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Admissions Tip: How To Handle Rejection

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With MBA programs beginning to release their decisions regarding Round 1 interview invitations, it is inevitable that many candidates will receive rejection letters at this time of year. This post is for those candidates who didn’t make the cut at their target school(s) in Round 1.

Receiving a rejection letter is obviously very disappointing; it will take most candidates some time to fully absorb the news and to recover from the “sting” of the decision. As such, we encourage our readers to make peace with the result. With that said, it is also important to move on from the decision as soon as you are able and to readjust your application strategy in order to maximize your opportunity for success in the MBA admissions process – be it later this year (in subsequent admissions rounds) or sometime further down the road.

So what should you do if you have received bad news at this early stage of the application cycle?

Reevaluate Your Application

This is an obvious answer, but there are three reasons your application may not have succeeded:

1. Poor execution on your part. One of the conundrums a candidate faces in the application process is that her first application is rarely her strongest. There is a learning curve to the application process, and along with that learning comes the realization that perhaps the execution of the application was not its strongest. Could your essays have been more effective? Did you choose the most supportive and appropriate recommenders? Were you able to stand out from the crowd and effectively differentiate your candidacy? Poorly communicating your fit for the school and your goals also falls under this category.

2. Not a competitive applicant for the school. Sometimes rejection can be the result of simply aiming too high. Top schools obviously have high standards for their applicant pools, and those they consider for interviews. The reality might be that your profile does not meet their criteria. Perhaps your GMAT or GPA fell short, your leadership experiences were not as developed, or there was a lack of volunteer experiences. For whatever reason, the school is a little out of reach.

3. (Bad) Luck of the Draw. While it rarely happens, the review process for business school applications is somewhat subjective, and therefore when thousands of applications are being reviewed, it is possible that one or two gems slip through the cracks. Perhaps your file was reviewed in a batch of applications that happened to contain many highly competitive individuals from your industry or region – making it more difficult than usual for you to stand out.

Map Out the Appropriate Next Steps

So what should the approach be after you have reevaluated your candidacy? That answer really depends upon your determination on why you might have been unsuccessful, as well as your perspective on when you need to pursue your MBA, if at all.

If you determine that this year remains the year you wish to be admitted to a business school, then the early news of a denial should force you to undertake further introspection, review your application strategy, and add additional applications for Round 2. Obviously you may also be waiting for answers from other schools in Round 1, but use this early signal as an opportunity to gear up for a Round 2 plan.

If you have determined that you reached too high with the school that denied you, it likely makes sense to adjust your list of target schools down a bit in terms of ranking/level of competition. The alternative would be to stay focused on high ranking schools while seeking out ways to improve your profile in an expedient fashion in order to present a stronger candidacy in the next admissions round. This can be quite challenging, but some candidates are able to prep for and retake the GMAT exam in the fall, or seek out new leadership opportunities before the holidays, and then incorporate these improvements into their application.

Of course, if you believe that your negative result in Round 1 was a matter of weak execution of the application (as opposed to the raw materials you brought to the process), then you should look to more peer schools to apply in Round 2 and spend more time working on the application materials and seeking input from friends, colleagues, family and admissions experts to ensure your file is stronger this time around.

If you suspect that the school may have made an error in judgment (which is very difficult to be certain of), then proceed with caution. Don’t spend time complaining to the school that rejected you, but do persist with your choice of peer schools to apply in Round 2 – and strongly consider expanding the list and add a safety school, just in case.

Finally, should you determine that a reason for your rejection was based in part because you lack professional experience and volunteer leadership experiences (and that you cannot remedy these weaknesses in a matter of months), you have two choices: 1) apply in Round 2 to schools that perhaps are not as selective, readjusting your sights down a little, or 2) wait and reapply in Round 1 of next year. With the additional year under your belt, you will have plenty of opportunities to improve your candidacy.

If you do decide to wait an additional year, and the school that denied you in Round 1 offers feedback for denied candidates, take advantage of that service to gain additional perspective on why your candidacy this year was not quite up to the mark. Taking advantage of the feedback that is offered will not only help you strategize for your applications the following year, but will signal to the school that you are serious and motivated to attend their program. Each year schools will admit a significant number of candidates who have been denied in a previous year. In fact, the acceptance rate among reapplicants is typically HIGHER than the overall acceptance rates at top programs.

Keep Your Chin Up

The key to all this is to try to not take the early negative decision too personally. After all, an applicant who only receives positive admissions decisions and never experiences rejection is most often a candidate who did not aim high enough!

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