Try, Try Again: Reapplying to B-school

August 8 2023 By The MBA Exchange
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Try, Try Again: Reapplying to B-school

Among the thousands of Master of Business Administration (MBA) applicants every year is a special group: re-applicants. These individuals tried their best to gain admission the previous year, but ultimately were rejected. It’s a humbling experience, made even more stressful by the fact that the adcoms rarely provide any specific feedback explaining the rejection. But reapplicants are tenacious, energized by a fierce desire to overcome defeat with a second try.

Myths and Misconceptions about Reapplying

The reapplication process is riddled with misconceptions. Three of the most common fallacies are listed below.

“Re-applying will automatically improve my chances for admission.”

Even if you were interviewed – maybe even waitlisted – during your first application attempt, the mere act of “reapplying” is not enough to overturn the original decision. While preparing and submitting a reapplication does show determination, that alone will not make your case. In many ways, this road is even more difficult than it is for first-time applicants since the candidacy is already “anchored” in the initial application and the reapplication confirms rejection by comparable schools.

“I have my essays and recommendations from last year, so that’s done.”

You put your heart and soul into last year’s essays. And your recommenders wrote positive reviews about you. However, assuming that your original essays and recs are sufficient for re-application success is a mistake. It’s essential that the content is updated with fresh examples that showcase strengths and address vulnerabilities in your previous application.

Identify missed opportunities and unresolved weaknesses in your story, then use the essays and recommendations to help dismiss doubt in the eyes of the adcoms. If you have to start from scratch, so be it. After all, the original application didn’t produce the outcome that you were seeking, so why assume it will do so this time?

“I was interviewed last year, then waitlisted. So surely I’ll be admitted this year.”

It’s very encouraging to have been invited to interview, and even more so to have been waitlisted. That implies that you satisfied the requirements for admission, but lost out probably due to the limited number of seats available. However, there’s more to it. There was probably something about your candidacy or application that gave the adcom cause to pause. To ignore that in the reapplication is like telling the adcom that they made a mistake in not admitting you.

It’s essential to “zero base” your reapplication campaign. Ask yourself – and those you trust – why your first effort was good enough to merit strong consideration, but not sufficient to produce an offer of admission. The reasons can be very subtle and very addressable.

The biggest mistakes reapplicants make involve failing to identify and reverse weaknesses in the previous application, not looking at the entire package from a bird’s eye view and taking too many shortcuts to avoid re-work.

Submitting a Successful Application the Second Time Around

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. 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. Here are three keys to a successful reapplication:

1. Establish a clear match between yourself, your goals and the target school

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. It is extremely important to show that you’re not applying to the school again just because of its reputation. 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 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 the case today.

2. Show that you have done some serious introspection 

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 admission process 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, you need to be able to communicate that truth to the school. What’s the personal driver that leads you to the choices that you’ve made (i.e., present and future career, as well as 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 

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!

The one thing that need not happen is accepting defeat. For those individuals who remain determined to achieve MBA admission and are open to changing their approach, there is at least one school in the world that will appreciate your attributes, welcome you to their community, deliver an amazing education and reward you with a lifetime of personal and professional benefits.