Rejected From HBS or Your “Top Ten” MBA Program? What should you do now?  Should you even think about reapplying next year?

It’s January, and it’s cold in most parts of the country, freezing cold depending where you are, but nothing quite matches the cold sting of rejection you feel, if you got rejected from all of your MBA or EMBA programs this year.

Yup, sadly to say, it happens.

You took the time to apply, you really wanted to get in to a “Top Ten” MBA or EMBA program, your GMAT scores or EA (Executive Assessment) scores were strong, you’ve have a good job, with a prestigious, known-name firm in your field, and your recommenders were more than happy to help you out and write your rec — so, let’s just say, in terms of gaining admissions to not only the MBA or EMBA business school program of your choice, but ANY MBA or EMBA program at all…you really don’t know what exactly went wrong.

And, then the next question that comes to mind is, “should I even try to apply again this year?”

That’s where I come in with some strong advice.  I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer, and a Harvard graduate myself.  I know how this stuff works!  First off, you need some eagle eyes on your actual applications — the ones that DIDN’T get you in to your school.

An experienced MBA admissions counselor will be able to take one look at your application (MBA resume, essays, recommendations, GMAT scores) and in a quick instant give you a run down of where the real problem lies.

Having been working in MBA admissions myself now for over 10 years, I will tell you, that most often rejections happen because of the following, and in this order:

  1. GMAT scores are too low for the MBA program you’re targeting
  2. The Resume: Not enough years of work experience, or work experience at non known-name firms (only relevant in certain fields, like finance…but there VERY relevant).
  3. POORLY WRITTEN MBA ESSAYS.
  4. Number 3 above is so important, I’m going to say that again: POORLY WRITTEN MBA ESSAYS are the #1 reason that almost 95% of people will get turned down from even interviewing at their top MBA or EMBA schools.
  5. Weak recommendations.
  6. Weak Interview (if you even got one, which if you didn’t, is a worse sign (but nothing that can’t be rectified next year, when you reapply!)
  7. Everything you have is “good enough” but there is not one single thing in your application that makes you stand out, or appear more interesting or unique than the person who just applied before you, or the person whose application they will read after, and so then you it simply becomes a random shot in the dark.

As a public service, let me now go through these most common reasons for MBA or EMBA business school admission rejections,  so everything becomes even more clear:

GMAT SCORES: The top business schools like HBS, Stanford, Wharton, and MIT can obviously have their pick of applicants, and the very first thing they look at is your GMAT score.  If you don’t know, or aren’t clear where your score fits on the hierarchy of business school candidates, take a look at my article here: The GMAT Score You Need To Get In To A “Top Ten” MBA!

WORK EXPERIENCE: Aside from what I have already said above, allow me to add that HOW your MBA resume looks is equally important.  The schools, and especially the more conservative (traditional) MBA programs like HBS, Wharton, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, NYU Stern, UC Berkeley, etc., do not, under any circumstance, want to see a resume that doesn’t look like the person took the time to make it neat, easy to read, devoid of weird embellishments (like odd fonts – believe me, I’ve seen it), or they somehow make the font so small to cram everything in on one page, that you can’t read anything.  Don’t do that.

So, yes, your actually work experience is important, how many years, etc., but also do pay attention to how a formal MBA resume should look.  For a good article on MBA resumes check out my previous article here: How To Make Your MBA Resume Shine!

Now, on to my most important MBA admissions tip:

Don’t write weak MBA essays.  Don’t know what makes a GREAT MBA essay?  Do your research!  Get help!  Ask other MBA admissions consultants like me (as I offer a FREE consultation here: Click here for your FREE MBA consult!).

Make sure you know what a GOOD MBA essay looks like, or better yet 10 GOOD MBA essays, before you strike out on your own, unaware.  Poorly written, or just plain bad essays that don’t fully address the question, or (in the case of HBS) don’t give the MBA admissions committee anything at all close to what they are looking for…only makes it more likely that you, my friend, will get the big rejection.

And, nobody like that.

Brrrrr, did it just get cold in here?

YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Very important, and perhaps more important than you realize, as someone who writes you a “nice” recommendation, is not going to hold water to someone who writes someone else a “the best employee I’ve ever had, he/she saved my life when we had to go to China for a business trip unannounced, sealed the deal singly-handedly, made the presentation, and brought our firm more revenue than we’ve seen in the last 100 years combined” recommendation.

In other words, you really need to make sure you’re choosing the best WRITER possible, when you’re looking to see whom to ask for recs. It makes a difference.

THE MBA INTERVIEW: I’m going to write an entire MBA admissions blog post on this one topic alone, so stay tuned, but basically, if you didn’t get offered an interview, that’s a bad sign, and if you were offered an interview, but it didn’t go well, or you don’t know how it really went, when it comes down to it, because you thought you did “okay enough” — just know that “okay enough” isn’t really okay, and that’s something I offer too, in terms of MBA or EMBA interview prep, so 1). You actually GET the business school interview in the first place, and 2). You don’t blow it when you do.

The interviews are extremely important.  On campus interviews are actually even more advantageous than alumni interviews (unless you are overseas), but this is something I will speak more about in my MBA interview blog post.

INDIVIDUALITY: Lastly, you really need to have something in your MBA application that makes you STAND OUT.

This can be anything — it can be a project you worked on, a perfect GMAT score, a humanitarian organization you founded, a business you run on the side, an interesting trip you took, or sport you participate in.  Basically, ANYTHING that makes the adcom (i.e. MBA admissions committee) say, “Oh yeah, I know who you’re talking about, I read that application too.”

Be memorable, stand out, have something, anything, that makes you just a little, itty bit “unique” and you’ll be way ahead of the business school admissions game.

And, remember, if the reason you didn’t get in was, in fact, one of the above, the best thing you can do for yourself is get a second pair of eagle eyes on your rejected MBA application, and have someone like myself give you an overview and an analysis  — because most problems are fixable, and with the right MBA admissions coach and help, you absolutely should fix the problems, get more work experience under your belt, raise your GMAT scores by taking classes or buying books, and apply again.

Each year I work with applicants who are actually reapplicants, and I get them in to HBS, Wharton, and Stanford.

There is no reason, with the right help, this can’t be you.

[I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer and Harvard grad, and currently run the top MBA & EMBA admissions consulting firm: www.MBAIvy.com  Contact me today, and get into the bschool of your dreams!]

For other great MBA admissions tips and advice, you can read through my other blog posts here: www.MBAIvy.com/blog