MBA Reapplicants: Should You Reapply to B-School?

I Creating an MBA reapplication strategy
II The difference between weak points and damaging information
III What business schools say about MBA reapplicants
IV MBA reapplication requirements by program

Last year you applied to business school…but everything hasn’t gone quite as planned. Perhaps you got into an MBA program but declined the offer. Maybe you’re still on the wait-list at a school you would love to attend…but as time passes, the likelihood of being offered a place is dwindling. Whatever the case, it’s a new application season and you’re looking to make a fresh start.

I Creating an MBA reapplication strategy

Naturally you’re asking yourself, Which schools should I target or re-target? Typically applicants create their short-list of schools from a mix of programs that they identify as being ‘safety schools’, ‘target schools’ and ‘reach schools’. There’s also a fourth type of school that I call the ‘reach-reach school’. I’ve created a table (below) that illustrates how an applicant’s short-list evolved from year 1 to year 2.

Application Year 1TypeInterview Probability Application Year 2TypeInterview Probability
MIT SloanReach10%///
Dartmouth TuckTarget35%Dartmouth TuckReach10%
UVA DardenTarget35%New ProgramTarget35%
Michigan RossSafety50%+Michigan RossTarget35%
Cornell JohnsonSafety50%+New ProgramSafety50%+
///New ProgramSafety50%+

The application strategy in year 1 is a balanced one. The candidate has chosen to apply to six schools: 1/3 are safety schools, another 1/3 are target and a final 1/3 are reach or reach-reach.

Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of  reapplications, but if a candidate wants to reapply in year 2, I suggest they limit reapplications to no more than 1/3 of their total short-list. That means if a candidate applies to six schools there should be a maximum of two reapplications, if the candidate appleis to five schools, then one reapplication.

In year 2, this applicant decided to reapply to two schools. In year 1 Tuck was considered a target school but in year 2 it became a reach. I consider a school ‘riskier’ once an applicant has already applied and been denied. I represented that by changing the type of school from a target to a reach for Tuck. Likewise, Michigan Ross’s status was changed from a safety to a target school in year 2. This system isn’t scientific, it’s just a good back-of-the-envelope way to create balance and manage risk in a candidate’s application strategy.

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II The difference between weak points and damaging information

Getting into a good MBA program is a lot like dating. How many times has this happened to you: You leave a first date thinking ‘Mmmm let’s never do that again…‘ but then, a few days later, you begin saying to yourself, ‘I should really see if X wants to go out next weekend‘. I’m guessing it’s unlikely you’ve ever found yourself in that situation. That’s because first impressions matter. When contemplating a reapplication, it’s important to ascertain what sort of first impression your application might have made on the admissions committee. Requesting a review of your previous application can bring a third-party opinion to the table. I offer what are called ‘ding reviews’ for free during Free Consultations. Other firms that provide ding reviews include Sandy KreisbergmbaMission and Stacy Blackman as well as many others!

The explanation for why a past application didn’t result in admit usually falls predominantly into one of two categories: ‘Weak Points’ or ‘Damage’. Weak points are addressable while damage usually isn’t. If you’re dealing with addressable weak points it’s usually a green light to reapply. When something ‘damaging’ is identified many times it’s best to move on and target MBA programs that have never received an application from you.

Previous MBA Application Issue: Weak Points

Weak points are objective areas of your application that you could improve on between year 1 and year 2. These include:

  • Showing better academic potential by increasing your GMAT score, getting an A in a Masters-level course
  • Demonstrating professional advancement by taking on more responsibility at work, receiving a promotion, changing employers
  • Re-evaluating the professional goals you presented to the admissions committee and possibly adjusting course
  • Analyzing whether other recommenders might be more effective communicators or be in a better position to speak to your most recent achievements

Previous MBA Application Issue: Damage

Even with the best of intentions, sometimes a candidate just comes across the wrong way in their application (in particular via their essays and recommendations). There are a lot of things that can go wrong but generally speaking, when ‘damage’ has been done it’s because the candidate has inadvertently come across as not being ‘executive or managerial material’. The adcom is definitely going to re-read your old application and they’re definitely going to be reminded of what they weren’t keen on the first time around. Determining whether to go ahead with a reapplication requires a frank discussion about potential damage (if that’s the case).

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III What business schools say about MBA reapplicants

All US business schools readily encourage reapplicants and most admissions consultants tell candidates that a reapplication is seen as ‘neutral or positively’.

Reapplications make up approximately 10% of Wharton’s applicant pool in any given year. The most important thing is that you demonstrate through essays, subsequent career growth, and/or academic preparation that you are a stronger candidate who will add to the Wharton community.
Wharton Adcom

Having applied in a previous year is not a negative factor in your application. We appreciate your sustained interest in Stanford and your resilience in reapplying. In fact, each year, we offer admission to some reapplicants who present compelling applications.
Stanford Adcom

INSEAD, a European business school takes a much more frank (and in my opinion, honest) approach to reapplicants:

We are expecting a significant change in the applicant’s profile. Perhaps it is a promotion, international assignment or change in job. An improved GMAT score is not sufficient however.
– INSEAD Adcom

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IV MBA reapplication requirements by program

Most schools retain applications for one or two calendar years. If you’re reapplying during that time period schools consider you a reapplicant and each school has its own reapplicant protocol. Many require an entirely new application plus an additional reapplicant essay. Some require that only one new recommendation be submitted (rather than the standard two recommendations required for normal applicants). Obviously it’s to your advantage, as a reapplicant, to submit as many new documents as possible in an effort divert attention away from your previous application.

Columbia and UCLA Anderson are two schools where reapplicants are truly at a disadvantage. Columbia and Anderson only require reapplicants to submit an additional reapplicant essay and one new recommendation. The schools will reference your essays and second recommendation from the previous application.

US News RankSchoolTime School Retains Old ApplicationOnline ApplicationRecommendation LettersEssaysAdditional Essay
/LBD1 yearNewNewNewNo
/INSEADno limitNewNewNewNo
1Harvard University 2 yearsNewNewNewNo
2Stanford University 2 yearsNewNewNewNo
2University of Chicago (Booth) 2 yearsNewNewNewNo
4University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) 2 yearsNewNewNewYes
5Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) 2 yearsNewNewNewNo
5Northwestern University (Kellogg) 2 yearsNewNewNewYes
7University of California—​Berkeley (Haas) 2 yearsNewOptionalNewOptional
8Dartmouth College (Tuck) 2 yearsNewNewNewYes
8Yale University 2 yearsNewOptionalNewNo
10Columbia University 1 yearNew1 New Reco OnlyOldYes
11University of Virginia (Darden) 1 yearNew1 New Reco Required (but 2 accepted)NewNo
12Duke University (Fuqua) 1 yearNew1 New Reco OnlyNewYes
12University of Michigan—​Ann Arbor (Ross) 1 yearNew1 New Reco OnlyOptionalYes
14Cornell University (Johnson) no limitNewNewNewYes
15University of California—​Los Angeles (Anderson) 2 yearsNew1 New Reco OnlyOldYes
16University of North Carolina—​Chapel Hill (Kenan-​Flagler) no limitNewNewNewNo
16University of Texas—​Austin (McCombs) no limitNewOptionalNewNo
18Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) 1 yearNewNewNewNo
20New York University (Stern) 1 yearNew1 New Reco OnlyEssay 1 OnlyOptional
21Washington University in St. Louis (Olin) 3 yearsNewNewNewNo
22Georgetown University (McDonough) no limitNewNewNewYes
31University of Southern California (Marshall) 2 yearsNew1 New Reco OnlyNewNo
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