18 Possible Reasons Your Dream MBA Program Rejected You

Receiving bad news often feels demoralizing, especially when it concerns an issue you care about. If your pride was hurt by a business school rejection, figuring out how it happened and discovering ways to improve your candidacy could help you cope with the disappointment and move forward, experts suggest.

“It’s not a referendum on you and your potential both academically or professionally,” explains Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean for admissions at the Yale School of Management in Connecticut. “It’s really about how we are viewing your candidacy in the context of our particular school.”

[Read: Decide Whether to Reapply to a Business School That Rejected You.]

Why Tailoring MBA Applications to Specific B-Schools Is Wise

Some top MBA programs prefer candidates with extremely strong math skills, while other selective programs are particular about work experience, DelMonico explains. He notes that Yale’s MBA admissions committee looks for evidence of “intellectual curiosity” and “broad-mindedness,” which tie into the school’s mission to educate future leaders of business and society.

The school’s online mission statement lays out who the school hopes to enroll and why: “We seek students who care deeply about the problems afflicting our world. We equip them with the knowledge, the resources, and the networks to pursue positive and ambitious change–whether that takes the form of launching a business that can refashion its market, advancing far-reaching and rigorously considered policy initiatives, or steering a multinational corporation with keen awareness of and respect for its impact on workers, communities, and the environment.”

DelMonico notes that even at two B-schools where it is similarly difficult to get in, the same MBA candidate might be evaluated differently depending on the priorities of admissions officials at those schools.

Rejections May Be Based on Multiple Reasons

Because MBA admissions decisions are holistic choices made based on the assessment of a candidate’s entire profile, those outcomes do not generally hinge on a single factor, such as a GPA or a standardized test score, experts say.

“There’s no one thing that will either put someone over the top or hold someone back,” DelMonico says. “It’s how everything fits together and how we kind of integrate all the data points.”

Experts add that MBA hopefuls who are from demographic groups that frequently apply to top B-schools may have to work harder to stand out than applicants with backgrounds that are uncommon in the applicant pool.

“One key disadvantage is being in an oversubscribed industry, like finance or consulting — in these cases, MBA hopefuls should point to what makes them unique in other areas, like extracurriculars,” Shaifali Aggarwal, Harvard Business School alumna and founder and CEO of the Ivy Groupe MBA admissions consulting firm, wrote in an email.

[Read: What It Takes to Get Accepted at a Top MBA Program.]

Serious defects in an MBA application can greatly diminish chances of acceptance, according to experts, who note that although a single big flaw in a candidate’s profile may not prevent admission, having multiple major red flags usually leads to rejection. Experts encourage MBA hopefuls who were rejected by their ideal B-school to reflect on whether these problems existed within their candidacy:

— Insincere, boring or unoriginal admissions essays

— Inadequate leadership experience

— A formulaic, jargon-filled resume that lacked success stories

— Lukewarm recommendation letters

— Lack of clarity about career goals or job history

— An unconvincing argument for attending a specific MBA program

— Insufficient evidence of academic preparedness

— Little or no customization of application materials

— Scores or grades below the norm at the target school

— Few or no details about personality traits and extracurricular activities

— Poor performance during an admissions interview

— Unimpressive career progression or the appearance of lacking ambition

— Minimal hobbies or interests outside of the classroom or office

— Seeming antisocial, hypercompetitive or unethical

Misleading or lying during the admissions process

— Vague or irrelevant answers to legitimate questions

— Hiding important information about your background

— A lack of context about your achievements and mistakes

“Admissions officers, especially, at top business schools are looking for individuals who not only show leadership ability, but have unique and diverse experiences and viewpoints that can add value to their classrooms,” Michelle Diamond, CEO of Diamond MBA Admissions Consulting, wrote in an email.

“Oftentimes, it is the personal story aspect that shows resilience or a unique hobby that shows a level of depth that can set a candidate apart,” adds Diamond, who has an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. “For example, if you have two candidates from top investment banking firms with the same level of experience, the one who also practices and won awards in let’s say archery (this was from a past client), will have a better chance of acceptance because it is not only unexpected, but makes them stand out.”

Applicants who are chameleon-like and attempt to play the part of the supposed ideal student at their target B-school are likely to be rejected, experts say.

“No matter how qualified you may be on paper, authenticity counts,” Rebecca Loades, director of career accelerator programs at ESMT Berlin, wrote in an email. “The biggest mistake we see candidates make is when they tell us what they think we want to hear, rather than showing us who they actually are. The essays and interview are a great opportunity for you to present your true self.”

Competitiveness Is High

Keep in mind that B-schools are sometimes inundated with applications, which means that those schools couldn’t possibly admit everyone who applies.

“Your favorite B-Schools are also likely the most popular schools, which means there’s a lot more competition to get in,” Logan Mallory, an MBA alumnus of Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business, wrote in an email. “It’s not necessarily that you weren’t qualified, but rather someone else was more qualified than you.”

“This is the top reason why qualified candidates are rejected — there are a limited number of spots open and hundreds of qualified candidates are vying for those spots,” explains Mallory, vice president of marketing at Motivosity, a software company. “Choosing a less popular school increases your chances of getting in, and many schools have excellent programs, not just the big name schools.”

[Read: Reach, Target, Safety: How to Choose MBA Programs Strategically.]

Trying Again May Result in Success

Maj. Carmel Young, an Army Reserve officer who unsuccessfully applied to six prestigious B-schools in one year, acknowledges that getting turned down by multiple MBA programs was upsetting.

“I don’t really know how to explain the feeling of being denied across the board like this,” Young, the lead editor for WheelieGreat.com, a website about biking, wrote in an email. “To sum it up, it sucked. I was extremely angry and disappointed for a long time. However, after some self-reflection, I realized what my weaknesses were and put a plan of action in place to address them.”

Young had a eureka moment when she realized that, although her military background and score of 760 on the Graduate Management Admission Test were pluses in the admissions process, they might not be enough by themselves to outweigh a B average in college and a lack of compelling personal success stories. So she decided to increase her professional credentials and pursue more challenging military projects.

“Since then, I have taken (and passed) the CFA Level I exam,” Young says, referring to the Chartered Financial Analyst test for investment managers. “But more importantly, I deployed overseas for a year. That gave me a lot of valuable experiences and perspectives that I was able to draw upon when re-doing my CV, writing my essays, and doing interviews.”

When Young applied to B-school for the second time, she was admitted to the Yale School of Management with a partial scholarship which, when combined with her military benefits, meant she could get a full ride to B-school.

“The best advice I could give someone in a similar spot,” she says, “is to identify and address your weaknesses, be patient, and possibly reassess your career goals and which tier of schools you’re competitive for.”

Searching for a business school? Get our complete rankings of Best Business Schools.

More from U.S. News

10 Ingredients of a Strong MBA Resume

How Extracurricular Activities Affect MBA Admissions Odds

Tips to Maximize Your MBA Application Feedback Session

18 Possible Reasons Your Dream MBA Program Rejected You originally appeared on usnews.com

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up