Applying to an MBA program can be an exciting and exhilarating undertaking. Writing up personal essays, asking for letters of recommendation, and giddily making lists of your top schools is a lot of work, but worth it if the application process is successful. Unfortunately for many people, getting into their top school is a dream that ends with a slim, decisive rejection letter.

If you’ve just been rejected from your top MBA program, take a deep breath and read our list of recommendations.

Calm Down and Put This Rejection into Perspective

If you’re standing in your front hall reading a rejection letter from your dream school, you’re probably not thinking clearly. Take a day or two, ask for support from loved ones, and let the news sink in.

Whatever you do, don’t make any rash decisions. Anything you decide to do in that moment will be motivated by emotions, rather than rational thinking. Just because you got rejected this time doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get your MBA.

Even if you didn’t get accepted to any other school, you can still bolster your application and apply again next year. Re-applying demonstrates persistence to admissions officers and the ability to learn from your mistakes.

Look Through Your Other Acceptances or Rejections

Once you’ve calmed down and have taken a day or two to center yourself, take an evening to evaluate the state of your applications.

Most experts recommend applying to a maximum of five or six MBA programs, which will allow you to give each one your focused attention. If you’ve submitted the recommended number of applications, you should have at least four or five other letters to take into consideration. If you got accepted to one of your fallback schools, now is the time when you should think very carefully about whether you want to go there or whether you’d like to make another attempt at getting into your top school.

If you applied in the first round, you should have responses by the end of January. This gives you a chance to decide whether to apply to more schools in time for the second application deadline in January or February.

Think About Whether You Were Qualified for the Program That Was Your Top Choice

Before you make the decision to reapply, look over your application and think about whether you were actually qualified for your top-ranked program. All schools publish their current class profile, which gives a summary of their overall work experience and the average GMAT score and GPA. If you were below their target profile in any of these areas, you’ll need to work hard to change those numbers.

If you had a lower test score, re-take the GMAT. If you studied on your own last time, consider joining a class, study group, or getting a tutor. If your grades are low, look into taking additional courses that will boost your GPA and show that you’re serious about improving in areas where your skills were previously lacking. If your lack of work experience was a weakness, you can seek out additional responsibilities — but short of getting an immediate promotion, there’s not much you can do there.

Evaluate Your Application Ruthlessly

If you matched the current class profile in every way, the next thing that you’ll need to do is evaluate your application. It’s hard to objectively evaluate your own work, but it’s a vital skill that you’ll need in order to be an effective leader and manager.

First, take a look at whether there were any obvious errors. Did you mix up any applications, put the wrong name or number in or submit too late?

If there are no obvious errors, then the final two things to consider are your interview and personal essay. Both of these aspects of the application process are opportunities for you to express your personality and indicate why you’re interested in attending that particular school. A poorly-written essay or an awkward, unprepared interview are both easy reasons to reject an otherwise-qualified applicant.

Think About Whether You Applied Early Enough

Many schools offer several rounds of applications, all of which have their own unique deadlines depending on the individual school. Three rounds are the average, but some schools accept applications on a rolling basis or have several more separate application rounds.

Generally, it’s best to apply to your top program during the first application round. This is when admissions officers shape the bulk of their class, so it represents a wide spectrum of demographics and professions. If you apply later, you run the risk of the admissions office has already seen tons of applications that look exactly like yours.

Call the Admissions Office and Request Feedback on Your Application

If you’ve decided to reapply for your top MBA program, you should start by calling the admissions office and asking if they’re willing to give you feedback on your application.

Admissions offices are extremely busy places, so responses to this inquiry are rare. Admissions officers are also more likely to have useful feedback if you came in for an interview. If you do manage to get through to someone, you’ll likely have to translate their vague feedback into something actionable. They may reference your academic and quantitative abilities needing improvement, which could point to a low GMAT score or inferior GPA.

If you know any successful applicants or graduates from that program, you can reach out and ask if they’d be willing to read over your application, to see whether there were any glaring omissions. This feedback will help point you towards the areas that need improvement before you reapply.

Weigh Whether You’d like to Start Your Mba Soon or Apply for Your Dream Program Again at a Later Date

Once you’ve gone through your application and have asked for as much feedback and assistance as you can reasonably receive, it’s time to make some hard decisions. Based on the feedback you got, you should have an idea of what you need to do to improve your application, like re-taking the GMAT, improving your personal essay, or taking additional courses. Each of these has its own timeline and shouldn’t be rushed.

At this point, you should make a decision about whether to accept an offer of admittance to one of your fallback schools, reapply to other programs in the second round, or wait for another year or two to boost your grades and experience before applying for your dream program again.

So many people become discouraged after getting rejected by their top program, but the truth is that a rejection doesn’t need to be the end of the road. Whether you accept admittance to a fallback school or reapply, there’s no wrong answer when it comes to dealing with MBA rejections.

Rejection is an opportunity to explore more opportunities, ask for feedback, and continue forward with strength and courage. These are the qualities that make a true leader.

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