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Rescue Plan for MBA Applicants Who Got Dinged Everywhere

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, May 15, 2024

Today, we're covering a touchy topic that no B-school applicant wants to contemplate. But rip off the Band-Aid we must. This one's for the MBA hopefuls whose application journey has now come to an unfortunate and disappointing end. What can you do if you don't get into any program? While the outlook may seem bleak, there are several viable paths forward for MBA applicants who got dinged everywhere.

Stacy Blackman Consulting offers a Ding Analysis as an a la carte service. Contact us today to learn more.

The first path is time-sensitive: Apply to other business schools before round three deadlines hit. If you chose this option, you've likely already submitted additional applications, as most round-three cutoffs have already passed.

Round three isn't an ideal option unless you have a compelling reason for waiting to apply. Be sure to communicate that reason to the admissions committee. Otherwise, they might view your application as a last-ditch effort to go somewhere and not believe you have a genuine interest in their program.

Reapplying to the Same Schools

The second option is to reapply at the appropriate time in the future. Many business schools, even the most elite and well-ranked ones, welcome re-applicants. "We work with successful reapplicants every year, and this route can definitely lead to acceptance at your dream school," SBC consultant and B-Schooled host Erika Olsen explains in this episode of the podcast.

For the most competitive programs, your odds of admission as a reapplicant are better if you had an interview during your prior attempt. The admissions team clearly found you qualified to attend if it had previously invited you for an interview. It may have been that luck wasn't on your side in this cycle. Even though many people assume they got dinged because something went haywire in their interview, that probably wasn't the case.

"We've found that most applicants are their own worst critics when it comes to interviews," Erika says. Applicants need to remember that the interview is only one piece of the overall puzzle for the admissions committee.

"They're still looking to put together a diverse class of people from different countries and ethnicities and industries and roles," she adds. "So, even though you had a stellar interview, you weren't what they were looking for in terms of class makeup for that cohort."

Although you might be anxious and ready to return to school, as a reapplicant, you'll need to have something new to discuss that strengthens your candidacy. It may be best to wait more than one application year cycle before you reapply, especially if you're on the younger side of the candidate pool.

And we're sorry to break the news that a higher GMAT score alone usually isn't enough. "A lot of people assume it's their GMAT score, and they'll retake it, do better, and think…boom! I'm in. But that's usually not the case," Erika says.

Got Dinged Everywhere? Cast a Wider Net

The third path for those who got dinged everywhere is to apply to different schools in the next application cycle. If you're willing to cast a wider net, applying to business school again sooner rather than later is an acceptable plan because you'll be a first-time applicant to all those new schools.

With this path, the process is still fresh in your mind. You might not need to change everything about your resume or the data forms—or even that much of the application itself. You may even be able to ask the same recommenders to prepare additional letters. That said, ensure you're objective about any weaknesses in your previous applications so you can tweak them as necessary.

Maybe your resume didn't highlight the leadership and growth of your skills over time that it needed to. A generic-sounding recommendation letter may not have helped your case. Maybe your essays lacked cohesion and a compelling narrative.

Or—and this is something many people don't want to hear—perhaps the schools you applied to were really long shots when you compare their admitted class profile statistics to yours. It won't be easy to overcome a 2.7 GPA from a non-feeder school and a GMAT score far below the program's average. That is, unless you have a remarkable background or unique experiences to share with a class.

Stats Aren't Enough

On the other end of the spectrum, remember that while competitive statistics are usually enough to check the boxes you need to get in, they're not the only thing you need. The following scenarios could result in a ding if you had a high GPA from a great college and you rocked the GMAT or GRE, but you:

  • Failed to communicate your softer skills or leadership.
  • Didn't show that you did your research on the program and explained why it was the right fit.
  • Neglected to prove why you need an MBA in the first place or
  • Didn't do enough to differentiate yourself from the pack—especially if you come from a competitive industry or demographic.

Whether you reapply to the same schools in the future or apply to different MBA programs next time, consider having someone else look at your materials. It can be a friend, coworker, mentor, or somebody who went to business school. If you're not planning to go All-In with an admissions consultant next time around, consider getting an hourly service like SBC's Ding Analysis. That's where one of our consultants goes through all your materials to assess what might have gone wrong.

"If there's one thing I've seen over and over again after being in admissions consulting for so many years, it's that many applicants are not fully aware of how competitive this process is," Erika notes.

They assume that because they've always been at the top of their class, have gotten the highest rankings at work, or are employed by a respectable company that regularly sends people to the top programs, that will be enough. But it's not. A rejection rocks those to their core because they're not prepared mentally for it.

Looking Beyond the Big Three

We often meet prospective clients intent on applying only to the big three B-schools: Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. They haven't even considered any other program and feel—at least initially—that if they don't get into one of those schools, there's no point in getting an MBA.

Those folks care too much about other's opinions and not enough about why they need an MBA in the first place. This attitude excludes them from great opportunities and life-changing experiences at other excellent programs.

Ensure you're targeting schools for the right reasons, especially if you're reapplying. Don't do it because your family expects you to attend a particular program or because it ranks "the best." Do it because you know you would thrive at any and have something to offer their campus communities.

Different Format, Same Degree

Another excellent option for applicants who were dinged everywhere is to apply to part-time or evening MBA programs. If you want to get an MBA but full-time programs are not yielding results, then a part-time, weekend, or evening program may be the way to go. You still make friends and get a top-notch education—often with the same professors as the full-time programs. Likewise, you'll have access to the same alum network. Ultimately, you'll have the same MBA degree listed on your resume.

Forge Your Own Path

The final path for applicants who got dinged everywhere is to forego business school. If the rejection is still fresh in your mind, you might not even be able to imagine this path. But stop momentarily and think of three people who have changed the world for the better. Consider leaders who have impacted your life, your country, and maybe even the entire planet in a positive way. We're willing to bet that probably none of them have MBAs. While this degree has immense value, other ways exist to make your mark on this world or achieve your dreams.

With that in mind, we'll leave you with this quote from the journalist and author Po Bronson. He has had a unique career and knows a little something about trying different paths and persevering. He said, "Allow for many paths to your goal. Do not fixate on one path because then you are likely to give up when that path is blocked."


Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. We offer multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help with essay editing, interview prep, and MBA resume review. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.