Last year you applied to business school…but all didn’t go 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.

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 was a balanced one. The candidate chose to apply to six schools: 1/3 were safety schools, another 1/3 were target and a final 1/3 were reach or reach-reach schools.

With the benefit of year 1 results, we are better able to estimate how competitive the candidate is at each program in year 2. Since the candidate wasn’t interviewed at Tuck in year 1, we’ll drop the probability of interview from 35% to 10% thereby moving Tuck from a target to a reach school. 
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. 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.

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.

The explanation for why a past application didn’t result in admit usually falls predominantly into one of two categories: ‘Weak Points’ or ‘Damaging Information’. Weak points can be addressed in your next application but it’s almost impossible to walk back damaging information. 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 upon. These include:

  • Showing better academic potential by increasing your GMAT score, getting an A in a Master’s-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: Damaging Information

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’.

Examples of this can range from divulging too much information about one’s personal life, to simply coming off as immature or egocentric.

Damaging information can take on more nuanced forms – usually just coming off as self-centered or immature is enough to do it. Such was the fate of a former client. In year 1 he applied to MIT Sloan (on his own). Ding without interview. In year 2 I got him in at Harvard (where he had not submitted an app in year 1) but MIT still wouldn’t interview the guy in year 2.

What business schools say about MBA reapplicants

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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