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MBA Admissions: Application Advice for Reapplicants

Once applicants are rejected from their top choice MBA program, they wonder if they have attained pariah status. Some applicants worry that since they were rejected once, they'll be rejected again next time, while others assume that the mere fact they are trying again will give their application a boost—after all, doesn’t reapplication demonstrate their seriousness and commitment?

The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes and really depends much less on your status as a reapplicant and much more on the schools you are applying to, the amount of growth and improvement you can show, and how you compare to the competition this time around. In other words there are few brownie points, if any, for a reapplicant, and at the same time, the overwhelming majority of schools will not hold a previous ding against you.

Reapplying has been the traditional fail-safe for the dinged business school applicant, but increasing competition is making even this last-gasp strategy tougher than ever.

Have business schools suddenly decided to judge repeat applicants more harshly? Probably not. The real explanation is likely that the recent volume of applications to business schools has simply created a glut of dinged applicants who, in increasing numbers, are deciding to give their MBA dreams one more shot.

The good news is that the vast majority of business schools probably still view reapplicants neutrally at worst and downright positively at best. A strong, well-considered, and effectively executed reapplication strategy can still win you that second chance. By following these three steps you can beat the growing competition for reapplication spots.

STEP ONE: Reevaluate & Improve Your Candidacy

You may have a fair idea why you were dinged, but many schools are happy to tell you outright (usually in the summer). In fact, The University of Texas helpfully sends its dinged applicants a letter breaking down areas for improvement into 16 laser-focused categories. Schools like Texas, London Business School, and INSEAD have been known occasionally to explicitly encourage rejected applicants to try again.

If you fall into this category, you may actually have been categorized as a "preliminary admit," only to fall victim to the statistician's axe late in the game because you failed some class-diversity criteria. If a school does encourage you, you can approach your "reapplication year" with some optimism and hopefully a few specific tips to work on.

Other schools, like Harvard and Stanford, say they receive too many applications to provide individualized feedback. It will be up to you--with perhaps the help of Accepted.com--to identify where you went wrong.

If you decide that your Achilles' heel was only your GMAT score, then you know what to concentrate on, and assuming you raise it, you should be ready to reapply in the first round of the coming year. If, however, you learn, as most dinged applicants do, that their application needs work in multiple areas, then applying again within a year may not be realistic. This is especially true if, for example, your feedback tells you that you lack sufficient leadership experiences. It may be hard to accumulate enough in the, say, eight months between your dinged application and your reapplication.

Once you know where your first application was lacking, map out a concrete strategy to strengthen it. If your feedback told you that you applied too late in the admissions season, you won't have to "do" anything but make sure you apply in the first round. Likewise, improving a weak GMAT score and writing better essays involve fairly cut-and-dry strategies: prepare and practice more for your GMAT and spend more time on your essays: consider using Accepted.com's essay editing services.

Most applicants won't have it this easy. They will be told they have low GMAT scores and poorly defined goals and few post-collegiate activities. They will not only have to multi-task; they'll have to run the risk that the 8-9 months they have before applying first round simply aren't enough time. Fortunately, all feedback is actionable to some extent. Make the most of the time you have.

To show deepened leadership, look for ways to demonstrate greater initiative or responsibility at work while also seeking out leadership roles in your community involvements. To compensate for a bad GPA, take competitive courses at a local school-and do well. To build an international profile, seek out overseas projects or take a three-month sabbatical in Estonia.

Perhaps unforeseen personal events have occurred--a death or illness in the family, helping a friend out of bad situation--that have matured you or clarified your goals. Your schools will be interested in all of these developments, specifically the actions you took, the impact you had, and the lessons you learned.

Be realistic: Reapplicants are first evaluated in terms of the school's hard admission criteria and second in terms of the new year's applicant pool (invariably stronger than the previous year's). Only if your application survives those two screens will they begin to ask how your new application compares to your old.

STEP TWO: Understand Your Schools' Reapplication Procedures

In addition to telling you whether you should reapply this year or wait two, your feedback can also tell whether you need to modify the list of schools you applied to. Feedback may indicate that you need to add a few "safety" schools, drop one or two "reaches," or even try again at the exact same programs. Once you develop your reapplication list, make sure you thoroughly understand their reapplication policies.

Schools' reapplication processes follow one of three basic approaches. Some, like Harvard and New York University, require you to submit an entirely new application-they don't keep your previous year's application and so won't have anything to compare your new application to (you can use this fact to your benefit). Others, like Columbia, keep your previous application on file for one year and require you to submit a new essay explaining how you've strengthened your application. Finally, other programs require a re-app essay, but allow you the option of submitting additional essays.

Whichever approach your schools use, remember that even if they do keep your first application on file they may not actually compare it directly to your new application. Wharton, for example, will review adcom member's comments or "write-ups" on the first application, not the application itself, unless a major question arises. By contrast, Chicago looks more closely at the previous year's application, and Sloan falls somewhere between Wharton and Chicago. Knowing how much attention your schools give to your first application can help you decide how much explaining you'll have to do if you've changed your post-MBA goals.

Most schools strongly suggest that you reapply in the first round-MIT Sloan actually requires it. Similarly, Tuck offers an Early Decision Program that is partly designed as a way of benefiting reapplicants.

STEP THREE: Reapply!

Finally you're ready to begin the actual application process all over again. Fortunately, you've been through it all before so, older and wiser, you know how to pace yourself, what mistakes to avoid, what new steps you may need to take. As early as the late spring or early summer after your first application (assuming you submitted before, say, January 15) you should have enough idea of your progress in your application improvement strategy to know where you stand.

You can now begin scoping out potential new recommenders; talking to friends, counselors, or an Accepted.com consultant about your revised goals and new school list; and rewriting your essays. Don't take the easy way out by assuming that you just need to tack a new paragraph onto your previous year's essays to "bring it up to date." Remember, those essays didn't get you in! When writing reapplication essays it's usually better to err on the side of new ideas and fresh approaches than to try recycling old material that you've probably lost faith in and, truth be told, are a little sick of looking at.

Start over, not with a new "update" paragraph but with new stories, new themes (if necessary) and a very pronounced slant toward the events in your life and career since you first applied. Remember, they will usually have your old essays within reach if they need to be filled in your background.

Stress what's changed and how you've grown as a person and a professional. Just as important, emphasize how your desire to enroll at their program has undergone its own impressive transformation: you've talked to more alumni and students, visited again, discovered more resources and clubs, fleshed out the link between your goals and their program.

The fact that you're reapplying tells them of your continuing interest; show that that interest has become a real driving passion with a brand-new "Why Your B-School" section. Good luck!

NEED MORE HELP?

If you would like help reevaluating your candidacy and planning your reapplication strategy Accepted.com can help. Our experienced consulting staff is there to guide you from the moment you receive the "ding" letter to the day the "fat envelope" arrives. Ask us how we can help you!

For more extensive and in-depth advice on how to reapply successfully, check out Linda Abraham's ebook, Create a Better Sequel: How to Reapply Right to B-School. It's the MBA admissions book that can show you how to transform your thin envelopes into fat ones.

For information on how Accepted.com can help you, please see our MBA admissions consulting and application services.

Or check out our other informative MBA admissions resources:

Create a Better Sequel: How to Reapply Right to Business School
Take 2: How to Reapply Right to Business School
MBA Reapplicant 101 Page