It happened- you didn't get into business school. Your entire life plan has been derailed. You don't understand why. What are you supposed to do now???
OK, first things first- while it is beyond disappointing to have all the time and effort you put in to your application yield a negative result you're definitely not the first (or only!) person who did not gain entrance to business school on the first try. It's a fairly common occurrence. Take a deep breath, scream a little if you need to, and then go on with your life. The world is moving on, and you should move with it.
Next, don't give up! You have NOT been placed on an MBA Admissions blocklist. You can and should try applying again next year. Warning bells will not go off when you submit your online application, and you will not be automatically denied admission. In fact, your determination can be downright impressive and a sign of maturity if you play your cards right.
Merely submitting the exact same application again is unlikely to yield a different result in the future. You need to take some time to think about what you can change about your application, as well as what you can add to it, to enhance your chances of admission. Some b-schools are able to provide feedback to applicants who were not successful in the admission process; other schools (Terry included) are not permitted to do so as a matter of institutional policy. In either case, you should be able to figure out what the trouble spots were with your application if you're willing to do your homework and be honest with yourself.
Start by looking at publicly available averages and indicators for the schools to which you applied. For example, is the average GMAT score a 650 and you scored a 450? That's probably an issue. Do they require a minimum of two years of work experience and you have none? Again, that's likely an issue. Does the school specialize in four areas? Did your essays indicate you wanted to focus on an area of study other than one of those four? Yes, that's also an issue. Did you leave your interview feeling like you didn't prepare enough? You probably didn't. You get the gist.
So what can you do? Here are some suggestions for common stumbling points.
GMAT: Take a prep course and take it again. I know- that doesn't work for everyone, but you've got to take it at least twice (and prep well at least once) to make the argument that you "just don't test well" with any credibility.
GPA: First, own up for your prior transgressions. Did you goof off? Perform poorly in a highly technical and demanding major you didn't like? Be prepared to explain that in an additional essay and offer how you'll approach your studies differently this time around. If you've got time and you're willing to make the investment, think about taking one or two suitable MBA prep classes (e.g. statistics, economics) at a school that allows open enrollment. Good grades can help you distance yourself from that old academic record.
Work Experience: Keep working, or if you've been taking time off, go back to work. If you don't have enough work experience, the only way to fix that is by actually getting work experience. Perhaps your work experience may not be what a b-school is looking for (i.e. waiting tables)? Then look for leadership opportunities and volunteer to take on projects where you can demonstrate your additional skills.
Essays: Yes, we read them. Did you articulate focused goals? Did you highlight what you can bring to the class or just talk about why you want to go to that school? Were they well-written? Did you ask someone else to read them and tell you what the question was? Did you catch all the spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors?
Interview: Really think about how your interview went. Did any of the questions throw you for a loop? Did you prepare? Read my blog entry on interviewing here for common issues: http://terrymbaadmissionsinsiders.blogspot.com/2008/10/make-most-of-your-interview.html
Activities and Honors: Were you an active participant in extracurricular activities while in college? Have you done anything since? Volunteer work is easy to come by and looks great on an application. Have you received any awards or honors that would easily identify your achievements? Now is the time to start aiming for employee of the year.
Recommendation Letters: You're not going to get any feedback on these if you've waived your right to see them. Step back for a minute and think about who you chose. An employer you haven't worked with recently? A professor from five years ago? Make sure your recs come from people who know you well and can speak to your characteristics as a professional now- not three years ago. Also, if you haven't waived your right to view your recommendations- well, there's your problem. Non-confidential recommendations hold less weight than confidential ones.
Final thought: Get your act together and get your application in early next year. Show the Admissions Committee that you've returned undeterred with a new sense of motivation.
Still have questions? The people who work in MBA Admissions want to help- really. Give us a call if you have questions particular to your situation. Remember- every contact you have with a school is an opportunity to make an impression. Make sure you stay positive and professional at all times. Best wishes for success!