The Ultimate Ranking: School Rejection Rates

Now that most of this year’s pool of MBA candidates have completed their applications are are axiously awaiting a verdict, it may provide some comfort to know that business schools get rejected, too–by applicants. In fact, it may surprise you to know that more than half the applicants accepted to such prestige schools such as Duke, Yale, UCLA and many other programs turn down their offers of admission.

Of course, that’s because they were accepted by other schools they preferred or decided not to go to business school after all. On one level, the list of schools that end up with the fewest rejections by accepted applicants is the ultimate ranking of the best MBA programs. After all, it shows you where the “smart money” applicants most want to go.

While there are a few head-turning exceptions, the list shows all the obvious schools at the top: Only 11% of the applicants accepted by Harvard Business School are no shows, the lowest percentage of any top U.S. business school. Last year, some 120 people accepted into HBS actually turned Harvard down. In fact, Harvard is the only school whose acceptance rate–12%–is actually higher than the percentage of accepted candidates who reject Harvard.

Stanford was next, having been spurned by 13% of its accepted applicants. Wharton, MIT and Chicago Booth follow, all with rejection rates of 30% and up. (see table of the top 20 schools and how they fared on the next page).

What we’ve done for this exercise is to simply reverse the numbers. Instead of reporting yield, the percentage of accepted applicants who enroll at a school, we’re reporting the percentage of accepted applicants who decide to say no to a school invitation.

Of the top 20 U.S. business schools, Yale has the largest percentage of students who turn down an offer of admission–58%, or some 311 applicants out of 536 applicants who were accepted last year. Duke, meantime, has the largest actual number of accepted applicants who walk away from the school: roughly 467 of the estimated 898 applicants accepted last year passed on the school.

It’s worth noting that few of the European schools provide this data. INSEAD and London Business School, generally regarded as the best MBA programs in Europe, for example, decline to report the number of applications they receive, the percentage of applicants accepted, and the yield for their schools. Obviously, one likely reason for this is that those numbers do not compare favorably to the best U.S. schools.

The table on the following page shows the percentage of accepted applicants and the estimated number of them who declined to take up a school’s invitation to enroll as an MBA student in the latest entering class. The table also shows the estimated number of applicants accepted as well as the total number of applications received by each top 20 business school.

  • JBrof

    Stanford GSB is the best business school in the world right now, and it’s not even close at this point. The fact that Stanford GSB takes 3 out of every 4 cross-admits with HBS says more than anything else. Every other metric is just a lagging indicator. This 3 out of 4 cross-admits stat is from a source very close to the GSB and has apparently been confirmed by the Dean. HBS might still have a higher yield, since it has a much bigger class and admits many students who don’t get accepted to the GSB, and HBS’ yield on those students must be close to 100%. Shockingly, the GSB takes slightly higher than 3 out of every 4 cross-admits among international student. Apparently, the only major competition the GSB has for MBA students is from industry (prospects deciding to forgo an MBA).

  • JohnAByrne

    There is the official reason given by the school–the one you mention–and the real reason which is because the numbers would result in an unfavorable comparison. With an acceptance rate of 32%, for example, INSEAD would have a hard time convincing many people that it is in the same league with Stanford and it’s 6.8% acceptance rate or HBS with its 12% acceptance rate.

  • Future MBA

    You mention that LBS and INSEAD don’t disclose # of applicants and acceptance rate because it would be unfavorable to US schools. I know this is an old article, but I always understood the reason for LBS and INSEAD not disclosing # of applicants and those numbers is because it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. You have to speak two languages fluently or at practical level just to apply (and a 3rd language at basic level for INSEAD graduation), and I know for most of my U.S. friends that takes those two schools out of consideration.

  • LBSBloke

    Kaka: I can somewhat confirm your statement as a current LBS student. I’ve heard rumors that London’s yield is between 65-70%…around whartons yield. I found many of my peers were also strongly considering Wharton…I love it here. Glad I accepted. Cheers mate.

  • Kaka

    Regarding London Business School, I’ve heard the yield is actually excellent – low seventy percents (much higher than other top 10 b schools). I believe such a stat since LBS is self selecting. Met quite a few people who had offers to Columbia, Chicago, Kellogg, MIT, and even Wharton who decided to attend LBS instead because of global focus.

  • Marilyn Carr

    my 0.02:
    a) metrics can be dangerous. They make MBA programs into a contest or an exclusive club rather than an experience.
    b) metrics can be misleading: – “HBS has lower rejection %, so let me go to HBS”. or 
    – “of Stanford/HBS cross admits, more go to Stanford, so let me go to Stanford” or 
    – “of the ~400 Stanford class, ~30% could have gone to HBS. Of ~900 HBS class, 6% could have gone to Stanford” (assuming lower “rejection rate” is the main criteria)

    Summary: Clarify why you are doing an MBA, learn about the experience at each school, make your decisions without relying primarily on metrics (unless you have no other reason for applying)

  • Useless

    Another misleading useless ranking/table, given no information on who is applying where (H?S?W?Y?D?) at the same time and who is rejecting where to go where.

  • guest

    this is the true ranking.

  • Fact Checker

    Thanks John, much appreciated!