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What If You Don’t Get Into Any MBA Program This Year?

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You’ve put in countless hours studying for the GMAT, researching schools, writing essays, preparing for interviews—and now, as decisions trickle out, you’re left wondering if you might not get into any school this year. If this is the spot where you find yourself, take solace in knowing that you are not alone.

In fact, someone in precisely this position posted to Clear Admit’s MBA LiveWire last season, and we were delighted to see the compassion and wisdom reflected in the responses the post drew.

This was the original post:

What If You Don’t Get into Any MBA Program

“I Know Exactly How You Feel”
The most prominent theme among the responses was commiseration. “Same feeling man,” wrote one applicant, who applied to four schools, got rejected at two, waitlisted at one and is awaiting response from the single school who invited him/her to interview. “Still waiting for result but they are already finding my replacement at work and I have not been accepted yet…I’m in panic,” the responder wrote.

“Totally can relate with this!” read another response. “Way too ambitious as well…got dinged without interview for two. The last one I’m waiting now is also GSB … lol.”

Continuing the theme was this post: “Relating hard core! Got rejected from my safety school of top 30-40s. Think the fact is that B schools are getting more and more competitive as the job market (in most industries) is stagnant. Seems like most people on this thread were trying to get out of their current jobs, as am I.”

And this one: “I get it! I was overly ambitious and applied to some highly selective schools. Now I’m already at two out of five dings, one interview and two unknown (most likely dings). And that one interview was actually my safety school, which I’ll now take in a heartbeat. :-/ renewed perspective! Don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t make it to that one. It’s a crippling thought.”

And this one: “Preach. Rejected from four out of five, interviewed at one and waiting for decision. It’s my last shot. My ego has taken a huge hit and I feel lost and overwhelmed by the thought of taking a new direction.

And that’s just a few. There were several others sharing similar experiences.

Too Ambitious?
A few applicants shared feeling, in retrospect, like they were too ambitious in terms of the schools they chose to target. This raises the question of whether it’s important to include a reasonable “safety” school as you complete your applications. On this, we checked in with Graham Richmond, one of Clear Admit’s co-founders and a former member of the admissions staff at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“The importance of safety schools really depends on how gung ho the applicant is to go to business school in the fall. If the candidate is absolutely set on getting an MBA now, then it is important to apply to a range of programs to ensure that you don’t end up without an offer,” Richmond says.

“With that said, we should remind readers of the old admissions adage: ‘Don’t apply to any school that you wouldn’t be perfectly happy to attend,’” he continues. While it may sound simple, Richmond has seen more than his fair share of applicants who get into their safety school but have no intention of matriculating there. Which begs the question of why they bothered applying.

Of course, there are applicants who only target dream or reach schools, going in with the plan that they will reapply in the following year if they don’t get an offer. “That’s fine, if you can afford to have that level of flexibility,” Richmond says.

Tales of Reapplicant Success
Many responders to the original post shared that after they found themselves without a single offer, they regrouped, reapplied and were successful. One worked with a consultant the prior year, committed significant time and money to the application process and included a school the consultant thought was a sure thing—but still got rejected everywhere. Making matters worse, he got fired because his consulting firm employer wanted someone to stay long term, and his wife—who had also put in her notice—had to beg for her job back.

After a few dark months, he retook the GMAT, got a new job and started the application process over again. This year, he applied to three top-20 schools and one top-25 school, snagging interviews at all four. “I was admitted in my highest ranking one so far and waiting to hear from my first choice,” he wrote. “Conclusion: If at first you don’t succeed stay in bed, feel sorry for yourself, gain a bunch of weight and then try again.”

Another reapplicant chose to view rejections as necessary encouragement to strengthen his or her application. “Sometimes things happen for a reason!” he or she wrote. After applying to five top 10 schools with a GRE score, the applicant took the GMAT, applied again, and now is five for five so far—with an acceptance at Columbia Business School and interviews at Stanford, Harvard Business School, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and MIT Sloan School of Management. “My GRE equivalent was 720, so I really think the difference was a lot of self-reflection, refining my goals, spending more time honing my brand,” the respondent wrote.

To Choose Safety or Reapply?
“The safety school versus reapplication dilemma is real…even for those who only applied to programs they would be happy to attend (per my advice above),” Richmond says. For many, coming close to a top-10 MBA—whether it’s getting an interview invitation, being placed on the waitlist, etc.—can make you feel like you definitely have a shot of getting in if you can just strengthen your candidacy a little bit, he says. “Then again, the only reason to reapply is if you think you can make tangible changes to your candidacy that might address whatever weaknesses may have kept you out the first time around,” he continues. In the end, it’s up to the applicant to take careful stock of his or her options. “You really want to explore your safety school and whether it can help you reach your career goals and then weigh that against taking the risk of reapplication and producing a more compelling set of application materials the second time around.”