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Advice / Career Paths / Training & Development

Didn't Get Into Your Dream B-School? What to Do Next

There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when—after all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into your application—you click on your decision letter only to read, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Put simply, it’s pretty awful.

When I got my first rejection letter, I had just arrived at Penn Station in NYC on a business trip. I reloaded the letter a couple of times on my computer, just to make sure, and then I walked to Sephora and bought myself some way-too-expensive nail polish. Then I called my mom. Ultimately, things worked out for me, but none of that mattered at the moment.

Unfortunately, given how tough the competition is, it’s possible that you won’t get into your dream business school. After you get the news, however, the fact that you didn’t get in becomes way less important than what you do about it.

Once you’ve digested the news (and indulged yourself with a little pampering for the rest of the day), it’s important to wake up the next morning fresh and ready to get to work. Here are my tips for getting past the “no” and getting back on track.

Scenario 1: You Loved Your Dream School, But You’d Be Interested in Going Somewhere Else

If you were excited about your dream school but are still open to other options, you’re actually in a pretty good place. Not getting into your top choice is definitely a bummer, but there’s bound to be another program out there that’s a great fit for you.

Of course, it’s likely that you’re still waiting for decisions from other schools you applied to and are excited about (most Round I decisions come out by the end of January). While schools typically don’t like candidates to send over additional information after the admissions deadline, if you’ve had anything big happen since you applied that was not covered in your application (e.g., you’ve taken on major new responsibilities at work or started volunteering at a local shelter), don’t be afraid to send an email to the admissions office and make sure they know about it. In the meantime, enjoy all of the holiday festivities I’m sure you’ve got coming up in the next few weeks, and try to take your mind off of the process.

If you didn’t get into any of the schools you’ve already applied to, there’s still some good news: Most schools have a second application deadline in January or February, and some programs even accept applicants on a rolling basis well into late spring. So, if you really want to start school in the fall, there’s still time to get back into research mode and find a few more programs that are a good fit.

If you decide to go this route, you’ll need to ramp up pretty quickly (i.e., you might have to write some essays over the holidays). Make sure to really plan out your next couple months so that you’ll be able to fit everything in.

Scenario 2: You Really Don’t Want to Go Anywhere But Your Dream School

If your top choice really is the only school for you, it may be time to reconsider your timeline. There’s still a chance you’ll be able to attend it, you just may need to spend a year or two bolstering your application.

Many schools allow you to call the admissions office to get feedback on your application, especially if you went in for an interview. This should definitely be your first step, as knowing what held you back will be wildly valuable as you plan out how you’ll move forward.

That being said, I’ve heard that this feedback can be pretty vague, so you’ll have to do some decoding. For example, “We didn’t feel that you demonstrated your academic and quantitative abilities to us as strongly as we would have liked to see,” could mean that you were passed on because of your GMAT score or GPA.

If this is the case, start studying to re-take the GMAT for next year’s application, or consider taking classes at a local college to show off your academic abilities now. And if you’re still in college? You’ve got one more semester, so make it count!

If you suspect the reason you didn’t get in was because of a gap in your experience—maybe you’ve never demonstrated quantitative or leadership skills at work—think about what long-term steps you can take to make you a more well-rounded candidate. For example, consider taking an accounting class or asking for more leadership responsibilities at work.

Solid candidates will likely hear the much-less-useful, “We thought you were a great applicant, we just couldn’t find space for you.” If tough competition was your problem, think of things you can do to make your application really stand out next year. Do some meaningful volunteer work, complete an impressive side project at work, or gain a marketable new skill, for example.

Whatever you need to do to improve, start taking steps to do so as soon as possible. Even if you will ultimately be executing a long-term approach, there are still things you can do now to get started—talk to your boss, register for a class, or, if you’re still in undergrad, look for a job that will get you some real-world work experience—to make sure that you’re setting yourself up for a great b-school application down the road.

Scenario 3: You Got Put on the Waitlist

Waitlists are tricky, because they work differently for b-schools than they do elsewhere. Business schools are often focused on building a diverse class of students, so instead of having one list with everyone in order, they likely have many lists comprised of students from different backgrounds and sectors. For example, I have a nonprofit background, so I would be on the nonprofit, education, and government waitlist.

Given that, it can be a little harder to get pulled off of the waitlist, but it’s definitely not impossible. The most important thing you can do is continue to let the school know that you’re interested (without being overbearing, of course!). A friend who was successfully admitted off of the waitlist sent an email once a month to the admissions office to tell them that he still would be happy to accept an offer.

Just make sure to follow the instructions from the admissions office, including what they tell you not to do—the last thing you want to do is antagonize the person who is in charge of deciding whether or not you get in. In other words, if you follow up once and get a response asking you not to do so again, the best thing you can do is wait it out (and maybe start working on your back-up plan just in case).

Getting rejected from the school you were really hoping for can be rough, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your b-school dreams. Ultimately, what you get out of this experience will be what you put into it, so even if you end up at a different school, give it your all. It will definitely still be rewarding.

Photo of woman reading letter courtesy of Shutterstock.

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