How to Strengthen Your M.B.A. Application

Don't let rejection letters defeat you. Regroup, learn from your mistakes, and get in next year.

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For the past few weeks, many M.B.A. applicants have been sleeping fitfully, biting their nails, and checking their email with trepidation. Why? Because it's the time of year when b-schools are letting applicants know whether they are admitted, waitlisted, or denied a seat in next year's class.

With so many applicants and so few seats available at top b-schools, many aspiring M.B.A.s find themselves shut out during their first application season. After putting so much time and dedication into completing their applications, the thought of trying again the next year can be overwhelming. The good news, however, is that reapplying is often easier. You've already done the bulk of your school research, GMAT test prep, and essay writing. As a re-applicant, you simply need to refine your application.

[Get more admissions advice from b-school officials.]

The tricky part can be figuring out how, exactly, your application needs refining. B-schools generally don't give explanations to rejected candidates, so you can't call the admissions office to find out what was lacking. I would encourage you instead to distance yourself from those rejected b-school applications by putting them away for a few weeks. Then try to look at them as objectively as you can. This can be difficult, so it's a good idea to have someone help you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your applications, be it a professional consultant, current b-school student, or colleague who holds an M.B.A. degree.

To get you started, here are a few strategies commonly used for strengthening b-school applications:

Retake the GMAT. I know, I know—you thought you were done with those GMAT prep books forever. But if your scores are below average for the programs you hope to get into next year, then raising your scores can improve your admissions chances.

Take on more responsibilities. One common reason that applicants fail to stand out is that they don't use their applications to showcase their leadership experiences. If your leadership experience is wanting, then use the next year to take on more responsibilities at work and/or in your extracurricular activities.

[Learn more about getting the right work experience before you apply.]

Reevaluate your school list. While you can certainly apply to the same schools, you might want to expand your list to better your chances of admission next year. Check out the U.S. News 2012 rankings of Best Business Schools, and see if you missed any programs that seem like a good fit when compared to your interests and level of achievement.

Revise your career goals. M.B.A. programs look closely at your stated career goals. If you seem on track to meet them without the help of an M.B.A., then the admissions committee will wonder why you are applying. On the other hand, if your goals seem outlandish or completely detached from your experience, then they might worry that you have unrealistic expectations of what an M.B.A. program can do for you. Make sure your expressed career goals are well thought out and that you can make a convincing argument for why you need an M.B.A. to obtain them.

Despite the different strategies re-applicants employ to improve their chances for admission, they all have one thing in common: resilience. Until next week, I'll leave you with this short clip on the topic.