How to Cope with Business School Rejection

Written by Bryce Hammons, published on 2013-06-18 00:00:00


You star student, you. You scored incredibly well on the GMAT, have a strong undergraduate GPA, and possess the necessary work experience. You've gone through every business-school application with a fine-toothed comb, triple-checked your flawless and creative personal essay, and made sure your letters of recommendation shine. Going above and beyond the call of duty, you've even studied the information on top MBA programs from Richard Montauk and Brandon Royal seeking secret tricks of the trade for getting into the best schools. Your prepping is all up to snuff, and you have every prerequisite for the best programs in the country. You know you're a top candidate. Now all that's left is for the school of your dreams to come to the same realization. You sit back, relax, and await the call to greatness.

Then a curious thing starts to happen. Inexplicable, even. You do receive communiques from the schools you so lovingly researched. The only problem is that each letter, amazingly, contains what has got to be a misprint - a word that begins to induce an inescapable sense of depression and despair. This word rudely occupies the space that should by all rights belong only to - "Wait, didn't they mean 'accepted' instead of 'rejected'?"

Yes, it's the R-word. How can it be, after your arduous slog through essay after essay, applications galore, and more? You can't help coming to the earth-shattering realization that you may not be as qualified as you thought. Take heart, though - you're not alone. Only 13 percent of MBA applicants to Harvard Business School last fall were accepted. And only six percent of applicants made the cut at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

The truth is that it's an extreme challenge to get in to these places. You can thank an overabundance of competition from some of the most qualified candidates the world over. It will take hard work, dedication, and a resolve to overcome the formidable obstacles in your path. Yes, that means even repeated and demoralizing rejection! So, how do you deal with some of higher education's cruelest blows? Let's find out!

Three Ways to Deal with Rejection in Life

Drs. Elaine Dundon and Alex Pattakos, co-founders of The OPA! Way suggest three ways to deal with rejection without crying in public. And it's not just for potential MBA students. Rejection is becoming more and more common in our online lives, dating, work, and beyond, so all of us can take a note from the good doctors on how to keep putting our best feet forward, but still cope with rejection and turn it into a genuine learning experience.

Elaine and Alex say the first step in dealing with rejection is to stop and reflect on why the rejection may have happened in the first place. Did you put enough effort into your application? Were your GMAT scores really high enough for the school of your choice? Is it possible that the school's tight (under 10 percent) acceptance policy is to blame? When you step back, analyze, and try to understand the factors at play, you are jump-starting your own learning process.

Step two is to "reboot." This means changing your approach to improve your results. Of course, you have no guarantee that you can in fact improve them. If that turns out to be the case, then it's time to take heed of the third step in the coping process: acceptance.

Or, in the words of our helpful doctors, "rejecting the rejection." Basically, you have to know when to walk away. You recognize the reasoning behind the rejection and thus save yourself from torturing yourself about all the things you could have done differently. Accept the things you cannot change, and you won't become a prisoner of your own thoughts. Remember their formula: reflect, reboot, and reject. It'll give you a healthier, happier, and more meaningful life.

I've Been Rejected? Now What?

Stacy Blackman offers another take on the problem as it affects the student mindset. What can seem like the end of the world can actually be the beginning of a new and challenging adventure in self-improvement. Blackman suggests her own three-part formula, one that may more helpful for students dealing with grad school rejection: 1) devastation 2) soul-searching for the "why" and 3) striving to improve.

The disappointment can be overwhelming at first. Following on its heels, if you agonize over what you could have done better, you will not only waste a lot of your time - you may end up pulling out what little hair you have left after your reaction to the initial shock! But make no mistake, understanding your failures can be a jumping-off point toward creating a better you. And, more to the point, it will help you create a stronger application, a better essay, and even more memorable letters of recommendation that resonate with the admissions reader.

Before doing this hard work, though, Blackman advises us to regroup after the onslaught of rejection letters. Give yourself a break, hang out with friends, make time for family, and do something fun for yourself. Decompress from the rigors of it all. Once you've done this, it's time to answer some important questions.

You Need Answers

Does an MBA actually make sense for you at this point in your career? Have you shown strong leadership qualities in your work environment? How's your work experience? How's your GMAT score - is it high enough? Is your undergrad GPA good enough? Aim to make your second application different than your first. Show what's changed in your life, how you have grown, and how you have shored up your weaknesses.

And get practical. Figure out what it takes to get accepted the second time around. Realize how your scores compare to that school's averages. Remind your recommendation writers about your leadership skills and accomplishments, so they can give you really outstanding letters. If possible, get feedback from the rejecting school on their decision. Finally, be honest with yourself and admit your failings. Present yourself to the admissions officers as you are, warts and all. And never, ever - ever - do this!

Examples of the Potential Highs and Lows for the MBA Applicant

An anonymous MBA applicant, Just-Ship, writing at Poets & Quants, describes his experience of applying for top MBA programs across the country. Taking a rejection from MIT Sloan in stride, Just-Ship came up with a great come-back: it was one of his earlier applications, still suffering from certain basic flaws, and probably should have waited till he had worked out his best MBA applications strategy. In the end, Just-Ship chose not to attend business school, and now is focusing on starting a small business.

Entrepreneur Joseph Misiti was another would-be MBA student who didn't get accepted to his dream school (or any others for that matter!). When he was rejected, he felt like the world had stopped turning. In the end, though, he realized it was for the best. He started his own business, began to focus more on what was important in his life, and found success. Misiti turned the rejection into an opportunity to grow, and transformed it into the fuel for his new path.

And What About You?

If you're rejected by grad schools, now's the time to re-think your financial costs and potential earnings down the road, and don't forget your family and work responsibilities as you decide how to proceed. You may still have options. Online, part-time, and even executive MBA programs can be great ways to get an MBA while still having a life. The bottom line: there is always more than one path to success.

Additional Resources

In the end, what doesn't kill us really does make us stronger. It may not seem like that at the point of rejection, but it is easier to see when you take time to reflect. For more information, Business Insider offers "9 Useful Tips for Getting into the Business School of Your Dreams." A slightly older, but still outstanding, resource from BusinessWeek offers students solid advice on bouncing back. It all comes down to your resilience, your drive to earn your MBA no matter the cost, and your ability to forget about the naysayers once and for all. Don't let a rejection letter stop you from achieving your dreams!