” template. This is your chance to dig deep and get into the nitty-gritty details about how their MBA program is going to help you create the career you're looking for.
3. Ruthlessly addressing weaknesses.
If you want to be a top-choice candidate for your top-choice programs, you cannot be content with “good enough”. You absolutely have to push yourself, to do what it takes to make yourself the best possible applicant.
This means objectively assessing any holes or weaknesses in your application (or getting an outside opinion about them).
This could involve re-taking the GMAT after an intensive prep course, spending a year taking on ambitious projects and stretching goals at work. It might mean spending your weekends working with a charity you're passionate about. Find a way to really contribute and leave your mark.
4. Going beyond the obvious.
Our first three steps all addressed how to show the admissions committee that you understand what sets their school apart, and proving that you're qualified to be there. The final piece of the puzzle is all about showing what sets you apart.
Business school is incredibly competitive. Checking the right boxes – strong GMAT score, solid work history, good undergraduate transcripts, good references – is necessary but not sufficient when it comes to getting into a great program. Your competition will check those boxes, too.
What are you passionate about? What is unusual about you? What are the parts of your life – outside of work, unrelated to your resume – that speak to your character or your initiative? What are you most proud of?
If you want to successfully re-apply to business school, you need to reflect on your personal brand, your story, and build an application package that supports that story from start to finish.
Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.