Ritu Khanna wasn't the luckiest of business school applicants. When she first applied , she was waitlisted at New York University's Stern School of Business (Stern Full-Time MBA Profile), and rejected by three others. London Business School (LBS Full-Time MBA Profile) and Columbia Business School (Columbia Full-Time Profile), and the Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford Full-Time MBA Profile) all gave her the cold shoulder.
Deciding to reapply to LBS and Columbia, Khanna tried unsuccessfully to obtain feedback from the admissions committees at both MBA programs, but neither offers such information to rejected applicants. Khanna turned to their Web sites for general advice for reapplicants. And she took a hard look at her previous candidacy.
"I think in hindsight I overthought my application the first time around, so I was a little more relaxed when I went through the process the second time around," writes Khanna in an e-mail. "I just stayed true to myself, and that was the strategy that worked in the end." Indeed, she is part of Columbia's graduating Class of 2012 and plans to pursue a career in management consulting after graduation.
Try, Try Again
As Khanna attests, rejection from business school does not have to mean the end of your MBA aspirations. Every year rejected applicants reapply to MBA programs, and many of them get accepted the second time. The University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business (Mendoza Full-Time MBA Profile) has already accepted nine of 31 reapplicants this application season, says Brian T. Lohr, director of MBA admissions at Mendoza.
Still, Lohr says it's never easy to get rejected. Experts recommend that rejected applicants throw themselves a pity party before jumping right back into the shark pool that is the MBA application process. "Take a month off to eat ice cream and wallow a bit," says Stacy Blackman, president of Stacy Blackman Consulting based in Los Angeles. "Then, go into the mode of being honest with yourself."
The moment of truth for rejected applicants comes when they decide whether to reapply or walk away. Blackman says her clients usually know, deep down, what is right for them even if the school provides no feedback, and she suggests that no one apply more than twice to the same school.
Reading between the lines of one's rejection is a necessity, says Lohr. It comes down to having a difficult conversation with the admissions committee, if it's willing, about why one was rejected. Some schools will be more encouraging, while others will not, and applicants have to decide for themselves, he adds. "It's tough," Lohr says. "You have to [admit that] your GPA or your GMAT or your work experience is not viable for admission."
A Positive Spin
Once an applicant has decided to reapply, he or she should think of rejection as a positive, says Ankur Kumar, deputy director of MBA admissions at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School (Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile).
"When you talk with students who are successful reapplicants, they'll tell you that rejection allowed them time to do other things and to get more clarity [about] what they want," she says.
Analyzing one's strengths and weaknesses is a good place to start. Reapplicants have to show they have grown and are better applicants than they were before, says Blackman. "You don't want to fall into the same hole year after year," she says. "You have to change what you're doing."
Specifically, reapplicants need to sit down with their applications and go through each section to determine where they need improvement. While many business schools—even those that say they do not offer feedback—will give rejected applicants some clue about what kept them from receiving an acceptance letter, reapplicants still have to reflect on their weaknesses.
Asking questions, such as "Who are you today?" and "Where have you come from since the last application?" can help you retell your story more compellingly and update the admissions committee, Kumar says. Recommenders—perhaps different ones or additional ones from the last application—will reenforce applicant's more recent accomplishments, she adds.
Examining the essay questions to see if answers have changed or if there are new examples to demonstrate particular points is a smart move, says Lisa Giannangeli, director of MBA admissions at Stanford and a 1999 alumna of the program. Some questions ask a candidate to share a bit of who they are as a person, and those responses might not change from year to year, says Giannangeli, who adds that it is perfectly O.K. to keep some things the same.
Then, reapplicants should look at the other parts of their application—from their GMAT scores to extracurricular activities—to determine where else they can improve. Certain parts of the application are within an applicant's control, such as the GMAT scores, which can be improved through study, says Giannangeli.
The Bull by the Horns
"Overfix your problems," writes Ted Wright, who graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (Booth Full-Time MBA Profile) in 2000 after having to reapply to the program. "If [the school] says you can't write, send them back the first chapter of a novel. If they say you don't have enough experience, then go do something worthy of a [Wall Street Journal] write-up."
Other things are out of an applicant's control, and he or she will have to accept that a small part of the application process has to do with timing and luck, says Blackman.
"The composition of the class matters, too," she says. "It could be that one year, the school didn't need a science geek from Israel, and the next year it did."
To increase their chances, most experts, including Blackman, suggest that reapplicants turn in their revised applications no later than the first round, when admissions committees are just beginning to assemble the next incoming class. Also, they should keep in mind that the schools keep old applications on file and will probably look at their original candidacy for comparison. Throwing other schools into the mix is one way to avoid a dead end, says Blackman.
Keeping perspective is important. Although reapplicants usually fare better than first-time candidates, says Giannangeli, because they have more time to reflect, gain additional experience, and really understand why they want to attend a particular school, they still might not make the cut. And growing a tough skin will help reapplicants deal with potential disappointment, says Lohr.
"Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't," he says. "But ultimately, reapplying makes you a better person."