Being rejected from your dream school can feel like a significant blow to your graduate school plans and ego, but it’s not the end of the world. If you’ve recently been rejected from a graduate school program, reapplying is always a possibility. However, to make reapplication worth it, you will want to address the weaknesses of your application.
Our founder and CEO, Kaneisha, recently conducted a Ding Analysis for one of our clients who applied to the Harvard Kennedy School MPP program. Our client, “Amy,” had previously applied to HKS on her own and was rejected. She came to us for help on her HKS MPP degree re-application to complement the MBA program she is currently enrolled in. Kaneisha noted that Amy was a strong applicant for the program, but there were several weak spots in her application that likely contributed to her rejection.
Key Takeaways from Amy’s Ding Analysis
Answer the prompt quickly and clearly.
One of the biggest takeaways from Amy’s Ding Analysis was how she structured her essays. Amy made a common mistake in several of her responses: not answering the prompt directly at the beginning. Kaneisha noted that in many of her essays, it took a few paragraphs for Amy to answer the question presented. Other times, Amy did not spend enough of her essay real estate fleshing out her direct response to the prompt. While her essays were well-written and entertaining, Kaneisha noted several points at which the admissions committee likely got lost in what she was trying to say. Amy often focused much of the essays on setting a scene or telling anecdotes instead of directly answering the question.
While speaking to personal experience can add color to an essay, the most important thing is to answer the prompt directly. An admissions committee should clearly understand an applicant’s response to the prompt at hand. In many of Amy’s essays, she devoted too much time on anecdotes and not enough time on direct answers. In Kaneisha’s analysis, she noted many of the areas where Amy was unclear or which aspects of the essays were superfluous to make editing the essays as easy as possible.
Avoid vagueness and generalities in essays.
Another point of feedback that Kaneisha shared was that Amy’s essays included several generalities and platitudes. For example, Amy often made sweeping statements using phrases like ‘us’ and ‘we’ without explaining who she was referring to exactly. This can be problematic because the admissions committee likely does not understand who the applicant is talking about if they do not state it clearly. Unfortunately, when this mistake repeatedly happens throughout an essay, it can read like a series of empty statements and weaken an overall argument. Kaneisha suggested Amy edit her essays to state who phrases like ‘us’ and ‘we’ refer to.
Understand the degree.
In one of Amy’s essays, she indicated that she wanted to do something that wouldn’t be possible with the MPP degree. Kaneisha pointed out that this misconception demonstrated a lack of understanding about how the MPP program works and was likely a red flag for the admissions committee. Applicants should be careful to confirm anything they say they would like to do as part of a program is actually possible. Otherwise, it may appear to admissions committees that the applicant did not do their research.
Address a lower GRE score.
Kaneisha also shared some critical feedback about Amy’s GRE score. Amy applied with a decent score, but she only took the test once. Amy also had a decent, but unremarkable college GPA. Kaneisha pointed out that while Amy did not have incredibly low scores, she could have retaken the GRE to demonstrate an attempt at a higher score.
In some cases, The Art of Applying® team recommends that applicants with less-than-stellar test scores take supplemental coursework to make up for their scores. However, in Amy’s case, she is currently enrolled in an MBA program, and Kaneisha noted that her coursework should make up for her lower test scores.
Applicants should keep in mind that supplemental coursework may be a valid strategy for counteracting a low test score or GPA. For applicants who are not sure about how their test score measures up, Kaneisha’s rule of thumb is to aim for a GMAT equivalent of a 680. Applicants who score below the equivalent of a 680 should consider supplemental coursework or retaking the test.
What to learn from Amy’s Ding Analysis
Overall, Kaneisha noted that Amy was a strong candidate for the HKS MPP program but that her application had some missteps. Most notably, Amy’s essays were well written but missed the mark on directly and clearly answering the prompt. This was compounded by the fact that Amy used several generalities and vague statements throughout her essays. While her arguments were sound, they were hard to follow. Amy also demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding about how the MPP program worked, which was likely a red flag to the admissions committee. Finally, Amy could have improved her overall application by submitting a second GRE score.
Although the feedback shared above was about a specific application, Kaneisha’s notes hold for anyone applying to a policy school program. It can be difficult to spot issues in your own application. Having an expert review your materials can help you understand where your application might be falling short. At The Art of Applying®, we help applicants put their best application forward.
If you want to give your application the best shot possible, book a Quick Call with our team to get started.