You’ve spent a year preparing for an MBA or Master’s admissions process. You’ve passed the dreaded GMAT, you’ve gotten stellar references from your former managers or professors and you’ve poured your heart and soul into your CV, admission essays or statement of purpose. You might’ve even gone through an interview or two and you sincerely believe you’ve put your best foot forward. You wait a few weeks and finally, a notice appears in your inbox. As you read the first few words “We regretfully must inform you…”, you realize it is not the response you were hoping for or expecting.
It’s important to realize that, contrary to what can be observed on LinkedIn or social media, this type of rejection happens to a significantly larger number of candidates than the opposite. After all, MBA and Master’s programs receive way more applications than they have spots available and, as graduate admissions are getting ever more competitive each year, encountering a candidate who meets all requirements, but still gets a refusal based on competition, is increasingly more common.
Now, in case this happens to you or to someone you know, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1) It’s not personal.
Applying to graduate school is not only a matter of how competitive your profile is. Of course, you should do everything in your power to submit a competitive application: have a competitive GMAT score, write a compelling essay, ask the best referees to write about you, perform at the top of your abilities in your interview, etc. However, no matter the program you apply to, whether it is a world’s top-ranked program or the community college next door, a rejection does not mean you are not “a good applicant”. Ultimately, it is a numbers game and, every year, graduate programs are forced to make incredibly difficult decisions when it comes to admissions.
Sometimes, you meet (perhaps even exceed) all the requirements and did well in all areas, but there are just not enough spots to accommodate all the great candidates who do apply. At the John Molson School of Business, we take a holistic approach to assessing all aspects of an application yet the margin for that selection can be quite small.
2) It’s not forever.
You’ve applied this year to a John Molson graduate program and it didn’t work out. Unless you’ve done something unethical or treated our admissions committee unprofessionally, it doesn’t mean we are blacklisting you forever. Sometimes, you fell short in just one area of the process, but you can still improve. The easiest way to find out is to do some introspection; compare yourself to the class profile and, in the end, you can always just ask us for feedback!
In my experience, candidates who have humility and the determination to make significant improvements from one year to another can assemble stronger applications than first-time applicants. This is because previously-rejected applicants get to concretely demonstrate how they respond to feedback and how they move forward in a positive and persevering way. On the other hand, the opposite is also true; candidates who have been rejected, but do not show any improvement (due to a lack of time or motivation) may be hindering their chances of admissions the second time around. Ultimately, the ball is in your court.
3) It’s not career-defining.
No one likes to feel rejected, whether it’s for a job, program, relationship, or any other area of our lives. However, the one time you didn’t get selected does not mean this will define the rest of your career. You should take the rejection as an opportunity and not brand yourself with it.
I often see people who forego graduate education altogether thinking that, because it did not work out once, it’s not meant for them. Perhaps it’s true that an MBA / Master’s is not the right fit, but perhaps it was just not the right time. Perhaps the socio-economic conditions for you to start the program will be optimal a year from now. Perhaps this is going to give you the opportunity to continue what you are currently doing to build an even stronger profile, both academically and professionally.
Whatever happens, whatever you decide, you are going to be just fine. If you ask any MBA or Master’s graduate, or even any senior professional, they will tell you that there is no single, proper way to go at a career and start a self-improvement journey. Bear in mind that they’ve all had to overcome some challenges which led them to exactly where they were supposed to be.