What if your dream B-school says “no”?

We’ve all been there at some point in our lives…

• That super-cool high-school classmate you invited to your prom turns you down.
• The morning you discovered that (spoiler alert) there’s not really a Tooth Fairy.
• A “sure thing, can’t miss” stock you bought imploded the day after the IPO.
• That big promotion and raise your boss promised you never happened.

Well, thousands of MBA applicants share that gut-wrenching feeling each year when their dream business school denies them admission. Harvard breaks hearts. Stanford shatters hopes. Wharton wallops egos. It happens. Even though you knew the chances for success were slim (7-25% admission at top-10 schools), you envisioned yourself being “there.”

So, you spend the next few days going through the standard stages of grieving:

1. Denial — “This must be a mistake! Surely, my acceptance will arrive tomorrow.”
2. Anger —"How could this have happened? My app was great! Who’s to blame?"
3. Bargaining — “I’ll call the admissions office in the morning to work this out!”
4. Depression — "My career is over! My life is ruined! Everyone else got in.”
5. Acceptance — "Okay, so be it. I’m going to move forward… and succeed!”

When you finally finish grieving, it’s time for action. But what exactly should you do?

REFLECT
Begin with an objective analysis of your overall candidacy – academic, professional and personal. Discover what you can and should explain, mitigate or add that will make your profile even more compelling. If you don’t see it, then you’re probably not looking hard enough. Getting an expert evaluation of your past, present and future from an admissions consultant like The MBA Exchange could be very beneficial.

IMPROVE
It can require some heavy lifting to bolster an MBA candidacy. To improve your GMAT score, consider engaging a top tutor or a test-anxiety counselor. To enhance your resume, some career coaching may be in order. To make yourself a more well-rounded and balanced applicant, find a community organization that would welcome your leadership. One thing for sure: reapplying as the same candidate is likely to produce the same result.

TARGET
Questions: Should you reapply to the same schools? Pursue new ones? Or do both? There’s no right or wrong answer. If you’re still dreaming about the original list of schools, and if you can strengthen your profile in key ways, then go for it! Or if there are other, perhaps less selective MBA programs that could help you attain your long-term goals, then preparing fresh, first-time applications could produce a better outcome this time around.

LAUNCH
Moping about being denied admission won’t change anything. If you’ve done a thorough job of analyzing your candidacy, improving the core components, and identifying the best programs for you, then it’s time to begin your admissions campaign! Even if the new applications won’t be published for the next several months, use the experience that you gained from your first efforts to get started: refine your resume, reconsider your recommenders, visit campuses, engage with students and alumni, etc.

Harness your past disappointment, believe in yourself, improve your candidacy, and leverage lessons learned to help make even bigger, better b-school dreams come true!