MBA Reapplicant Strategy
Updated: Apr 29
After spending months reflecting on your goals and writing essays that you hoped would be impactful, to be met with rejection is gut-wrenching.
Many applicants give up. And to be fair, who can blame them?
But many come back to the table and put themselves through it all over again. What’s important to know is that you cannot simply re-use the same content the second time around. If it didn’t work before, why would it work now?
In this article, I discuss what you should change as an MBA reapplicant and what (if anything) to keep the same.
How do business schools perceive reapplicants?
Business schools claim to assess reapplicant candidates without bias. They say that they “objectively re-evaluate your application to understand the alignment with the school and its community”, just like any other applicant.
That being said, reapplicants do tend to have a lower admittance rate than first-time applicants. One reason is that many tend to think that MBA applications are a matter of chance, like a lottery where all tickets are equal. So they don't change much about their application.
In fact, as a reapplicant, you're in a new situation entirely. You should embrace the fact that your first application was not what the school is looking for, and think about how you can thoroughly overhaul it.
How do I evaluate a rejection? What can I do differently as an MBA reapplicant?
As a reapplicant, you’ll generally be asked the same questions as every other applicant. These may have changed from the year you last applied, but even if they have not, you should re-write your essays from scratch anyway.
This is because your application won’t be read as ‘fresh’; schools will open up your application file from last year and contrast it with your new application to see how your narrative has evolved. Be careful though! Your stories can change, but you should avoid directly contradicting any claims from your earlier application. For example, changing your timeline.
Aside from the usual essays, most business schools ask that you add a Reapplicant Essay. This essay lets you demonstrate how you reacted to last year’s rejection, and how you’ve grown as an applicant since then. We'll talk more about this later.
On the positive side, applying to a school again the following year shows a clear commitment to the school, which admissions committees appreciate. If you've genuinely spent time re-evaluating your application and improving it, then, it will work in your favour. So, reflect on each component of your application and identify every area of potential improvement:
1. School selection
Finding the ‘fit’ between you and your target school is crucial to the MBA application process. Go over the school's class profiles for the last couple of years to identify your demographic in the class, looking for details that you might have missed last year.
For example, suppose you're an over-represented white American male with an IB background applying to Columbia. In this case, you'll probably need to have a compelling narrative and a GMAT score that's 10-20 points above the class average. If you overlooked this before, now’s the time for a reality check.
So, take a cold look at the competitiveness of the schools you're targeting. Form a new list of target schools with a balance of reach and safe schools.
Ask yourself a few tough questions:
Did you apply to schools without realizing the fit? In that case, you should spend some more time identifying schools with a better fit. Speak to current students and alumni.
Did you apply to schools that were way out of reach? If yes, then target a new set of ~6 schools, striking a balance between reach, middle and safety schools. Consider getting an honest profile review from an admissions consultant to understand which schools are realistic for your profile.
2. Letters of Recommendation
LORs provide the Adcom with a third-person impression of you and, crucially, they provide reassurance that you’re happy to receive constructive feedback during your program. They allow the Adcom to assess your strengths and leadership. They validate your leadership capabilities.
As a reapplicant, it’s especially important that you manage your recommender. Check out this blog describing what the recommender should say and how you can manage them.
When choosing a recommender, think about these red flags. All these scenarios could be a factor contributing to your rejection:
Recommendations from people who've not managed you directly
Recommendations from people who've never given you feedback
Choosing recommenders who are not willing to write that you’re in the top 5% of performers.
Choosing recommenders who cannot directly speak about your abilities because they're too senior to you and haven't shared a closer proximity to understand you better
Or someone who would've rushed through the recommendation and did not invest time to highlight the right side of you.
Business school admissions committees take the view that “past performance is indicative of your future potential”. Therefore, your undergrad GPA will help them understand your academic potential and preparedness for the rigorous MBA curriculum.
These are the average GPAs for some of the top schools:
Harvard Business School (Class of 2023) - 3.69
Columbia Graduate School of Business (Class Entering in 2021 Jan & Aug) - 3.5
Kellogg School of Management (Class of 2023) - 3.7
Ideally, your GPA is above or in line with the class average. If not, in your optional essay you may want to add a clear explanation of why it was low and how you've compensated for it. Also, add what you've learnt from that academic experience, and reassure that you’ll be engaged and successful during your academic MBA classes.
4. Post-MBA goals
Part of your rejection might have been because the school didn’t like your post-MBA goals. Bear the following points in mind while writing about your post-MBA goals:
Be clear and concise: Nothing beats a clearly-articulated career goals essay that precisely outlines your professional purpose, short-term goals, and long-term goals.
Analyze the recruitment fit: As a reapplicant, it’s even more important that you’ve assessed the fit with the school in terms of recruitment. Is the school likely to be successful in placing you into your target role? Particularly if your post-MBA goals are very specific, or don’t really fit with the school's recruitment patterns, it’ll add uncertainty to your profile. Spend some time understanding your post-MBA goals and how the school fits into these goals, such as by assessing their employment report. If you still think there’s a fit with this school, clearly explain your plan this year in your essays.
Here's an example of a well-articulated post-MBA goal:
"Post-MBA, I intend to work at a top-tier management consulting firm such as Bain, McKinsey, BCG or Deloitte in a financial service consulting role. For this, I've begun building my network of financial service consulting recruiters and have lined up a few internship opportunities to pursue during my MBA. In the long run, I plan to take my client-facing and financial modelling skills and transition into a strategy role in the financial services industry."
Well-crafted essays bear the heart and soul of the applicant. They allow the Adcom to uncover who you are. The schools don't dictate particularly strict formal written communication, and usually offer the space for you to indulge in storytelling.
It's the space for you to demonstrate skills such as leadership, self-reflection, self-awareness, team spirit, creativity, tenacity, strategic thinking and communication. So, you can't rush the process. Give it time and develop your ideas through multiple iterations.
Start by chalking out the theme of the essay. Next, create an overall structure. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 50% stories and 50% analysis. Finally, edit until you know you're ready to hit submit.
Do not recycle the essay material from the last year or your applications to other schools and expect a different result. Instead, view this as an opportunity to refocus and demonstrate the wisdom and fresh perspective you've acquired since the last time you applied.
Be sure to touch on the fit with the school, perhaps in terms of cultural, personal, professional, geographical, and academic factors.
Also, show how engaged you have been in pursuing your MBA at their school. Again, mentioning your conversations with current students and alumni will help here. Discuss your academic and professional plans and how you will engage within the school and alumni community.
If the school has a reapplicant essay, make sure you discuss how you reacted to the rejection and rebuilt your application. Specifically, add the new experience you’ve gained and the change in your circumstance since your last application. This will demonstrate self-analysis and awareness and reveal how you rebuild yourself when faced with a failure.
If there's no reapplicant essay, then use the additional information space to discuss any updates to your circumstances.
Lastly, don't leave the additional information question blank in hopes that the adcom will overlook your weaknesses or gaps in your resume. As a general rule, you should assume that they will assume the worst. So, if you haven't already, make sure you explain any gaps.
Tried seeking feedback from schools? Received vague responses? Showed your application to your colleagues or friends and family with no actionable feedback? Self-analyzed for hours but unsure what strategy to apply?
I get it!
I was an MBA applicant once, and my MBA application process was horrific. I was overwhelmed by the process, lacked confidence, and over-analyzed my application until my writing lost flair. Now, my aim is to help determined applicants get admitted to top MBA programs. So, if you're unsure exactly how to do this and want to boost your chances of getting in this year, book a free 30 mins chat with me right away.