Guest post by Jean-Philippe Odunlami, Harvard MBA and Senior Admissions Consultant, The MBA Exchange
The application deadlines for your dream schools are rapidly approaching. You’re probably wrestling with this tough decision: “Should I reapply? If so, what can I do differently this time to win? What if I am disappointed again?”
I faced those very questions myself a little over ten years ago. The last one is the easiest to overcome: when we fall from the horse, we must get up, dust ourselves off, and give it another go. Setbacks are only stepping stones to our goals. This also answers the first question. Of course you should reapply. The value of a top MBA education more than justifies the effort required to get past an initial rejection.
With that in mind, we must learn from our mistakes. Unfortunately, many applicants submit a reapplication that can be summed up as “It’s the same me, just more of it”. They add some volunteer work to their resume, grabbing a high-profile opportunity at work, and doing some networking with students and alumni. Then, they cross their fingers and submit the application — a process typically ending in another disappointment.
The reality is that most adcoms hold reapplicants to an even higher standard than first-time applicants. The already-low acceptance rates at the top schools become even smaller for reapplicants. We’re talking 2-5% at top-10 programs! Hence, “the same, only more of it” approach just doesn’t cut it. The way to truly have a chance as a reapplicant revolves around three key strategies, as I discovered myself when I reapplied successfully to HBS:
1. Establish a clear match between yourself, your goals and the target school’s culture/community/offerings
It is extremely important to show that you’re not applying to the school again just because of its reputation. You must demonstrate that you have done substantial research since your previous application, which has led you to the conclusion that this particular school – not others – is the perfect fit for you. So, establish a clear and compelling career goal, do an inventory of your relevant background, then scour the websites, meet alumni, visit campuses and do all the digging necessary to determine, first for YOURSELF, which school is “the one”. This effort will improve your chances of convincing the adcoms that this was indeed true the first time around and still is today.
2. Show that you have done some serious introspection that produces a clearer picture of yourself
This is the part that most reapplicants find extremely difficult. You have to really dig into your personal history and motivation, and figure out why you find yourself at the doorstep of the MBA once again. Most likely, you’re already a very accomplished individual in your peer group, with accolades, promotions, bonuses and the like. Yet, you’re still reaching for something via the MBA…why is that? Are you trying to step out of the shadow of a successful parent? Are you driven by the need to compensate for a humble family background? Are you driven by a deep desire to be recognized by others? As a reapplicant, it is essential that you find out, and communicate to the school, the personal driver that leads you to the choices that you’ve made (i.e., present and future career, and choice of business school). There is virtually no driver that can be viewed negatively, as long as it’s genuine and makes sense within the context of your desire for an MBA application.
3. Incorporating feedback gathered from admissions officers after the previous application.
The last hurdle is best overcome right after an unsuccessful application, so most reapplicants miss it entirely. If you were lucky – or had foresight – you were able to ask your contact in admissions for pointers on why you were rejected. Most schools don’t “officially” provide it, but if you were able to establish a rapport with an admissions officer, it is often possible to tease out some basic pointers. If you’re in that minority, absolutely incorporate this feedback into your new application. Or if you’re among the majority who didn’t have this relationship, an experienced admissions consultant can provide a “ding analysis” that identifies gaps and shortcomings in your previous applications, and gives you guidance on what to improve and add for the reapplication.
Back when I applied to business school (the first time), I used the common approach of most applicants: targeting 5-6 schools based on prestige, stuffing my resume with impressive accomplishments, and focusing my essays on all the best projects on which I had worked. Needless to say, it didn’t work out at all! As a reapplicant, I realized I would be held to a higher standard, and couldn’t afford any mistakes.
By following the three steps above, I was able to identify the school that truly was the best match for my background, values and aspirations. I was also able to “grow” through the reapplication process and establish a new, more mature perspective. Lastly, incorporating admissions’ feedback and plugging holes in my profile, I “sealed the deal” at HBS.
As a first step, a free, expert analysis can help you understand how your overall profile currently looks to the admission committees as a reapplicant. More importantly, the admissions consultants at The MBA Exchange – including other successful reapplicants like me — are well-versed in guiding first and second admissions campaigns. They can help you navigate the three strategies above towards earning a “yes” at your dream school.
So, don’t waste your time and hopes by presenting “more of the same” to adcoms. A thoughtful, thorough and strategic approach is far more likely to produce the positive results that you envisioned the first time you applied.