Just about the same time every year, we get an influx of new clients looking for a “ding analysis,” meaning helping them figure out why they were rejected from all their top schools.
Generally, this process isn’t quite as hard as you might think because there are some obvious spots in the application process where things might go wrong. While it may be impossible to read the minds of an admissions committee, here are some places to look for the answer.
What your average applicant forgets, particularly as they get deeper into the application process and “fall in love” with their “perfect” school, is that it is really hard for anyone to get into a top program. With acceptance rates of only 10-15%, your chances are just not that good from the start. And, if any of your scores or experiences fall below the program averages, your chances of being granted a seat in the MBA class are even lower.
Check the numbers:
Schools publish all sorts of statistics around things like the average GMAT, GPA, and years of work experience. How do your own numbers stack up? If you’re below average on any one thing, then your chances are even lower than the published acceptance rates. If you’re below the 80% range, acceptance becomes nearly impossible.
Maybe they weren’t so complimentary:
Some of the biggest question marks in an MBA application are around the recommendations. On one hand, you never know what your recommender may have said. Sure, you may have even supplied some notes on what you would like for them to include but do you really know for sure that’s what they wrote?
On the flip-side, you may know exactly what the recommendation said… because you wrote it. Writing your own recommendation can get you in trouble for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is because the recommendation sounds just like your essays. At that point, the recommendations stop being credible and can negatively affect your candidacy.
While it is not always the case, your best chance of acceptance is applying Round 1 rather than Round 2 (and certainly much better than Round 3). Did you apply Round 1? If not, that may be at least a part of the reason you were rejected. Maybe the business school already accepted someone who “looks like you” in Round 1 which means they likely don’t need you anymore.
Telling the wrong story:
Given how difficult it is to be admitted to a top MBA program, you really need to have your own unique story that you can share. In real terms, this means essays that tell a great story of why you want to go to THAT business school and how you came to this decision. A compelling application for one MBA program does not sound like a compelling application for another. Each school has its own strengths and mission and you have to make it clear that you recognize this. If you haven’t done this, you likely should have.
Was it really your best effort?
Best effort includes things like having others read over your application before submission and having your essays proofread. A great proxy for how good your application is, is when did you finish it? Was it a sprint to the finish or a leisurely pace? I can tell you conclusively that an application submitted hours before the deadline is going to be worse than one submitted days before the deadline.
Lightening didn’t strike:
No matter how good your application is, at MBA programs that are competitive, you need one other thing to gain acceptance… Luck. We hate to admit it, but when the Harvard Admissions Committee is evaluating some 10,000 applications for only about 1000 spots, you need something to break your way and sometimes it just doesn’t.
While it is human nature to try to better understand a disappointing outcome, now is the time to start thinking about what your next steps should be. If business school is still in your future, then use every learning you can from “ding analysis” to make sure that you don’t make these same mistakes next time.