What to do if a business school says 'No'

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Dinged, Denied, or Rejected? What To Do If a Business School Says ‘No’

June 23 2023 By The MBA Exchange
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You dedicated countless hours to crafting your application, receiving glowing recommendations from your supporters. You immersed yourself in the process by attending information sessions, exploring the campus, engaging with students, and connecting with alumni. Perhaps you even secured an interview and found yourself on the waitlist. However, despite your tireless work, countless sleepless nights, and soaring expectations, the admissions committee opted to admit someone else. Harvard breaks hearts. Stanford shatters hopes. Wharton deals heavy blows to egos. Rejection is an inevitable part of the journey. Even though you were aware of the slim odds of success (admission rates ranging from 7-25% at top-10 schools), you still envisioned yourself among the chosen few.

A surge of emotions engulfs you, from disappointment to frustration to anger. Yet, none of these sentiments can alter the outcome – you have been denied. So, what lies ahead for your business school aspirations? Allow us to guide you through the next steps.

What If Your Dream B-school Says “NO”?

There are only two possible outcomes for MBA applicants – admission or rejection. However, if you find yourself on the waitlist, that’s an interim phase that we’ll address later. For now, let’s focus on what happens after receiving a business school rejection. It’s natural to go through the standard stages of grieving in the following days.

Denial is the initial stage – “This must be a mistake! Surely, my acceptance will arrive tomorrow.” Anger follows – “How could this have happened? My application was great! Who’s to blame?” Bargaining comes next – “I’ll call the admissions office in the morning to work this out!” Finally, there’s depression – “My career is over! My life is ruined! Everyone else got in.”

Eventually, you reach the stage of acceptance – “Okay, so be it. I’m going to move forward… and succeed!” After grieving, it’s time for action. But what exactly should you do?

One immediate obstacle and frustration is that rejected applicants rarely receive feedback from the admissions committee. The “official” reason is the lack of time to debrief every disappointed applicant. However, the unstated reason is that schools are reluctant to provide specific insights that could reveal too much about their decision process or imply guaranteed admission if certain improvements are made.

It’s important to note that no one is ever told “don’t reapply.” With that in mind, let’s explore the options available to you if you’ve been rejected by your dream B-school.

1. Get Over It and Move On

Take a moment to reflect on how much you truly desire a top MBA education. Can you achieve your near-term and long-term career goals without attending business school? Are there alternative ways for you to gain essential knowledge, refine your perspective, and expand your network? Extension courses, books, seminars, or joining clubs could potentially suffice. If you believe you can achieve your professional goals without an MBA, then choosing to move forward without one is a valid decision. Many rejected applicants go on to achieve great success in life without attending B-school. Career advisory services can be a valuable resource for accelerating your progress.

2. Try Again With An Improved Candidacy

If your gut tells you that you may regret not trying again, don’t make this decision hastily. Reapplying next year can be a wise choice if you still aspire to attend your dream school and identify aspects of your candidacy that can be improved. Begin with an objective analysis of your overall candidacy – academic, professional, and personal. Identify areas that require explanation, mitigation, or enhancement to make your profile even more compelling. It may require effort to bolster your MBA candidacy, such as improving your GMAT score, enhancing your resume through career coaching, or taking up leadership roles in community organizations. 

One thing’s for sure: reapplying as the same candidate is likely to produce the same result. If you start early, you have time to get the job done right. And you have the extra motivation to prove the adcom that they made a huge mistake by not admitting you. Even the most selective schools admit numerous reapplicants each year. 

3. Change Your Targets

Most MBA applicants have a solid list of excellent schools that align well with their background and goals. If you didn’t have the time or motivation to pursue admission to those MBA programs during your first campaign, now is your moment! However, before assuming that your current candidacy will wow these other adcoms, given prior rejections it’s important to consider tactics by which you can make an even better first impression. Changing targets might be the right move for you.

If your profile is comparable to that of admits at another top business school, and if another school offers a curriculum and culture that aligns with your goals and values, then pursuing that MBA program as a first-time applicant makes good sense.  And, depending on the new target’s application deadline, you may be able to apply in the next Round rather than having to wait until next year. 

How to Turn a “Ding” Into a “Win” at Top Business Schools

Facing a perceived defeat can be tough in any field, especially when it comes to business school applications. Candidates often feel that admissions committees are evaluating their professional and personal backgrounds against their peers, and not being granted admission can be deeply disappointing. However, it’s crucial to adopt the right mindset when targeting business schools and avoid a failing approach to the application process.

1. Embrace Rejection as a Stepping Stone

The first step is to possess the mindset necessary to transform a “ding” into a win. Instead of perceiving your initial rejection as an insurmountable failure, consider it a valuable step toward earning a seat in the program.

In fact, a failed application, if leveraged properly, contains essential ingredients for success the second time around. Through that initial experience, you have undoubtedly gained knowledge about the school, yourself, and the application process. This accumulated knowledge gives you an advantage over competitors applying for the first time. 

2. Identify and Rectify Weaknesses

Put yourself in the shoes of the admissions committee and critically assess why they might have rejected your candidacy. Take the time to reflect and answer that question honestly.

Was your GPA or GMAT score below the median? Did you adequately demonstrate leadership both at work and in the community? Did your resume focus on responsibilities rather than tangible impact? Were your essays authentic and compelling? Did your recommenders provide convincing examples that highlighted your strengths?

If the evaluation of your unsuccessful campaign identifies flaws, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and/or omissions that were likely to have harmed your chances for admission, the sooner you target and rectify them, the better. Whether an issue is academic, professional or personal, considering how the adcom perceived your profile and determining the best way to reverse – or at least explain it – can make all the difference if addressed in a reapplication.

Not every evaluation of a denied application uncovers a weakness or error. In many cases, the analysis finds there was a skill, achievement or aptitude that was ignored or downplayed instead of properly showcased to earn endorsement by the admissions committee. 

Whether it’s providing an example, quantifying an outcome or simply adding a few choice adjectives, a reapplicant can add luster to a candidacy without seeming arrogant or overconfident. Be sure to take a well-deserved bow whenever merited.

3. Align with the School’s Culture

After assessing a denied application, one possible conclusion is that the fit between the applicant and the target school was insufficiently defined. The solution may be as simple as introducing a new school to the target list! It is crucial to convey your candidacy with authenticity and confidence, tailored to the specific school you are applying to.

Consider whether the program you are applying to has a top-down culture that values “big thinkers” who aspire to solve global problems. In such cases, it is essential to align your life’s aspirations with your personal and professional history of working towards those goals.

On the other hand, if you are reapplying to a school that values an ambitious yet pragmatic, well-planned, and thoroughly researched career plan, you must demonstrate that you have conducted extensive research on your intended post-MBA career goals. Explain how this particular MBA program will play a vital role in helping you achieve those goals.

While most top schools appreciate both an inspired life vision and a solid career plan, there is often a preference for one over the other. However, developing this focus alone as a reapplicant or a first-time applicant can be challenging.

4. Seize the Opportunity to Reapply

Historically, many top business schools were hesitant to accept reapplicants and held them to a higher standard than first-time applicants. Nowadays, programs have changed their perspectives and are now more receptive to reapplicants. For instance, Harvard Business School explicitly emphasizes its welcome to reapplicants. Now, more than ever, reapplicants have a chance to prove themselves a second or even third time. The key lies in presenting your candidacy in a way that allows admissions committees to learn more about you while still highlighting the positive aspects of your first application.

Timing is critical, as a school’s admissions priorities can shift with changes in administration and leadership. Therefore, seize the opportunity to reapply now, as the positive disposition towards reapplicants may not last indefinitely.


The past is the past. The present is now. And the future awaits. If you examine, learn from and leverage your rejected applications, the probability of your admissions success can increase dramatically. If your first attempts at achieving MBA admission resulted in rejection, there’s no need to assume that you can’t or won’t achieve a better outcome. Understanding exactly what you did right, what you did wrong, and what you can do to improve your candidacy is the next move.

The act of reapplying requires a combination of determination, humility and confidence. However, unless the underlying candidacy, application, essays and recommendations are visibly strengthened, there’s little reason to hope for a better outcome on the second attempt. In fact, one could argue that the adcom is even more likely to deny an unchanged reapplication because they perceive the candidate as either unable or unwilling to look within and improve the submission.

Since most applicants are not experienced in the admissions process, the fact is that they really don’t know why they were admitted to some schools and not to others. A smart step is to get a “ding analysis” from an admissions expert who can tell you how close or how far you were from success. Contact us today to get one!