The Ultimate Ranking: School Rejection Rates

by John A. Byrne on

A surprising number of accepted applicants actually walk away from the school that accepted them

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.

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  • b-school guy

    I am confused – why is this so different from Yield? For example – I thought Columbia’s yield was higher but this suggests is near 60%?

    Can you please explain the difference between Yield and Rejection Rate?

  • Andrea

    that’s an interesting table.
    1) hbs and stanford are leagues above the rest, even if booth is quite close on the p&q ranking or h/s/w is usually mentioned in the same capacity.
    2) stanford wins against hbs in cross-admit yield by ~65/35.
    3) cbs is surprising–it ought to do better since early decision is binding.

    i think the undisputed rankings could be created if we had cross-admit yield info for all the top 50 schools. then you could easily decide which school is better than another and iterate over all 50 to find a ranking.

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    b-school guy,

    Yield is the percentage of the accepted applicants who enroll at a school.
    The rejection rate is the percentage of accepted applicants who don’t enroll and therefore reject the offer of admission.
    At Columbia Business School, we’re estimating last year’s yield to be 60%.
    It’s rejection rate is therefore 40%.
    Hope this helps to clarify.

    Best,
    John

  • Paul

    Hey John,

    Interesting article here. I wonder how these rejection rates translate into love for people on the waitlist. Is there any data on how many people are waitlisted (and get out) for each school? Do schools just generally live with their average rejection rates and accept a corresponding number of students to get to their preferred class size?

  • This should be obvious

    I think these data points on their own still tell us an incomplete story, but you can still squeeze out some interesting narratives. Below I note three.

    For example, this tells us something about tiers, back-ups, self-selection and yield management. Cornell’s yield is comparable to that of Columbia, Berkeley Haas, and Dartmouth Tuck, though most would say that these are all a step or two above Johnson. This may be a case of self-selection, given the number of applicants at Cornell. Overall, it appears that Yale, Cornell and Stern are all of an extremely similar quality (as Northeast schools with strong Wall Street connections, a number of other corporate connections, and generally viewed as back-ups to the Top 5/M7/Elite Eight etc). Of these, it appears that Yale struggles the most as a back-up, given that its GPA/GMAT numbers are probably better than Stern’s and Cornell’s (so those admitted probably had a better shot at the M7), it gets the most applicants per spot of the three, and retains the least of them in terms of numbers. That said, they seem to have chosen the right trade-off in terms of US News points.

    Columbia Business School retains its mystery and brings up a new thought. The mystery, of course, is about the “real” CBS admit policy – what the difference is between Early Decision yield and Regular Decision yield (the grapevine says it’s significant, but declining). The data here won’t tell us much about that, but it can tell us something about the overall picture. People used to say that the yield was as low as 50% and that’s why they instituted Early Decision, and that the ever-increasing security deposit is because ‘melt’ is still a problem with ED. Fast-forward and we’re still looking at only 60% overall yield for the pool. There’s probably only so much the Admissions Office can do (until the new building comes online – not sure it’s in the best location, though).

    I see that 22% is the standard admit figure assumed for Booth, given that it was the last one published, though this was several years ago. If Booth ever decides to publish that number again, I really wonder what that will do (if Booth comes out saying that it’s averaged 17% for the past three years, that will have significant implications for yield).

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/crivas/ Cristian Vasquez

    Interestingly enough, Brigham Young University would rank 3rd just below Harvard and Stanford with about 28% Rejection Rate, though it ranks around 30th nationwide.

  • jay

    Andrea,

    “2) stanford wins against hbs in cross-admit yield by ~65/35.”

    Where did you find that data?

  • jay

    John,

    The table at the link below lists Columbia’s yield as 72%. Where did you see 60%?

    http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/articles/2011/03/28/10-most-popular-business-schools

    Jay

  • Alois de Novo

    Jay

    Stanford wins out over HBS for three reasons: First, there’s a vague sense, principally relating to Stanford’s smaller size, that Stanford is more “elite” than HBS. Second, nobody likes the case method. Nobody. And, third, Stanford is serving a constituency of California and tech types who would always prefer to attend Stanford over HBS, even if HBS were in some vague sense the better regarded school.

  • Elisabeth

    Difference between Haas, Stern and Cornell. Cornell has smaller pool of applicants and much smaller class size. Kinda regional programme. On the plus side, it operates the Park scholarship, 20 full rides and this helps to close out and convince scholars to enrol at Cornell.

    Yale may have similar or slightly higher Gmat, but enrolled students have lower pre MBA salary. Regarded as back-up, still waiting to meet someone who states: ‘Yale SOM is my first choice’

  • Alois de Novo

    @Elisabeth:

    Yale is Yale. Their faculty is excellent. In finance, there’s Shiller, Gorton, Geanakoplos and Metrick. The SOM grads I meet are uniformly excellent.

    @John: I think Paul makes an interesting point. Seems it would be quite easy to drive up yield by running a big wait list. Or by not accepting candidates who are too well qualified, e.g., any school that’s not Harvard and Stanford should auto reject all the Rhodes Scholars who apply.

  • Guy Fawkes

    Hey John, when will the top feeder schools for Northwestern Kellogg be up? I think P&Q stopped publishing lists after Booth for some reason.

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    Guy,

    Next up will be MIT and Northwestern. Would have done a long time ago if not for other pieces getting in the way. Thanks for the nudge, though.

  • Andrea

    jay- that’s just my assumption. i assumed ~180 get into both and 120 turn down hbs and 60 turn down stanford.
    some probably turn them down for personal reasons, but it seems unlikely that a disproportionate number from either would turn them down to go elsewhere.

  • LR

    @Elizabeth

    After visiting many schools and talking with alumni from many more, Yale SOM is my first choice – although the lowest ranked of any school I’m applying to. Though I don’t plan to enter the nonprofit sector, I like that the students and faculty all have an appreciation for public service. Overall, the culture seems exceptional. Also, it seems to do quite well at getting students into great finance jobs. If I’m going to spend two years and $X dollars on a program, I would prefer that it have a personal impact as well as professional.

    As for Cornell, after visiting I decided not to apply afterall. The students and faculty seemed uninspired relative to other programs, and the culture and curriculum made me feel like it was a trade school. I think it is excellent that they put so much emphasis on preparing students specifically for their internships, but like I said, I’m hoping for more than JUST a business education that I could likely get from a much wider variety of universities.

    The other school I really like is Tuck. It seems pretty spectacular in terms of culture and curriculum, although I’m not so sure about the location. Also, even if the age is comparable, it seems to attract people who have already begun settling down, who might not end up being superstars. I think this is reflected in what seems to be a short list of notable alumni, considering how old the school is and how well it is ranked.

  • Elisabeth

    @LR: Thanks for sharing your experience and good luck on Yale, happy for you that you look beyond ranking and go for fit.

    Interestingly, Cornell’s immersion is supposed a selling point with firms and students to prepare for internships, but is a put off for others. With regards to mediocre curriculum and uninspired students, I actually heard similar complaints from other visiting applicants. I understand that intellectually curious students wish to have opportunity to explore academic subjects and avoid the trade school route.

    Tuck is great and its students have done well and made professional impacts without having superstar status. Fabulous community and inspired students. Happy alumni.

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/generalspecific/ generalspecific

    John, great website.

    This article however leaves a lot to be desired. Aside from the fact that it is riddled with typos starting with the second line, I’m having a hard time understanding your estimate for the rejection rate of students at Columbia (40%). The yield last year according to US News was 72%, hence the rejection rate per your definition should be 28%. Columbia is widely known to have a high yield (and low rejection rate) partly due to their Early Decision system. How did you estimate that the yield would drop 12 percentage points this year?

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    Generalspecific,
    As you pointed out, the U.S. News data is more than a year old. We estimated Columbia’s yield based on the more recent numbers–number of applications received, acceptance rate and students enrolled–the school provided Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Columbia declined to provide BW with a yield number.

  • Stu

    @Elizabeth: Berkeley’s (Haas’) class is 40 smaller than Cornell’s, just as a minor point of fact. I didn’t know Cornell has such a small class. Interesting.

    I guess a missing piece of this is the overall cross-admit and rejection picture, not just the head-to-head rankings. Harvard and Stanford seem to be in a league of their own as far as yield and preference…but I had heard Berkeley-Haas’ closest competition in the cross-admit realm were Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan and Wharton…. But all those let in more as a percentage…. Haas 11.99%–>12% MIT: 13% Wharton 19% Chicago: More than 20%. So it is as hard, percentage-wise, to get into Haas as Harvard (I realize this is a too narrow way of viewing it, but does that mean that Haas has a more rarified self-selected group — e.g. it has a greater percentage of applicants who also get into Harvard and Stanford and therefore loses a greater cross-admit number. Of course, if everyone applies to all the schools and choose accordingly then this question doesn’t arise — but they don’t.

    Oh well, I am too tired to figure this one out…. : )

  • jay

    @Stu – Based on what I’ve seen (through GMATclub and the Sandy series), those applying to Booth and Wharton aren’t typically also applying to Haas. They apply to MIT, HBS, Stanford, Columbia, Kellogg and Stern. Yes, Haas accepts 12% of its applicant pool, and HBS accepts 12% of its applicant pool, but those applicant pools are nowhere near the same. The applicants that MIT/Booth/Wharton see are likely a lot more similar to HBS applicants than those that Haas sees. Haas has a strong applicant pool but I highly doubt they lose more admits to H/S than Booth, MIT, and Wharton.

  • Rachel

    RE: Columbia’s yield — I would guess that their yield is helped out much more by the J-term than ED. I question how many people apply ED who either do not rank CBS as their #1 anyway or would seriously go somewhere else were it not binding.

    That said, the J-term is so unique that anyone accepted is likely to go. There is just literally no competition for something similar to the J-term at top business schools. I have to imagine this contributes much more to yield than ED.

  • Vladmir

    I also can’t help but imagine how much the New York factor positively influences the number of applicants to NYU Stern and CBS. While I admit, they are v.good schools, I think the location plays a disproportionate role in their profile. For CBS in particular, the J term and early desicion significantly helps the schools rejection rate of 40%. I would not be surprised if this rate equated to 60% without these offerings. V.Impressed by the number of applicants vying for Kellogg, Booth, MIT and even UT Austin. I suspect the MIT, Kellogg and Booth applicants are generally applying to all 3 schools.

  • Miguel

    @Elisabeth: Good call on Cornell and Yale. Yale plays the Gmat/ranking game more and the silver scholar scheme’s success is yet to be seen. Heard also complaints about quality of its career office.

    Cornell’s rejection rate would be even higher without its Parks scholarship. Interestingly international students are not eligble for this scheme.

  • Gosh

    Actually this ranking seems to be really correct. I decided not to apply to either HBS nor GSB, maybe I hould have… Third round maybe?

  • Inquisitive Mind

    John, based on http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/mba/admissions/classprofile your Columbia information is incorrect. 1062 applicants were accepted and 751 matriculated. That means 331 rejected the school. The resulting percentange is about 30%.

  • Stu

    @Jay: what I was getting at was that one would have to view all the places people apply, where they get in, and the universe of cross-admit selections, to really get a full read. I imagine the ranking here is a fairly good approximation. I think the impression you have about who applies to which schools is anecdotal and may be quite geographically biased. Being based on the West Coast, in the past year, I’ve heard two anecdotes, one at a mixer where a woman volunteered: I was waitlsted at Haas, got into Wharton, but really want to go to Haas. Another, a partner at Goldman Sachs said one of his staff had told him he was applying to Harvard, Stanford, and Haas. These are anecdotes themselves, but to say that the applicant pool is “nowhere near the same” doesn’t ring true based on my experience (which is limited, I’ll admit, but I’ll be looking for a similar concession from you too).

    My guess is people will go across the country most often in order to go to Harvard or Stanford, if they live on either coast. And whether they are willing to go across the country, or just a long way, for other schools falls off. And this fall-off could well be geographically determined…

    “@Stu – Based on what I’ve seen (through GMATclub and the Sandy series), those applying to Booth and Wharton aren’t typically also applying to Haas. They apply to MIT, HBS, Stanford, Columbia, Kellogg and Stern. Yes, Haas accepts 12% of its applicant pool, and HBS accepts 12% of its applicant pool, but those applicant pools are nowhere near the same. The applicants that MIT/Booth/Wharton see are likely a lot more similar to HBS applicants than those that Haas sees. Haas has a strong applicant pool but I highly doubt they lose more admits to H/S than Booth, MIT, and Wharton.”

  • Fact Checker

    John,

    I’ve long been a fan of P&Q. Hence, I would hate to see inaccuracies in your data detract from the message of your articles.

    The Columbia yield / rejection rates in your table are wrong. Your data implies that Columbia’s latest class had 640 students. However, the actual number is 751 students. This link provides all the data you need to calculate yield; no guessing or estimations are required – http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/mba/admissions/classprofile

    All data below is for the Class of 2013:
    Applicants accepted = 1062
    Students matriculating = 751
    Applicant yield = 71% (751 / 1062)
    “Rejection rate” = 29% (instead of the 40% you have in your table)

    For those interested, there were 6669 applications received, which equates to an acceptance rate of 16%.

    I truly hope you will look into this and correct your table.

    Thanks,
    An avid P&Q reader

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    Fact Checker,

    You’re absolutely right and we’ve corrected the table and attached a note about the miscalculation. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    Best,
    John

  • Rehman

    John

    I am wondering why Tuck at Dartmouth and IE in Europe don’t do better despite their high rankings? is it matter of name or size or what?

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    Rehman,

    It’s a matter of the overall quality of their applicant pools. Candidates at Tuck are often applying to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and Columbia. When they get into those schools, they may turn down Dartmouth. It’s the same issue at IE. Candidates are applying to INSEAD, London Business School, ESADE and IESE. So the pool is very strong and may not take up an offer of admission if accepted at a London or INSEAD.

  • Fact Checker

    Thanks John, much appreciated!

  • guest

    this is the true ranking.

  • 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.

  • 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)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

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