Why You Were Dinged By Your Dream School

It’s a fact of admissions life that most candidates who apply to the best schools are rejected. Stanford Business School, the most selective MBA program in the world, only accepts 6.5% of its applicants. Harvard Business School says yes to little more than 12% of those who apply. Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business denies admission to more than eight of every ten applicants. Duke University’s Fuqua School turns down roughly 70% of those who apply. MIT gets a dozen applicants for every seat it has available in the entering class.

It’s important, however, to keep in mind that getting turned down for admission to a top school is not the end of the world. Of course, you’re let down. You may even be devastated based on all the work you invested in the application process. So it’s crucial to understand that the applicant pool at any of the top business schools is teeming with smart candidates who have 700-plus GMAT scores and stellar undergraduate records.

The big question for you now is “Where do go from here?” Set aside your initial disappointment and take as objective a look as possible at what your application lacked. There are a variety of reasons why a candidate gets a rejection letter.

The key reasons:

1. You didn’t apply to realistic programs, but rather applied only to schools in which you had very little chance of gaining admission.

2. You applied too early or too late in your career.

3. You weren’t a fit for the program to which you applied.

4. While you may make a strong candidate, the overall applicant pool happened to have exceptionally strong candidates, raising the hurdle for admission.

5. Your brand was unclear or lacked focus.

6. You failed to make a compelling case for why you need the MBA.

7. Your application lacked self-awareness.

8. Your application had fundamental flags around judgment or interpersonal issues.

9. Your application lacked convincing evidence of leadership or community involvement.

10. Your application raised concerns regarding academic preparation and intellectual strength.

11. Your recommendations had a damning effect.

12. You rushed the application and didn’t spend enough time on it.

13. You didnt convince the admissions board that you would be a fit for the particular program.

14. You bombed the interview.

Take a step back and evaluate your application in its entirely. Better yet, have someone you respect and who knows you very well review your application and provide you with feedback. Current students or alumni of the program are usually effective in giving the most useful feedback.

Understanding what went wrong with the application also can come from the admissions staff at the business schools that rejected you. MBA programs vary in their policies on providing feedback. Harvard Business School, for example, offers feedback only to college seniors, but Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Penn’s Wharton School and UCLA’s Anderson School offers feedback and even encourages strong applicants to apply again in the future.

Feedback sessions are typically offered at the end of the admissions cycle, during the summer months when the workload is much lighter on the admissions staff. Given the volume of re-applicants, I recommend that you sign up as soon as feedback spots become available since they fill up quickly. Also, because the feedback from admissions can be particularly helpful, taking this extra step can play a major role in the outcome of your application if you your re-application should you chose to reapply. There are many programs that do not provide feedback to applicants whose applications were denied, so you may also wish to have an independent consultant evaluate your old application and provide you with strategic steps you can pursue to increase the chance of a successful application next time.

Chioma Isiadinso is the author of “The Best Business School Admissions Secrets” and the founding CEO of EXPARTUS, a global admissions consulting company. She has more than ten years of admissions experience and is a former admissions board member at Harvard Business School and former director of admissions at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Public Policy and Management.

About the Author...

Chioma Isiadinso

Chioma Isiadinso is the author of “The Best Business School Admissions Secrets” and the founding CEO of EXPARTUS, a global admissions consulting company. She has more than twelveen years of admissions experience and is a former admissions board member at Harvard Business School and former director of admissions at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Public Policy and Management.

  • KM


    I am in process of giving my gmat and than soon start writing my applications for class of 2015. Hence, I would like to know if there are some important pointers/ to-do lists I could perform for 3 phase of application: before I start writing my application, during my application writing, and after my applications are made.

    Also, is there any particular admission pattern, you would be aware of, for Yale University (my dream school), that can help me in advance in knowing the school before I apply?

  • yeti


  • divya

    Hi Byrne,

    What is considered as too late for a business school application?

    I want to go to Kellogg or Tuck for the Class of 2014..and I would be 29 on matriculation.

    Is that too late for these schools?

    Kindly advise.


  • Thanks for a really honest list of ding reasons that can help one reflect

  • Tony Factor

    Hello Sir,

    if the average age is 28, does this mean a 40-year-old cannot apply or should consider not applying to a b-school?

    What can a 28-year-old contribute better than a 37-year-old with tons of real life experience and a great graduate GPA?

  • Paul, yes, they do. However, acceptance rates for part-time, evening and Executive MBA programs are always significantly higher than those for full-time, two-year programs. In many cases, in fact, the differences are dramatic. Consider New York University’s Stern School of Business, which has one of the largest part-time MBA programs in the business. NYU accepted only 14.5% of full-time applicants to its Class of 2011, but 55.4% of its part-time applicants. Northwestern’s Kellogg School let only 19.5% of its applicants in the same year through the door, but 46.4% got through the screen of its part-time program. One of the most dramatic differences between the acceptance rates of a full and a part-time program occurs at the University of Michigan’s Ross School. Ross sent acceptance letters to 23.4 percent of its full-time applicants for the Class of 2011, yet said yes to a whopping 70.4% of its part-time applicants. The obvious question here is this: If you can’t get into an elite full-time program because your GMAT and GPA scores aren’t high enough, can you still get an elite degree by going around the system and applying to the part-time program. The answer is yes. Most employers aren’t savvy enough to know the difference so the degree would carry the same value. What you lose is the overall quality of a two-year, full-time MBA experience as well as complete access to the well-oiled recruiting machine for new grads.

  • Paul

    Do these same reasons apply for acceptance/rejection from part-time, evening, or executive MBA programs?

  • Frank, it’s not too late for you. But there is “an ideal age” at which the top business schools target candidates. As you probably know, most MBA students enter school in their mid-to-late 20s. At Harvard Business School, the average age of an entering MBA student is 26. At Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management UPenn’s Wharton School, and Dartmouth’s Tuck School, it’s 28. That is pretty much the target age: 26 to 28. Why? These candidates have enough work experience to give a school evidence that the person can make a valuable contribution in the class as well as evidence of leadership potential. Moreover, the candidate hasn’t been so far removed from an academic experience so that going back to school isn’t as difficult as it otherwise would be. There are plenty of exceptions, but the point Chioma is making is that anything that takes you out of the norm raises issues and questions that can prevent you from getting a yes.

  • Can you please explain the reasoning behind number 2. I understand why to early in could be a negative but are you suggesting that old dogs can’t learn new tricks? What do you consider late in ones career? I’ve been working professionally for almost 8 years now but I am still in my late 20’s, is it to late for me?

  • Thanks for your comment. We corrected the problems you identified. Really appreciate the time you took to let us know.