The Year of the Re-applicant

On my recent trip to Japan and in the last few weeks, I’ve been contacted by several MBA re-applicants. What is unusual about this is how many have contacted me relative to new applicants and how early. My prediction is coming true: the 2009-10 application season will likely be the year of the re-applicant. There are immediate implications of this for both re-applicants and new applicants. Re-applicants have the knowledge, experience, application materials and, I imagine, higher scores to focus extensively on first-round deadlines. However, you will also have to demonstrate significant growth since your previous application, and the window to do so will close rapidly the later you applied.

For re-applicants only:
 Since your previous application, what are the steps you’ve taken to strengthen your candidacy? (Kellogg MBA, 2008-09 application)
Describe your career progress to date and your future short-term and long-term career goals. How do you expect an MBA from Wharton to help you achieve these goals, and why is now the best time for you to join our program? How has your candidacy improved since the last time you applied?
(Wharton MBA, 2008-09 application. Note: other re-applicant questions are required as well.)

To answer these questions, you first need to know what weaknesses might be lurking in your application. Second, you need to illustrate the steps you have taken and/or are taking to alleviate the problems. The solution to a low GMAT score is obvious, as is the solution for international students whose TOEFL score or real-time English communication ability is insufficient. However, there can be subtle and not-so-subtle flaws in your application that require significant changes to your overall strategy or your individual essays.

For example, a few years ago a re-applicant sent me an essay set that included an inspiring and detailed goal to re-invigorate the economy of his home state. Sounds good, right? Definitely. However, the only other mention of his home state came in a personal background essay in which he said his region was boring, which is why he left to attend college elsewhere. There was no mention of any fond memories growing up or any volunteer activities to improve the area. Nothing. Of course that inconsistency would create doubt or confusion in an attentive reader, and MBA adcoms are very attentive.

(I specialize in rooting out and eliminating these inconsistencies, and I now offer a Re-applicant Assessment service to help re-applicants do just that.)

While re-applicants should have certain advantages, they still have to overcome the weaknesses in their previous application, whereas new applicants apply with a clean slate, which can have its advantages as well. Even so, the likely surge of re-applicants means it is even more urgent for new applicants to apply in the earliest rounds possible. Some options to consider are:

  1. Starting early and starting slowly, perhaps with a soft target of finishing one core document (e.g., resume, goals essay, leadership essay, personal essay) per month over the summer. Doing so will be a nice break from tests, and should give you the foundation you need for early deadlines, without taking away too much time from your studies. I am recommending this strategy to almost all of my current clients.
  2. Even if you haven’t reached your target test score level, consider applying in the first round to at least one or two back-up schools to gain the first-round advantage and learn about the entire application process early. This strategy has inherent risks, but you don’t have to decide for a few months yet.

I expect this year to be just as competitive if not more competitive than last year, but the likely re-applicant surge will change the nature of the competition. Re-applicants need to show significant growth and improvement within a limited time frame. New applicants need to compete against not only new applicants, but all those re-applicants as well, making it more urgent to apply as early as possible.

For more information, hit me here.