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Seven MBA Application Mistakes That Lead to Dings- And How to Come Back From Them

You’ve completed the MBA application process but you didn’t get the results that you wanted. Perhaps you got into a few schools, but did not quite make your first choice. And now, you’re ready to try again.

First, I just want to remind you that it takes a lot of strength to pick yourself up and decide to try again. Well done.

You are in good company. Babe Ruth is the most famous home run hitter in baseball history, but you might not know that he also struck out far more than most players- 1,330 times. Abraham Lincoln lost four elections and saw his business fail before he became president.

Albert Einstein attempted to create a lightbulb 1,000 times before he succeeded. Henry Ford went broke 4 times before becoming one of the world’s top automotive tycoons. Are you sensing a pattern?

MBA Application Mistakes

A rejection letter is not the end of the world, though it can feel like it at the time. I think that George Bernard Shaw said it best when he said, “You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you have lost something.” The first step to any successful reapplication is determining where you went wrong and what you can learn from it. In my experience, there are seven major errors that lead to rejection letters:

Failure to demonstrate a personal brand

Even the best credentials can ring hollow if they do not tell a genuine story. You need to present a brand to admissions officials- an authentic but well-crafted image that comprehends your goals, motivations and character. Did your application do this, or did you rely too much on generic answers or platitudes?

Failure to communicate post-MBA goals

Even if you are not certain where your career will go (who is?), you need to have some concrete goals to share with the committee. I can guarantee you that there are other students out there, with the same credentials as you, who can clearly articulate why they need an MBA and how they will use it. Did your application get that message across?

Below average test scores

Take a look at the average test scores for this year’s class at the school of your choice. If you fall outside of that range, that is most likely what got you dinged. Enroll in some GMAT prep courses to up your score this time around.

Insufficient leadership

B-schools want more than just one example of leadership. They want to see a pattern of constant and dedicated leadership. Were able to show consistent leadership within select projects or organizations? Or was your experience more scattered, one-off leadership examples? If the latter, that probably contributed to your rejection. Use this time to accrue more consistent leadership experience at work or in your community.

Poor recommendations

You would be surprised by how often recommenders throw their applicants under the bus. Or, sometimes, a perfectly nice recommendation does little good because it comes from someone who is not in a position to comment on the applicant professionally. Were you able to use a direct supervisor or other immediately relevant recommender? Would you be better off using another recommender this time?

Poor fit

Schools are not just looking at the best applicants- they want the best fit for their culture and goals. If you cannot find a clear explanation for your rejection, perhaps you should consider how you really fit with the school. Is there another school that might fit your interests better? Or, could you do a better job of demonstrating fit in your application?


Failure to address weaknesses

Rejected applications often have some sort of gap in work experience, education, or other areas. It is always better to address these gaps, not gloss over them. If you took a year off work for personal reasons, you need to tell the committee what those reasons were. If your grades slipped in a particular class, you need to acknowledge that and explain either what happened or how you will do better this time around. Leaving the committee guessing will not do you any favors.

Take a look back at your application and see if any of these seven mistakes sound familiar. If you can’t spot it, have an unbiased third party look over your application to spot weaknesses. At this stage of the game, honesty is crucial. You cannot fix what is wrong if you will not admit it. Being critical now will give you the edge you need when you reapply in the fall.

Want a professional evaluation of your application and reapplication chances? Check out our Comeback Kid service.

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