MBAnalysis Blog: But THEY Got In!

One of the most frustrating parts of the MBA application process is when applicants who are “just like” you get in, but you don’t.

Nothing leads to more second-guessing and self-questioning than when the person sitting next you in the office, gets accepted, while you keep on getting “thank you for your efforts, we have way more qualified candidates than there are seats in our program” emails. Groan!

So, while it may not make you feel better, here are a few reasons why you and the person “just like you” are probably more different than you think.

Application Quality:

This is the obvious place to look when wondering why they got accepted but you didn’t. It also is the place which will be most difficult to review, so you may never be able to gauge this difference completely. That said, if you have been reviewing each other’s essays, you may have a sense of how your essays compare (hopefully both good) but you still won’t have a sense of how your overall applications compare.

A quick hint is to look at when each of you finished. If you just squeaked in before the deadline and they finished a week before, that is a good predictor of things like spelling mistakes, awkward syntax, poorly crafted short answer questions, and other errors that can result in rejection that may have snuck into your application.

Not All GMATS Are Created The Same:

You have a 700, and they have a 700 but not all 700s reveal the same information.

As you all know, beyond the 700, there are separate verbal and quantitative scores that schools look at quite closely. And, there are a wide variety of verbal and quantitative scores that can yield the same overall school. A 51Q and a 35V gets you to 700. The reverse, a 35V and a 51Q will get you the same 700. And there are lots of combinations in between that result in a 700, such as an evenly balanced 43Q and 43V. Throw in the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) Score and the Integrated Reasoning Score, and you can see the overall score reflects only a portion of what the GMAT is revealing. Perhaps your 700 is not quite as good as their 700.

Timing Matters:

Did you apply Round 1 or Round 2? Simply put, you have a better chance of being accepted in Round 1 than Round 2. At some MBA programs, the difference can be substantial. In fact, at top schools your chance of acceptance could be double if you are applying Round 1 versus Round 2. I would go as far as saying, if your friend applied Round 1 and you applied Round 2, there’s your answer. You didn’t even have a chance since they already admitted someone who really is “just like you.”

Your Work:

I hate to say it but Deloitte is not Bain. And IT consulting is not strategy consulting. While business schools are always impressed by candidates coming from the top brand name firms, doing hard, fast-paced jobs, there is a perception that certain firms are “better” than other firms, and certain functions yield “better” business school students than other functions. Sure, you may both be at McKinsey, but if one of you is a business analyst, and the other is a knowledge expert, that is a substantial difference.

School Knowledge:

Did your doppleganger really get to know the school in a way you didn’t? Did they visit the school? Talk to recent alumni and current students? Go to webinars and school sponsored cocktail parties? While your essays may include specific references to the school, having connections to the school outside of just the application certainly helps. Perhaps their college roommate is a current first year in the MBA program and wrote an additional letter of support. Game over for you.

Who Said What?

Perhaps they were called out as ‘best in peer group’ by your shared manager while you were ‘among the best.’ Also, you might have had two recommendations from people at work that were remarkably similar. Your colleague may have asked for a recommendation from someone who is familiar with their involvement in and commitment to an outside activity such as a community service organization or mentoring the next generation of students from their undergrad institution. ‘Third party’ acknowledgement and support of their initiative may be the differentiator when the ‘Leadership and Involvement’ sections of your resumes are remarkably similar.

Interview Impact:

Another tricky part of the application process is the interview. In the end, it is really hard to be an accurate judge of your own interview performance. This particularly true as you don’t know exactly what admissions committee is looking for. An interview may just be looking for fit, or it could be a test of spoken English, or the interviewer could be trying to see where you crack (hello, HBS). And of course, the very nature of an interview is that it is a very personal process and, despite your best performance, it may not have clicked in the way you needed it to.

This leads us to the last reason you didn’t get in: lightning didn’t strike. While we hate to admit it, the MBA admissions process is a human process with all the variability and errors that implies. These schools are sifting through thousands of applications, with limited staff, under tremendous time pressures. Despite admissions committee’s outstanding efforts to eliminate bias and calibrate evaluations, should we be surprised if someone reads your application one way, and your friend’s application another way?

Or maybe your admissions readers just saw someone else “like” you, and chose them instead. When you have such a high quality and abundant set of applicants some make it and some don’t. And that’s how it is. While all this information may not make being rejected any easier, maybe it will at least allow you to give your accepted friend a more genuine “congratulations, I know you deserved it.”

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