Should I Re-Apply to a B-School that has Rejected Me?

Didn’t make it into your dream b-school the first time around? As they say, there’s always next time—which might be right now! But, is re-applying the right move for you? In most cases, resilience is viewed favorably and re-applying is fine, but it depends on your specific situation. Consider these questions when making that call:

1) Why that school?

If you are re-applying because of the reputable name, you may be better off choosing another program. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get into the best schools, but ultimately, it’s not where you go that will shape your professional future—it’s what you do. While Harvard or Wharton degrees might get you that initial spark of interest from an interviewer, what will get you the job is a solid resume, leadership experience, impressive grades, and other credentials that you can earn at just about any school. If you want to get into certain schools to access special resources and other things that only they have (such as particular professors or specialized programs oriented toward your professional track), by all means re-apply! But, play it safe by also applying to other programs that have similar—if not the best—resources and programs.

2) What does b-school mean to you?

This question digs one level deeper than the last. Ask yourself why you are invested in re-applying. Many students find themselves without any acceptances following their first application cycle, but they try again because b-school is crucial to their professional goals and the years invested in applying justify the end. Sound like you?

Consider what b-school will do for your professional future and ask yourself the hard questions (better now than later) to determine whether pursuing another application season—and b-school—is prudent. Are you re-applying to redeem yourself after rejection? Are you unsure of your long-term goals and trying to delay the process of determining them? Are you unhappy in the 9-5 world and seeking a way out? Is b-school what your parents or partner want for you, or is it what you want for yourself? Do you want the degree for the prestige?

One positive consequence of not getting into b-school the first time is having an extra year to clarify your interests and goals. Perhaps you found that you really liked your interim work (or volunteer) experience and can see yourself pursuing it as a career without an MBA. If you re-apply to b-schools, keep your options open and consider a Plan B in case it doesn’t work out again. Though a 2nd try may be worthwhile, chasing a 3rd year could result in more frustration and wasted time and keep you from working toward other worthwhile pursuits.

3) What has changed?

If you’ve considered (1) and (2) and are still confident that b-school is the right choice for you, go ahead and re-apply—but re-apply strategically! You need to prove to admissions committees that you’re returning more qualified and more valuable to the program. Of course, unusual application cycles could have explained a rejection or two the first time (maybe the application pool was massive or exceptionally strong that year), but if you were rejected from numerous schools, something in your application might benefit from improvement.

You can directly ask admissions directors if they’ll offer feedback on your past application—some may, but many won’t. You can also ask undergrad professors or others who have gone through the process (or better, served on committees) to locate weak spots in your past application and offer suggestions. Or, you can put on your admissions committee hat and scrutinize your application yourself—we are, after all, our own worst critics.

Don’t just evaluate, though—improve! Was your GMAT score or GPA low? If so, retake the GMAT. Though you can’t undo a low GPA, a strong test score can help compensate for it. Was your undergrad business program undistinguished? Take coursework online, audit courses elsewhere, or pursue opportunities for advancement at work in your interim year. Were your recommendations weak? If your recommenders have shown little interest in following up after the application cycle, perhaps they were not all that invested. If you suspect this is the case, ask other professors, your boss, or colleagues for strong recommendations this time. In your essays, explain how you have grown and what new experiences or knowledge you bring to the table. And whatever you do, DON’T recycle old essays.

Re-applying to your dream b-school can give you a second chance to enroll in the best program possible for your professional future—but, as with all things, approach the process realistically. Apply to schools across the competitiveness spectrum, have a Plan B, and make round 2 count by presenting an irresistible application. We’re rooting for you!

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