Rejected from every college

I’m 27 y/o and ever since graduating college I’ve wanted to go to business school for an MBA. The past few months have been a bit tough because I was rejected from every school I applied to. The first rejections weren’t that bad at first because I thought I had a chance at the others (I applied to 6 schools in total). The worst part is now seeing people I made friends with being so stoked about going to college in the fall. It feels like everyone else succeeded and I’m the only failure. PS. I know that isn’t the case, other people would have been rejected too, but it’s like other people’s success is being rubbed in my face.

It’s hard for me to process. Some say I should have been realistic in my choices (I chose top 10 schools) but others say you shouldn’t limit yourself and reach for the stars. My GMAT score was good, not spectacular. My undergrad grades were good, not great. But I think my work experience and extracurriculars are strong – internships at MBB, Big 4 experience, volunteering activities. I know I’m up against some very talented competition but it still sucks to not even be invited to an interview for any school. Anyone else have the ding blues?

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Jason Ng
July 6, 2022 3:08 am

I went through something very similar to you. I wanted to get into an MBA programme so badly. It consumed my life for almost 2 years. I didn’t get into my chosen school, which really hurt at the time.

When I was younger I was a pretty good student. I got commended regularly for being a straight A student. But then gaming entered my life. Gaming turned me into a zombie who’d spend all my free time on a PC. Of course my studies got neglected and I went from straight A student to one who needed supervision because my grades had fallen so drastically. I saw what was happening. I knew gaming wasn’t good for me, but each evening and weekend when I wasn’t at school, I’d log on and shoot away. By the time I finished secondary school, my A-Level grades, equivalent to SAT scores, were poor.

In the following years I regretted how I’d sabotaged myself. When it came to applying for jobs, companies would ask for my university grades, which weren’t too bad, and my A-Level grades. I would get rejected from every place I applied to because my A-Level grades were so bad. It always played on my mind how I’d thrown away my potential. As a young teenager, teachers and other students predicted good things for me. I felt like I’d let them, my parents and myself down.

Then I heard about the MBA, Master of Business Administration. The more I looked into it, the more intrigued I became. I was shocked at the average salaries MBA graduates were earning. I was also intrigued by the companies MBA graduates were working for – some of the most prestigious companies in the world. Somehow I got it into my head that an MBA would be a method of redemption. It could be a degree that put me back on the path that I had strayed from. I could get into a good MBA school, get accepted into a prestigious company and I’d be back to my old potential so many people had seen in me when I was a teenager.

The problem is I’m not a Quant guy. I’m ok at maths, but by no means someone who excels at it. I should have analysed my strengths and really thought about whether an MBA was for me – getting an MBA in the first place isn’t cheap! But I was blinded by my desire to ‘catch up’, to be where I could have been if gaming hadn’t derailed my potential all those years ago. I bought a bunch of GMAT books and went all in. My evening and weekends were dedicated to GMAT study. I no longer went out with friends and at one point I even stopped exercising. All my spare time had to be studying for the GMAT. I was obsessed.

That’s when the first devastation hit. I took the GMAT, quite confident I’d score well because of how hard I’d worked. When I got the score, I was heartbroken. All those hours of work for what? I’d scored in the 30th percentile for Quant. Over the next year I’d take the GMAT over and over again, hoping to get the score I so eagerly wanted. It never happened. From GMAT hacks to hiring a tutor, I just couldn’t ‘crack the GMAT’, as the saying goes. I applied to MBA schools thinking that the GMAT was just one piece of the puzzle. Maybe they could overlook my below-average score if they were impressed by other aspects of my application. I was rejected from every school.

Honestly, as much as I’d worked and the amount of time I’d dedicated to my applications, I wasn’t that disappointed. I resolved to try again, having heard that many candidates were using MBA consultants to advise them. I found an MBA consultant company that seemed very qualified and capable. After an interview with them, I signed up straight away, hoping this could finally be the key to getting into a good MBA school, and more importantly redeeming myself for my lost potential years ago.

The following year was incredibly tough. Looking back, I can’t remember anything memorable other than working on MBA applications. I didn’t celebrate my birthday, I didn’t go out with friends, all my weekends were spent on applications and studying for the GMAT. As I said, the GMAT score never improved. After so many attempts, I decided it wasn’t worth it. I had really, really tried. But I just didn’t have it in me. I would try to apply with my below-par GMAT score and I hoped the guidance of the consultants would be enough to see me through. The applications were incredibly draining. Essay question after essay question had to be drafted, re-written and perfected.

By the time I had submitted all my applications, I had nothing left. I was totally out of energy, completely spent. It had been 2 years of GMAT application mayhem. To me it showed how much I wanted to redeem myself for my past. When I started getting rejection emails, this time the disappointment was difficult. I couldn’t put a positive spin on things. I had worked so, so hard. And when the final rejection came, I felt like a complete failure. 2 years of my life with nothing to show for it. I had failed miserably. I remember vividly a day after my final result announcement I had to deliver a presentation at work. It was one of the hardest presentations I ever had to deliver. My mind just wasn’t there. I often think back to that day how energetic and enthusiastic I would have been in that presentation if the result had been an acceptance.

Many years later, it still hurts to think about it. It does however feel good to tell my story and get it off my chest. The worst part was about a year later. I had made some friends at MBA open days and networking events; these were events for prospective candidates to learn more about MBA schools. Some of these friends had been accepted to the schools I had applied to. I was happy for them, but it really hurt to see their LinkedIn posts a year later when they graduated from the schools I had desperately wanted to get into. I’ve come to terms with it now and although I didn’t get the result I wanted, I look back at my dedication and like to think it was a good quality that I can apply in other areas of my life. The ding blues are natural. Anything will hurt when you put lots of effort into it and don’t get the results you want. Just look at Olympic athletes who train relentlessly for years to get their one shot and don’t achieve what they dreamed of. If you are shooting for the stars, that’s just what we have to go through. Good luck in your next steps, whatever they are.

July 8, 2022 10:12 am

Sometimes it just comes down to luck. You could have all the attributes the school is looking for but so will ten other candidates. The school has a limited number of places and will have to make a choice. Instead of looking at your achievements and positive attributes, they will seek out any chance to ding you. It makes the admissions committee’s life easier. Don’t take it personally. It’s like the casting of a model. If you don’t get the gig, it isn’t because you don’t have what it takes. It’s because you don’t have the look the casting agency is going for. You’d be surprised how many big time actors have been rejected during their careers. Maybe they just weren’t right for the role. It doesn’t speak to their talent as actors. You can be super talented and still not get a role. Just like you can be super smart and not get into business school 😉

Over the years I’ve heard snippets of commencement speeches from Deans at Harvard, Stanford GSB, Columbia, MIT Sloan, Yale. A familiar theme is the Dean telling incoming students that they should look to their left and to their right. Each person they’re looking at could have been replaced by 10 qualified candidates who didn’t make it into the school. That’s how tough the competition is to get into these schools. And it’s a reminder that you aren’t any less of an applicant because you didn’t make it. (PS: This isn’t to be confused with another famous Law School speech that says look to your left, look to your right, because one of you won’t be here at the end of the year).

If getting into a school is really important to you, then try again. It is up to you to determine if the rejection is a sign to move on or to knuckle down and give it another shot. At 27, you’re still young and it sounds like you’ve got some strong work exp. Rejection is a part of life. Whether you try again or move in another direction, take the rejections as opportunities to grow and become better.

Last edited 1 month ago by carpent0r
Ernest Vicente
July 9, 2022 3:53 pm

Trust me to throw in a WWE reference. Tough Enough was a wrestling reality TV show in which contestants competed to win a WWE contract. During one of the early seasons, Jeff Hardy of the iconic tag team The Hardy Boyz said, “I always knew I was tough enough. I didn’t know if I was talented enough. Now I know that I am.” Sounds really conceited, doesn’t it? Maybe so. However we can unpack those words to reveal a lot not just about the wrestling industry, but almost any industry.

The truth is, before we join a prestigious company or highly ranked school, we think about all the smart people who will be there. We questions ourselves. Will be be able to hang in there among the best and brightest. Then we start at the company and it hits you. WTF? How did a dunce like that get into a company like this? How did a goof like this get past their interview? Sorry to be blunt, but I think many of us have thought it.

I bet the same thing happens at these prestigious schools. Among the highly accomplished cohort there will be students there that question your assumptions about the prestige of the school you painstakingly applied to. In a place that you think is a conglomeration of the brightest minds, you hear something so stupid that you think you’re on the Twitter or YouTube comments section.

Here’s something to bear in mind. When you’re applying to gain entry into a prestigious program, you think highly of it. Once you actually get in, don’t be surprised if reality doesn’t match your original expectations. Highly ranked grad schools are great environments, yet they are far from perfect. When Jeff Hardy joined the WWE, he probably thought the most prestigious professional wrestling organization on earth would be full of exceptional talent… oh, wait.

July 9, 2022 11:59 am

Something to bear in mind is an MBA isn’t the end goal but rather a weapon in your arsenal to achieve your career goals. You can achieve the same career goals with or without an MBA, just like you can be a success with our without a college degree. Of course a college degree will help you get a foot in the door to many companies but it doesn’t guarantee your success.

Another thing to consider, why are you so upset about getting dinged? Fine, no one likes rejection. Be introspective here. Many of the guys and gals I know who’ve been upset at getting college rejections put it down to the prestige and status of the schools. By getting dinged they’ll be missing out the ‘perceptive value’ of the degree: She went to Yale? She must be really smart. Perception is great but you still have to follow through. It can’t carry you throughout your career.

And what about the perceptive value of the degree? By making admissions very difficult, it enhances the perceptive value. Only the best of the best can get in. While this may be true the grad school experience, specifically MBAs, are looking like more of a business than an education. Let’s look at some of the best MBA schools in the world and their student enrollment:

Stanford – 853
Wharton – 897
MIT Sloan – 450
Harvard – 1,010

Harvard has a formidable name, no doubt. But how special is an MBA when you have 1,009 other students graduating with the same qualification every year? Such large class sizes take away from the perceptive value of the degree, not add to it.

  • This applicant has a Harvard MBA. Impressive, right?
  • Not really. The last 10 candidates had MBAs from Harvard too!

I get why business schools are doing it. Harvard’s cost of attendance is $112,764. Multiply that by the student enrollment figure and you have a cool $113 million. It’s a no brainer while they can still squeeze the reputation of the school’s name like lemon. If you have been rejected from some top MBA schools, think about why you wanted to get in in the first place. Would the degree open doors for you? Is there another way you can find those opportunities? Unless you’re made of money, you’ve also avoided some hefty debt and avoided the diploma circus that is the MBA industry.

Harvard Business School.PNG