Fridays from the Frontline: What I Did Differently Before Reapplying to HBS
The MBA admissions process can be a humbling one. Many applicants to elite MBA programs seemingly tick all the boxes—an excellent undergraduate GPA, high GMAT score, robust work experience, poignant essays—but may still face rejection. However, one round of dings does not need to completely dash one’s dreams—re-applicants often find success in subsequent admissions cycles, usually after a period of self-reflection and action to improve their candidacy.
This week, we hear from current HBS student Arman Keshani, who shares his experience of getting rejected by Harvard and then taking steps to re-apply successfully.
The following piece has been republished in its entirety from its original source, the HBS Blog.
What I Did Differently Before Reapplying to HBS
I first applied to HBS through the 2+2 program when I was a senior in college. I had good grades, did well on my GMAT, and had two great mentors to write references letters for me. I worked hard on the application, and was disappointed when I didn’t get in. HBS was the experience around which I was going to structure the rest of my life. I was taking a job in data analytics which I was excited about, but was not sure it would get me to where I wanted to go in my career (a destination that I am still trying to work out). HBS was going to bring that stability to my life, and now my future seemed uncertain.
A few years later, I decided to re-apply. It felt like the right time: I would have been working for four years before starting, I was getting ready to move on from the industry I was in, and, most importantly, my GMAT score was about to expire! As the decision date came and I braced myself for the worst, I read out the first few words of the letter. “Dear Arman, The answer is YES!” I will never forget this moment. I was sitting in my living room and was overwhelmed with an immense sense of relief and excitement. I decided to work from home that day because I knew, no matter the outcome, I would have a strong reaction.
People often ask what I think changed between my 2+2 rejection and my eventual acceptance. They usually expect a story about a series of deliberate decisions I made to change my course and make myself an attractive candidate for HBS. In reality, my journey from college to business school was defined by a series of serendipitous opportunities which I did little to author myself. The difference that I made was in being adaptive and making the best of the environment I was in.
For example, in my first six months at Navigant Consulting, I was mostly on the bench. I took advantage of this time to take coding classes and read textbooks about data analytics, and before long had a strong technical skillset which was invaluable to the team. During that time, I also built strong relationships with my manager. When he left Navigant to start a data analytics group at Control Risks, a smaller, more niche consulting firm, he offered to bring me on as his first hire. I jumped at the opportunity to learn how a team is built from the ground-up. Within days of joining, we got a massive project in Brazil to uncover bribery at a state-owned company. The timing couldn’t have been better. I eventually spent a year in Brazil, traveling throughout the country, seeing firsthand the destruction caused by corruption, and discovering the power of technology to stop it.
Working at Control Risks opened my eyes about technology and the real impact it could have on the world, particularly in emerging markets. It gave me a sense of purpose, a mission, and a reason to attend an institution like HBS. I came to HBS to obtain the skills, experiences, and network that I need to make my difference in the world. Ultimately, I think that was the difference between my rejection and my acceptance.
What advice do I have for 2+2 applicants that don’t get in the first time?
Don’t give up. Don’t think that getting rejected defines you or makes you unlikely to get accepted in the future. See this as an opportunity. When you step into work, find ways to distinguish yourself. Go beyond the job description. Ask questions; understand the higher-level trends which drive the work you are doing. Seek opportunities to receive more responsibility and seize the moment when it comes. Life rarely follows our perfect plans. Use your rejection from 2+2 to remind yourself of that and pick yourself up for the next challenge. Embrace it.