There’s little doubt that this MBA admissions cycle has been seriously competitive and a boom in applications to MBA programs has meant many candidates who had high hopes ended up receiving a soul-crushing MBA rejection letter.
You need to understand that a ‘ding’—industry jargon for getting a rejection letter—is not a verdict on your worth. The MBA admissions process is influenced by complex factors outside of your candidacy—the overall applicant pool, the timing of your application, and sometimes luck.
You may be unsure how business schools view reapplicants and how to improve your MBA application the second time around. You should know that schools definitely welcome reapplicants—you don’t get penalized for being a reapplicant and you can get admitted.
However, simply resubmitting your old application and hoping for a different outcome is not a great strategy. So how do you reapply and increase your MBA admissions odds?
Alex Lawrence (pictured below), assistant dean of MBA admissions at the UCLA Anderson School of Management says a successful reapplication starts with self-awareness: “If the applicant takes time to reflect on why he or she wasn’t admitted, that could be useful in the next application. Take a look at the class profile for a view of the enrolled class.”
Laurel Grodman, managing director of admissions at the Yale School of Management has a similar message: “The reapplicants we see have given a lot of thought to where they did not present their best candidacy and have taken meaningful steps to address that. And there’s something to be said for the grit and perseverance it takes to do that.”
After an MBA rejection letter, many schools, including UCLA and Yale, offer feedback to help denied candidates identify the areas they could strengthen.
Schools expect meaningful improvements in your new application. Dawna Levinson, assistant dean of admissions of MIT Sloan School of Management says you should highlight what’s new or changed since the last time you applied.
“You should carefully consider the content of your new application in order to balance continuity and updated information, while avoiding excessive repetition.” For MIT Sloan, Dawna suggests you include a new MBA recommendation letter.
Understand the reapplication process
Schools vary in their reapplication process and you should follow the rules of each school. In 2020, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business streamlined the process by ‘cloning’ the previous application.
“Reapplicants can email us at the beginning of the cycle to let us know they plan to reapply (regardless of the round). We will copy all information entered in the previous cycle, and their recommendation, and put it into the current year’s application, saving the applicant a lot of time. They only need to update the information that has changed or any essays they would like to rewrite (for instance if our essay prompts have changed since the prior year),” explains Shari Hubert, associate dean of admissions at Fuqua.
But just because the reapplication process is easier, that doesn’t mean you should treat it lightly. “There is a Reapplicant Essay where you can highlight the updates to your profile, your self-reflection process, or your thoughts on your continued interest in Fuqua”, Shari says.
Leveraging the reapplication essay is a must if you want to increase your chances of success. The key is to identify what is different this time around. The guiding question Alex suggests you should follow is: “How can you make your MBA story better?”
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Reassess your school selections
The MBA journey is filled with high aspirations but it needs a dose of pragmatism. Two fundamental areas you should be thoughtful about, regardless of whether you are applying for the first or second time, is how competitive you are and how good the fit is between you and the school.
If your test scores, GPA, and work experience are outside the class profile, you should consider schools where you can be more competitive. The same is true of the sometimes elusive notion of fit, which is strongly driven by the alignment between your values and professional goals with the school culture and areas of strength.
Consider your timing
Which MBA application round should you apply in? Reapplying earlier, in Round 1, generally leads to improved odds, but you need to assess your personal situation.
“Sometimes [applying in Round 1] gives you enough time to make substantial changes (maybe you’ve gotten a significantly better test score), however sometimes it doesn’t (if you’ve recently changed jobs and want more time to demonstrate accomplishments and secure a meaningful letter of recommendation),” Laurel from Yale warns.
While there are advantages to reapplying early after receiving your MBA rejection letter, the golden rule remains that you should aim to put together the strongest application you are capable of—and sometimes that simply requires more time.
This article was written by Petia Whitmore, a former MBA admissions dean and founder of MBA admissions consulting firm My MBA Path.