3 Lessons We Learned from Rejected MBA Applicants This Year

As another MBA admissions season comes to a close, our team has heard from a number of Round 2 applicants who didn’t get the news they were hoping for on decision day. These rejected MBA applicants came to us looking for answers on where they went wrong and what they can do differently if they decide to reapply again next year.

Our feedback varies just as much as the applicants do – each person has their own challenges. But over time, a few patterns have emerged. So, let’s take a closer look at three key lessons we’ve learned from rejected MBA applicants this year, and how you can avoid the same pitfalls.

Lesson 1: Credible Experience for Your Post-MBA Goals

Here’s the reality. Ambitious post-MBA goals are great, but without some credible experience to back them up, the adcom may have doubts on how realistic they are or how much thought you really put into them. The adcom doesn’t have a particularly high risk tolerance. That means they look for candidates who demonstrate a clear understanding of their desired career paths and have some requisite experience to succeed in those roles.

So, what can you do about it if you lack that experience? Simple! Get out there and get it. Whether it’s through an externship or secondment, volunteer work, or a new opportunity within your full-time job, building a solid foundation of experience that aligns with your career goals is key. You want to show the adcom that you’re not just all talk—you’ve got the skills, knowledge, and experience to back it up.

Let’s say your goal is to launch your start-up after business school but you have no entrepreneurship experience. If you’re not ready to start your business just yet, you could consider volunteering or consulting for a friend’s new business. And you should absolutely get involved in your city’s start-up community. Consider attending startup pitch competitions, hackathons, and networking events to figure out how you can contribute.

Lesson 2: Clear and Specific Reasons for “Why School X”

Another critical lesson we learned from rejected MBA applicants is the importance of articulating clear and specific reasons why you want to attend a particular MBA program. If your answer sounds like a generic copy-and-paste job, chances are, the adcom – and your interviewer, if you got to that stage – were not very impressed. They want to know that you’ve done your homework, that you’ve taken the time to really understand what makes their program unique, and that you have genuine, thoughtful reasons for wanting to be a part of it.

So what can you do to avoid this pitfall next time? Dive deep into each school’s offerings, culture, and values. What sets them apart from the rest to you? What makes them the perfect fit for you? Whether it’s a specific faculty member whose work you admire, a unique program feature that speaks to your interests, or a tight-knit alumni network that feels like home, find those genuine connections and shout them from the rooftops.

And here’s how you can take that one step further. Don’t just list the classes and/or programs that sound interesting to you and write about how “excited you are to take XYZ class”. Anyone can write that sentence in their essay and it could be true. Instead, connect a particular aspect of the class syllabus with something specific you need to learn in order to achieve your career goals.

Here’s an example to bring this to life:

Generic statement: At Booth, I plan to leverage “The Chicago Approach” to build well-rounded, multidisciplinary knowledge that is imperative to help solve pressing business issues in this complex world.

Winning statement: Understanding the subtleties of operational tasks, like managing ready-to-eat inventory, optimizing food prep times, and effectively running drive-thru lanes, is critical to my goals. With Booth’s Operations Management concentration, I will learn best practices for the design, delivery, and analysis of services across sectors, including restaurants, as understanding these details will build trust with my operationally focused clients.  

Lesson 3: Prepare for the Unexpected in Your Interview

Our final lesson addresses the most variable component of the MBA application process: the interview. Our clients spend hours prepping for common interview questions and rehearsing their answers. And you probably did too. But here’s the thing: your interviewer is human and sometimes they do things, intentionally or not, that throw you off your game. Your job is to stay the course and not let it derail you.

Let me share a few examples from our clients’ actual experiences.

This year, a client’s interviewer insisted on remaining camera off during the entire interview while she kept her camera on. This meant she could never see his face, read his expression, or in any way connect with him.

Last year, a client had an interviewer make a very insensitive remark about something personal he shared during his interview.

In a previous admissions cycle, a client’s interviewer kept him waiting for 20 minutes past their scheduled time and then ended the interview after 10 minutes.

Now I’m not excusing any of the above behaviors. Nor am I implying that any applicant’s application success or failure would hinge on how they handled one of these interview situations. (Fortunately, the admissions process includes enough check and balances.) But I am saying that applicants should be prepared to bring their A game no matter what.  


If you’re ready to sidestep these pitfalls in your application and take a big step toward increasing your chances of acceptance to your dream schools, we’d love to help. To get started, request an initial consultation with our team. It’s free! (And sign up for our MBA application newsletter to remain one step ahead!)

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