As my preparations to move to Evanston and start school move into full swing, I started to think about the difference a year could make. Last year at this time, I was still stinging from the 3 rejections I had received, and was questioning whether to reapply this year. Now, I'm heading to a great MBA program at a school that I love, and am very excited about this next step in my life. So it got me thinking: what exactly made this year that much more successful? So for anyone interested, here's what I think.
Last year I applied to Booth, HBS and Stanford, and got 0 admits. This year I applied to 5 schools (Kellogg, Duke, Booth, HBS, Columbia), with 2 admits (Kellogg and Duke), 2 rejections (Booth and HBS) and withdrew from CBS before the RD review period started. I think there were a few things that helped me be a lot more successful this year than last:
1) Choice of schools. I completely underestimated last year the importance of fit. I applied to HBS, Stanford and Booth primarily because of their ranking and reputation, then tried to back into why those schools were good matches with me and my career goals. Obviously it didn't work. This year, I spent a lot more time researching schools and thinking about which schools were the best match for my career goals. I also paid a lot more attention to culture, and thought about which school cultures fit best with my personality. I think that this year, the schools I applied to were a much better fit.
2) Better essays. After decisions were released last year I showed my essays to pretty much anyone willing to give me feedback on them - a much bigger group than the reviewers I used. A lot of the feedback came back that my essays were not specific enough..they just barely scratched the surface of what my goals were, why I wanted an MBA, and what I had accomplished at work. In short, they were kind of bland and didn't really paint a dynamic picture of me. In the time I had before this year's application season, I spent a lot of time thinking through the deeper why's and how's of my career goals, why I wanted the MBA and why I specifically wanted each school I was applying to. This year, I was able to be a lot more detailed in my essays, to provide that next deeper layer of the onion, and I think this had a great impact on my applications this year.
3) New work & EC experience. In the year between applications, I also took on a lot more project leader roles at work and in one of my extracurricular activities. There were 3 projects in particular that were pretty high profile, and had easily quantifiable benefits as outcomes. This also helped me in writing better essays and gave me better examples to use in interviews.
I think those 3 things were the main difference makers. For anyone out there with 0 admits, keep your heads up. I know in March last year, after having just gone 0 for 3, I was ready to give up on my MBA plans. I felt like a complete failure, and couldn't imagine going through the admissions process again. After a month or so, after the initial shock and hurt passed, I realized that an MBA still was the best path for me, and started thinking about how I would be more successful the next year. I'll also say that for me the feeling of the admissions process the second time through is different. The waiting certainly isn't any easier, but overall I felt a lot less stressed by the process this year than I was last year because I went into it knowing what to expect.