This time of year, many applicants—even highly qualified ones—face the dreaded news that they weren't accepted into the school of their dreams. For those of you wondering if there's a magic solution to reapplication, consider this: With just 5 percent of applicants making it into Stanford Graduate School of Business's Class of 2012, and 12 percent landing a spot at Harvard Business School in the Class of 2013, getting into a top M.B.A. program isn't as easy as pulling a rabbit out of a hat. However, I can recommend a few tricks that might yield more positive results.
First, give yourself a break from this intense process. Applying to business school is stressful, and starting over without taking a breather only sets you up for failure since you'll be burned out before you even begin. Once you've taken the time to mentally regroup, it's time for some intense soul searching. Everyone has room for improvement, so take a cold, hard look at yourself and your first application to see where you can do better next time.
[See U.S. News's rankings of Best Business Schools.]
It's unlikely that the rejection came as a result of just one element of your application, but the common red flags include a lack of leadership skills and experience, less than stellar recommendations, and low GMAT test scores and/or undergraduate grade point averages. Was there room in your GMAT score for improvement? Would you have taken a class to boost your quantitative profile before applying if you'd had more time? Were you lacking depth or breadth in your extracurricular activities, or is there room for a leadership role in your volunteer activities? Admissions committees want to hear that you've made progress in your career and significant improvements to your application since they last turned you down.
Due to the large number of applications most top M.B.A. programs receive each season, feedback is difficult to come by. If you do have the opportunity to speak with a member of the admissions committee, take advantage by asking for details about each area of your application. Make sure you walk away from any feedback session with action items for next year. For those still feeling anxious about what to do next time, my company offers a two-hour session with a consultant to evaluate your application from last season and provide feedback and action steps for reapplication.
[Get more tips on strengthening your M.B.A. application.]
If you're reapplying for a second or third time, you should consider adding a few less-competitive programs to your list in addition to your top one or two dream schools. Some people apply to places that are clearly wrong for them. If your scores don't come close to those of an average student at the school, it's not likely you'll get in next time unless you make tremendous strides on your GMAT and have added other, extremely impressive qualifications, too.
Perhaps the most important quality I can stress in the business school application process is resilience. It's very easy to look at successful people and assume their road was smooth. But for most successful people, including those occupying the seats at top M.B.A. programs, the road was a bumpy one. What separates them from the crowd is not a lack of failure; it's that they picked themselves up and tried again when they've failed. If you're struggling with getting up after being knocked down, try to apply a dose of resilience. I love this quote from magician David Blaine, who is renowned for his public endurance challenges: "Magic…is pretty simple. It's practice, it's training, it's experimenting, while pushing through the pain to be the best that I can be." The same goes for applying, or in this case, reapplying, to business school.