Happy new admissions cycle! Some you out there will have the question: “I-was-dinged-last-year, what-did-I do-wrong?” So this seems as good a place as any to start the discussion this year, in the spirit of helping those dinged last year apply better, and those who are applying for the first time understand the category of potential pitfalls.
There are three types of ding:
- You were dinged because there is something or things in your background that make you just not good enough or right enough for the program, in comparison with the average standard of admitted applicants. This could be because of lack of high-quality or brand-company work experience, a low GMAT or GPA, being too young or old for the cohort profile, and so on. In this category, your ding is caused by something or things that you are, or are not. You fail to meet minimum qualification standards.
- You are good enough and fit well — you are a competitive, qualified applicant — but applied badly in that you made a clear mistake or raised a red flag in your application. Your ding was caused by something specific you said or did not say.
- You are good enough and fit well — you are a competitive, qualified applicant — and you didn’t make any obvious application mistakes, but applied badly in that your admissions value was not clear, or you didn’t stand out. This is the category of applicant that Adcom refers to when it says “we had many qualified applicants and we couldn’t take them all.” Your ding was caused by other qualified competitors applying better than you did in a system where there are more applicants than places.
What are the fixes? Let me take them one by one.
In the first situation, the problem is choice of school, or career timing of application or both. Bear in mind that everyone has weaknesses — I’ve never seen an applicant without weaknesses (though they don’t always know it.) But here we are talking about aggregate weakness in an applicant such that, no matter how they apply, they are going to be dinged because they don’t meet the standard of generally accepted applicant. The dinged candidate “doesn’t have the goods” so, logically, the only way to solve the problem is to get the goods, or lower one’s school aspirations, or both. Getting the goods is realistic only if age is on your side and you can take a few years to drive up your MBA admissions value via new career experiences, greater responsibility, new leadership roles, promotions or awards, new extra-mural participation, and so on.
The second situation is the easiest of the three to deal with. Here the solution has to do with recognizing in advance what creates or exacerbates problems in an application, so-called “red flags,” and staying well clear of these. These problems are, in theory at least, easily fixable once recognized (assuming none of them point to deeper category 1 problems.)
The third type of ding is all about competitive admissions. Here the applicant didn’t do anything wrong, just didn’t do as well as others in the application process. The solution has to do with applying all the hard and soft value-enhancement and value-communications techniques that make an application ‘pop’ from the pile. This is not easy, and varies on a case-by-case basis. But there are general principles that apply in optimizing any application.
I’ve written extensively, on this site and in my book, on the profile principles and communication strategies that can be applied, including creating the foundation of a solid yet differentiated application platform and driving up candidate value and uniqueness through use of memorable proof examples and stories.