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What a Difference a Year Makes: Writing a Convincing Re-applicant Essay

April 25, 2019 :: Admissionado

The re-applicant essay is a tactically thorny essay to write, no matter which way you look at it. You have a few hundred words, maybe a little more, to remind the adcom why they didn’t let you in the first time around, and change their minds.

The key here is not to tell them they were wrong. In fact, tell them they were RIGHT. Yep, you heard us, telling the adcom they were RIGHT not to let you in will unlock this essay. Okay, maybe don’t phrase it quite that starkly, but you do want to acknowledge the weaknesses in your previous application.

This is going to require some painful self-reflection on your part. If you haven’t already gone back and assessed why you didn’t get the admit the first time around, now is the time to do so. Take a long, hard look at your application from a year ago, or two years ago, and consider why it wasn’t quite worthy. Okay, done that? Now treat yourself to some chocolate cake, give yourself a pep talk, and get ready to jump into version 2.0.

Ready to write? Let’s dig in.

First, acknowledge why you weren’t quite up to standard the first time around. Maybe your goals were fuzzy, or you lacked leadership experience, or you simply didn’t have the GMAT score or quant skills. Recognize those faults in a concise, straightforward manner, not spending ANY time dwelling on WHY that was true or justifying those weaknesses.

Then, spend the bulk of the essay showing the adcom how you’ve not only improved on those weaknesses, but made them your STRENGTHS. Version 1 might not have had clear goals, but version 2 did X, had Y experience, and did Z research and now knows EXACTLY what her goals are, and how to achieve them. Mic drop.

There’s a key word here: SHOW the adcom the difference. This is not going to work if you simply tell in a series of statements that you have improved on A quality or B skill gap. SHOW them! Paint a picture of WHAT you did to improve on that, or show this new and improved version of you putting that skill to use. Showing is always stronger than telling, and this is never truer than when you are attempting to prove that you’ve turned a fault into a strength.

Focus on what you’ve DONE or ACHIEVED in the year (or more) since your last application, and what you’ve LEARNED along the way. These are two halves of the whole: simply listing a bunch of experiences you’ve had or success you’ve achieved won’t cut it any more than will spewing a series of lessons learned. You need to take 1 plus 1 and make 3 by demonstrating how you INTENTIONALLY took on X or Y role, project, or experience to improve on A or B quality and learned D, E and F valuable skills or lessons along the way.

See how that’s SO much better than just saying, “hey, I got a promotion, now can I attend your program?” Tell us HOW you got that promotion, what it meant for your role and responsibilities, and how it helped you become that better 2.0 version of yourself.

Intentionality is key here: showing the adcom that you acted specifically to address certain weaknesses will show that you have the self-awareness and maturity to recognize your own faults, and the ability and will to address them to become the BEST possible version of yourself. These qualities are key indicators that you will succeed in their MBA program, in your future career, and, well, in life in general. This is why that self-reflection is so key: even if stating those weaknesses is only the first line or so of your essay, it is the ENTIRE basis of what you did to improve yourself and why THIS version of you is b-school ready.

Think you’ve got it? Cool.

Before you dive in, though, let’s make sure we’ve got a few things straight. These are common re-applicant essay killers, and we don’t want you making these mistakes.


  1. Don’t push harder on the same stuff as last year. There’s a reason that material didn’t work, and ramming the same crud down the adcom’s throats will not help your case. Even if you think they screwed up, and wayyy undervalued X or Y about your application, this essay is NOT Judge Judy’s courtroom and you do not get to make your case. Take a breath and move on. Show them what’s new and improved, not what’s old and stale.
  2. Do not justify those weaknesses. Acknowledging is different from explaining. If you spend the first half of the essay telling the adcom WHY your goals were fuzzy or your experience lacking, you will come off as whiny, and ain’t nobody got time for that. They don’t want to hear excuses, and they won’t give your new application time of day if there’s even a hint of that tone. Acknowledge your weaknesses and move on.
  3. Finally, don’t focus too much energy on one area of improvement. There may be one particularly glaring weakness in your previous application, and hopefully you dedicated a lot of energy to fixing that since then, but it’s not likely that there was only ONE area in which you needed improvement. Give them a few reasons that version 2.0 is better than version 1.

At the end of the day, the re-applicant essay is all about showing them the delta. What’s changed in this software update? What bugs have you fixed? Give the adcom good reason to believe that 2.0 is a truly superior applicant and that you can honestly self-reflect in order to improve upon your weaknesses, and you are on the right track.


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