If you were rejected from your top choice MBA program, you may be wondering if you’ve attained pariah status, assuming that if you were rejected once, you’ll surely be rejected again next time. Or perhaps you can put a more positive spin on your rejection and assume that the mere fact that you are trying again will give your application a boost – after all, doesn’t the fact that you’re reapplying demonstrate your 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, perhaps you are awarded a few brownie points, if any, for being a reapplicant, and at the same time, the overwhelming majority of schools will not hold a previous ding against you.

Understanding How You're Viewed

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

STEP ONE: Reevaluate & Improve Your Candidacy

Getting Feedback

You may have a fair idea of why you were dinged, and some schools are happy to tell you outright (usually in the summer), and may even encourage you to reapply. If you were lucky enough to have received this information, 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 encourages you to reapply, you can approach your "reapplication year" with some optimism and hopefully with a few specific tips from the school to work on.

Other schools say they receive too many applications to provide individualized feedback. It will be up to you –perhaps with the help of Accepted – 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 your score, you should be ready to reapply in the first round of the coming year. If, however, you learn, as most dinged applicants do, that your 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.

Taking Action

Once you know where your first application was lacking, map out a concrete plan 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, and consider using Accepted's essay editing services.

You, like most applicants, may not have it this easy. You may be told you have a low GMAT score, poorly defined goals, and too few post-collegiate activities. You will not only have to multitask, but you’ll have to run the risk that the eight or nine months you have between now and 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 to volunteer or pursue an interest in another country.

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 admissions readers begin to ask how your new application compares to your old.

STEP TWO: Understand Your Schools' Reapplication Procedures

Creating a Reapplication List

In addition to telling you whether you should reapply this year or wait until next year (or the next), 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: a) Some schools require you to submit an entirely new application and may not compare your old and new applications; b) others will keep your previous application on file for one year and require you to submit a new essay explaining how you've strengthened your application; and c) other programs require a reapplication essay, but allow you the option of submitting a new application.

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. For example, one school may review adcom member's comments or "write-ups" on the first application, not the application itself, unless a major question arises. By contrast, another program may look more closely at the previous year's application, and others may fall somewhere between the two. 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 – some even require it or will offer special early decision programs that are partly designed as a way of benefiting reapplicants.

STEP THREE: Reapply!

Learn from Your Mistakes

You're finally ready to begin the actual reapplication process. Fortunately, you've been through it all before, so now older and wiser, you know how to pace yourself, what mistakes to avoid, and 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 mid-January) you should have some 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 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, the adcom will usually have your old essays within reach if they need to be filled in on your background.

Demonstrate Your Transformation

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, etc.

The fact that you're reapplying tells the adcom of your continuing interest. Show them 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 can help. Our experienced consultants will guide you from the moment you receive the "ding" letter to the day that joyous acceptance arrives. 

Check out our Rejection Review service!