7 things to consider if you weren't accepted to your dream MBA program

What to do if the application process didn't produce the results you had hoped for

There are few things more devastating than not being accepted into the MBA program of your dreams. It can be incredibly frustrating to have done everything you knew to do, only to fall short of obtaining the results you so deeply desired. Should you find yourself in this position, know that you are not alone and this is not the end of your professional and educational journey. This can be a good time to step back, reflect, and think about what you need to change or do differently in order to ultimately achieve admissions into your top MBA program when the time comes to resubmit your application.

1. Make sure you take time to develop a cohesive "story"

The most important thing that successful MBA program applicants have is a clear and compelling story:

  • Why an MBA

  • Why now

  • Why this particular program

Take some time to consider your story and identify the most important aspects you want to highlight. Consider your background and what first drew you to an interest in business. Are you the first person in your family to attend college or post-secondary education? Were you inspired to pursue a business degree from a young age by a family member who became a successful entrepreneur or business owner? Did you pursue and succeed in another career before desiring a greater understanding of business administration, realizing that strengthening your business and management skills could lead to a satisfying career change or simply help accelerate the career path you have already put yourself on?

These are just a few of the questions it could be helpful to consider, and you might choose to spend some time alone with a pen and a pad of paper, jotting down thoughts and ideas as you look back over where you have been and note how your experiences can help you get to where you wish to go. You might also speak with friends and family members whose opinions you trust, as we often do not see ourselves the same way others do, and the people who know you best can offer important insights or observations you might not have considered from your perspective that can strengthen the story you are seeking to tell.

The story you ultimately tell through your MBA application needs to contain consistent themes and goals ACROSS YOUR APPLICATION. Think of it like connecting the dots—you start with one piece of information, then you share how that experience propelled you to another experience, and how that gave you the confidence to try something else, and so on and so forth, leading the reader to the conclusion you want them to reach, which is that you unquestionably belong in an MBA program. While it is always important to be honest and avoid fabricating details when crafting your story, at the same time, you want to put yourself in the best possible light and demonstrate how you overcame adversity, how you grew and changed, how you made the most of unexpected (or perhaps even unwanted) opportunities, and how you hope to continue moving forward in both your professional and personal life through obtaining an MBA.

The best stories have an interesting beginning and start with a sentence or anecdote that immediately hooks the reader's attention. This is followed by a series of events that include setbacks and challenges and offer a chance to show growth, changed ways of thinking, or different ways of behaving. A story ends with a conclusion that makes all the difficulties worth it, where readers can see how the character became a better person, achieved a specific goal, or learned valuable lessons they look forward to implementing and passing on to others. The story you tell across your MBA application should be similar, offering the Admissions Committee a snapshot of you and the journey you have been on, as well as how your unique experiences and knowledge will make you an asset to this particular MBA program.

2. Can you deepen this story to strengthen your application…

When you are reapplying to an MBA program, it is helpful to review the materials you previously submitted and consider the story you started before identifying ways you can make yourself a more competitive candidate. When you are reapplying to an MBA program, you want to demonstrate growth, to highlight what is “new and improved” since your last submission, and to clearly show how you used your time to better prepare yourself to be an asset to the MBA program.

Once you know you are going to reapply to a program, take a look at how many months you have before the application is due and perhaps use a calendar to set specific goals for yourself. This way, when it is time to submit your application again, you will have new experiences and interesting achievements to share. Take some time and consider the following:

  • Are there steps you can take to obtain a promotion at work?

  • Are there opportunities in your current workplace where you can take on more responsibility?

  • Can you become involved with or in charge of an international project, expanding your knowledge of a particular customer base or perhaps improving your experience with a foreign language?

  • Are there classes or courses you could enroll in to gain deeper knowledge of a particular aspect of business or business administration that is especially interesting to you?

  • Are there opportunities for you to volunteer and give back to your community, organizing fundraisers, scheduling community work days, or finding other opportunities for local businesses to give back to those in the community? Could you offer a free seminar for local business owners on ways to improve specific areas of their businesses?

  • Could you arrange a mentorship or internship with someone you respect, gaining firsthand knowledge through new experiences, perhaps becoming more skilled with things like payroll or facilitating group communication or encouraging workplace adoption of new customs or policies?

When preparing to reapply to an MBA program, make sure you draw attention to what you have been doing since not being accepted…and make sure you have experiences to write about that convey a cohesive story with a beginning, middle, and end that demonstrates growth and improved understanding of the world around you.

3. …But not change your story altogether

If you are reapplying to an MBA program that did not accept you the first time you applied, it is not only important to gain new experiences prior to resubmitting, but to find a way to weave these in with the story you already started, demonstrating to your reader just how much you have grown over the last few months. It is one thing to say you volunteered to take the lead on an international project and raised quarterly sales a certain percentage while also improving your Mandarin skills. It is quite another to share your excitement over assuming more responsibility in an area you always wanted to know more about, allowing you to travel overseas and to improve your Mandarin while hearing new ideas, being exposed to different ways of approaching business opportunities, and learning how to interact and negotiate in an unfamiliar country and culture. It is also important to share how you were personally affected the experience, and how it will allow you to be better at specific things moving forward in your business career.

You do not want to spend precious application space simply listing the things you have accomplished. You have to show how these things go together, how one skill strengthens another, how one experience allowed you to be competitive for another, and how you have acted as strategically as possible to best position yourself to attend an MBA program. It is not enough to say, “I did this thing.” You want to say, “I did this thing and as a result, I was able to overcome X/learn more about Y/improve my skills in these specific areas, etc.” Spell out the effects of the decisions you have made, the chances you have taken, and the lessons you learned, noting how they made you better, stronger, and more knowledgeable in your personal and/or professional life and how this, in turn, makes you a desirable candidate to any MBA program.

Showing how you and your thinking have evolved since your last application submission can help the Admissions Committee see how you have used your time and whether you responded to rejection by accepting defeat or using it as a reason to better yourself, strengthening any weaknesses and taking active steps to securing new skills and knowledge.

4. About that GMAT

If your GMAT score was not at or above the average for your MBA program of choice, consider retaking the GMAT, ensuring you have adequate time to study and complete practice exams. Consider enrolling in a preparatory course, either in a group setting, or working one-on-one with an experienced private tutor who can help you identify any areas of growth, as well as areas in which you already excel.

If there is room for improvement on your GMAT performance, make this a priority, as it can be a valuable way of demonstrating to the Admissions Committee that you take being accepted into a top-tier MBA program seriously and are not afraid of working hard to obtain a place there. Particularly if you studied something other than business at the undergraduate level, it is important to demonstrate your readiness to take on the rigorous and demanding schedule of an MBA program, and your GMAT score is an important part of conveying your readiness to the Admissions Committee.

5. Make sure the school knows it is your top choice

As part of your MBA application, it is important to talk about yourself in a way that brings you to life on the page or computer screen seen by the Admissions Committee. You want to show your application readers what you will add to their campus and their community, both while you are a student and after you have graduated and joined other alumni. Do your research and know as much about the MBA program you wish to be accepted to as you possibly can. There are numerous ways to do this, but a few might be:

  • Attend events where there are opportunities to connect with alumni

  • Make it a priority to show up at local admissions or MBA events

  • If you are able to visit the campus and sit in on a class or two, do so, allowing yourself a first-hand look at what attending that particular program would be like

When crafting your application, talk about why you are so eager to attend this particular program, and highlight what sets it apart from other programs or what particular areas of study it offers that are of the greatest interest to you. Gain as much knowledge about the MBA program as you can, and then use that knowledge, combined with your skills, education, and experiences, to tell a captivating story about what you can bring to the MBA program, what you hope to learn, and how you will be an enthusiastic presence on campus both during and after your time in the program. It is not enough to tell an MBA program, “You are my top choice.” By the time they have read your application, you want them to know without a doubt they are your top choice and to feel excited you are so eager to attend their illustrious program.

6. Reconsider whether this is the right school for you

If you were not accepted into the MBA program of your choice, take some time to review and reflect, and consider asking yourself some or all of the following questions:

  • In one sentence, why do I want to attend this program?

  • In just a few words, what do I like best about this program?

  • What aspects of this program do I not like/do not appeal to me/do I think will be challenging?

  • If I had a free ride to any MBA program in the world, would this be my number one choice? Alternatively, if I received no financial support, could I still realistically attend this program and would I be as excited about doing so?

  • What do I hope to gain from this program?

  • What evidence do I have that this program will help me succeed in my desired career as opposed to another program?

People apply to MBA programs for a variety of reasons, and it is important to know why you want to attend a particular program beyond the vague hope that “it will be good for my career because it's a prestigious program.” Really look at your values, goals, and expectations, and honestly assess how attending a certain MBA program will help you in these, and others, areas. Consider doing more research and identifying other programs perhaps you overlooked or did not consider the first time you submitted applications in order to find the ones that will be the best fit for you. It is not about what other people think of the program you're attending…what matters is that the program is right for you and will help you obtain the goals you want for yourself.

7. Go for it!

Once you have made the decision to reapply to an MBA program, do so with confidence. Prepare your “new and improved” story, chronicling what you have achieved in the past few months, as well as how your goals and plans align with this program, allowing you to be an asset to the school, and how you dealt with the rejection and used it to inspire new professional and/or educational growth and opportunities. Reapplying to a school shows them just how much you want to be a part of their program and in fact, many schools offer an essay specifically for those who applied and were not accepted previously. Take the reapplication process seriously, and focus on improving your GMAT score or expanding your knowledge of certain areas through courses, classes, or informal mentorships.

Do not think that simply reapplying to a school is enough to ensure your acceptance. While submitting another application demonstrates your continued interest, it will not be enough to convince the Admissions Committee to offer you a spot unless you tell a compelling, cohesive story. You will need to show the school how you used the time after you were rejected and what you thoughtfully and intentionally did to make yourself a stronger, more competitive candidate. You will need to demonstrate humble growth, enthusiasm about the progress you have made in certain areas, and a new appreciation for how your experiences have better prepared you for success in a top-ranking MBA program. Highlight campus events you have attended, mention formal or informal mentorships/internships you completed under qualified alumni, share personally meaningful accomplishments or promotions you obtained, and impress the Admissions Committee by your persistence, willingness to improve, and dedication to becoming the best business professional you can be.

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