The Second Round Ding Report

by John A. Byrne on

He’s a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt at a Fortune 100 company where he has worked in a process improvement consulting role for the past two years. With a hefty 760 GMAT and a 3.8 grade point average from a Top 20 university, this 26-year-old professional also has spectacular extracurricular activities to his credit, from spearheading a mentorship program at work to volunteering for an animal rescue organization. He wants an MBA to make the transition from the corporate world to management consulting.

With a job lined up with JP Morgan’s investment banking group, this 21-year-old British woman is currently finishing up her undergraduate degree in Latin and Ancient Greek at the University of Oxford. With a 710 GMAT and a 3.7 GPA, she applied to Harvard Business School’s 2+2 program, with an eventual goal of becoming CEO of a leading global luxury goods brand.

A West Point graduate, this 27-year-old military officer has spent the last five years in the U.S. Army. Consistently rated the top junior officer in his battalion, he has spent most of the last year commanding 80 soldiers and decided to leave the Army to get an MBA degree from a top school.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

They are all exceptional candidates for an elite MBA program, yet what all of them share in common is that they have recently been dinged by the Harvard Business School–without even an interview. There may be some consolation in the fact that these round two applicants–and many others you’ll read about here–are among thousands of people who were turned down by HBS this month.

In fact, some had GMAT scores as high as 780. Or GPAs as high as 3.98 from the very best Ivy League schools. They work for Fortune 100 companies and major global consulting firms, investment banks, and startups (see below our table of applicants who were dinged by Harvard (or Stanford). They generously shared their raw stats and profiles with Poets&Quants in the hopes of gaining some insight into why they didn’t make the cut.

For some candidates, it might be easy to isolate a factor or two that led to the ding. But for many of them, it’s very much a mystery–particularly without the ability to see the entire application submitted to HBS. Consider this head-scratching profile: A 26-year-old Asian male who has a 780 GMAT and who graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University with a 3.6 GPA. He leveraged his economics and public policy degree into a two-year stint with Goldman Sach’s investment banking division and then two years at KKR in its private equity group. His recommendations were written by a partner at KKR who is an HBS alum and a Nobel Prize winning professor at Princeton. Yet he was dinged by Harvard Business School without even an invite to an interview.

It just shows how random success can be when the applicant pool is filled with so many exceptional candidates. Or consider this young, highly talented woman. She seems like the perfect MBA candidate: a 760 GMAT, a 3.98 GPA from an Ivy League university, four years of work experience and 26 years of age. She led marketing and communications for a major non-profit for two years and then founded her own social enterprise organization that she has led for two years. Dinged!

So how come these truly extraordinary applicants couldn’t get in?

We asked Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com who more typically does our MBA handicapping column, to take a look at the backgrounds and stories of these candidates and tell them why they failed to get into Harvard or Stanford. Both business schools released their round one decisions last week and thousands of applicants got disappointing news.

It’s no small hurdle to get into either Harvard or Stanford. The average GMAT score for latest class enrolled at HBS is 727, while the average at Stanford is 732. The undergraduate grade point averages are in nose bleed territory as well: 3.73 at Stanford and 3.67 at Harvard. Less than 7% of Stanford applicants and less than 12% of HBS applicants are accepted each year. And for the record, the Princeton/Goldman/KKR ding even stumped Kreisberg (see his take at the end of the article).

If you also were rejected by Harvard or Stanford and would like an assessment from Sandy, go to Round Two Harvard Business School Ding Report and provide your profile and stats in the comment section.

And for the best of Sandy’s ding reports on top Round 1 candidates, check out Best of Sandy’s HBS & Stanford Ding Report.

THESE HARVARD & STANFORD APPLICANTS WERE TURNED DOWN BY THEIR TARGET SCHOOLS

GMAT GPA College Major Employer Gender Age Applicant
780 3.6 Princeton Economics Goldman/KKR Male 26 HBS R2
780 3.6 Ivy Economics Bain/Startup Male 21 2+2
780 3.4 Mid-Tier Ivy Economics Hedge Fund Male 28 HBS R2
770 9.46/10 IIT Bangalore Engineering MBB Consulting Male 26 Stanford R1
770 3.44 HYP Engineering Logistics Startup Male 27 HBS R2
760 3.98 HYPS Poli Sci Non-Profit Female 26 HBS R2
760 3.9 Top 100 Private Psychology Fortune 100 Male 27 HBS R2
760 3.6 Ivy Psychology Investment Management Male 29 HBS R2
760 3.45 Cornell Engineering Capital One Male NA HBS R1
760 3.9 Top Univ. Philippines Economics I-Bank (Asia) Male 26 HBS R2
760 3.8 Top 20 U.S. Business Fortune 100 Male 26 HBS R2
750 Top 10% Little Ivy NA Booz Consulting Male 24 HBS R2
750 3.94 Medical School India Medicine Big 4 Consulting Male 27 HBS R2
750 3.54 Small Liberal Arts Liberal Arts Automotive OEM Male 25 HBS R2
740 3.6 Pacific-12 Business Non-Profit Male 27 HBS R1
740 3.65 NYU Economics LEK Consulting Male 27 HBS R2
740 3.96 Ivy Accounting CPA Female 25 HBS R2
740 8.9/10.0 IIT Delhi Engineering ———- Male 22 2+2
730 7.9/10.0 IIT Kharagpur Engineering Energy Startup Male 26 HBS R2
730 3.5 Top Public Engineering Bain/PE Firm Male 29 HBS R2
730 3.6 Harvard Education Education Startup Male 26 HBS R2
720 3.33 Ivy Philosophy Fortune 500/Civil Rights Org. Male 25 HBS R2
710 3.97 Texas-Austin Liberal Arts Deloitte Consulting Female 25 HBS R2
710 3.7 Oxford NA ———- Female 21 2+2
710 3.6 Top Ten Engineering TFA/Healthcare Consulting Male 25 HBS R2
710 3.65 Ivy NA Major Tech Company Female 24 HBS R2
700 3.6 Top 15 Finance I-Bank Female 28 HBS R2
700 Top 15% “Ok Israeli University” Social Science Career Officer Male 27 HBS R2
670 2.96 West Point Engineering U.S. Army Male 27 HBS R2
660 3.77 University of Washington NA Goldman Sachs Male 24 HBS R2
170V/163Q 3.47 Small Liberal Arts College Liberal Arts Education Male 32 HBS R2
145V/145Q NA NA NA McKinsey/Deloitte Male 28 HBS R2
1500 GRE 3.8 Public Ivy Science Int’l Development Firm Male 26 HBS R2
710 GRE 3.6 Top 20 NA Top 10 I-Bank Male 25 HBS R2

Source: PoetsandQuants’ Round 2 Ding Report

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  • Dan Sveaver

    760 GMAT and 3.98 GPA was dinged. That practically begs the question “what does one have to do to be accepted to HBS?”

  • fedric

    connections ;)

  • JohnAByrne

    That is probably the biggest shocker of them all–especially for a woman in the perfect age range who also went to an Ivy League school. I have to assume it was her work experience for a non-profit (all non-profits are not treated equal so it depends to a great extent on how selective the non-profit is and whether employees have gone to HBS from it in the past). Also she is in a marketing and communications role at the non-profit which HBS may find less pivotal than being in strategy or operations. Another possibility here is her execution of the application/essay.

    She points out to us that “I suspect both my essay and my career choices are a bit too idiosyncratic, and I might not have been very convincing in the Why MBA? department–but thought I’d share my profile in case it’s helpful for anyone. My specific job goal is to do financial & spatial economic modeling to guide (sustainable, equitable, etc etc) infrastructure improvements in cities. My work experience is only very tangentially related to this, so I could easily have come off as unrealistic…or as someone who would be better suited for urban planning or economics programs. Have some other R2 apps in, will see what happens.”

    Regardless, this is still the most shocking ding I have seen this year.

  • Paul

    Perhaps it goes to show that GMAT, GPA and UG pedigree aren’t everything to HBS. I am curios how big of a role the essay played in the ding. While it seems that the constant reduction in essay requirement may indicate a reduction in the importance of the essay, I cant help but wonder otherwise when someone with as great of stats as this applicant.

  • OttoReadmore

    What colleges are in the category Ivy, Mid-tier ivy, and little Ivy? Since HYP and Cornell are listed out separately.

  • Jimmy

    I do not believe that she wrote bs in her essays and even if she did, that wasn’t the reason why she got rejected. I think the reason was this ” My specific job goal is to do financial & spatial economic modeling to guide…”. Let’s face it: you do not need an mba (let alone from H|S) for that, so there’s nothing shocking here. It would be shocking though if they had accepted her because it would essentially send a wrong message “yes, our courses are specifically focused on improving infrastructure in cities, we will bring the best employers in this field on campus for you, and we will help achieve your goals”. What is notable here, however, is that even ivy-educated people with great stats are also pretty much bought into that mass mba-hype and do not always understand the purpose of b-school training.

  • Really, HBS? Really?

    What’s worse — I have two friends at HBS that both have GPAs in the 3.2-3.4 range and both scored in the 700-710 range on the GMAT. In my humble opinion, this is a total crap-shoot.

  • Kareem

    my friend at HBS with 3.0 and 620!

  • African Wizard

    I would like to give more data to Mr Byrnes regarding the NA, McKinsey/Deloitte profile:
    GPA top 25%
    Best University of Morocco
    Major: Human Resources
    rejected at: HBS
    Invited at: Wharton, Columbia, Booth
    Awaiting: Yale, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon

    I hope this would help

  • Orange1

    Sure, some of these people had their heart set on going to HBS, but judging by their profiles, they are going to be successful no matter where they wind up. If I were one of them, would not worry about the future.

  • ivybe

    HBS is not the be of it all
    in the last 20 years- HBS has graduated 1000 * 30= 30000 graduates
    how many HBS grads are F 500 CEO’s ?- not even 100 – calculate the percentage

    1.Most are mid level managers – strategy , planning in large companies
    2. rest are mid level consultants
    3. some are admission consultants

    HBS is a good school but not the end of it all. and most recruiters know that –
    If the admissions officers were that good at picking the right people they would be running companies – food for thought

  • bmp

    To me it seems like we construct this notion that they only look at #s and pedigrees, and that all their rhetoric about the “total person concept” is bunk, and then–and only then, do we act shocked when someone with stellar stats doesn’t get in. Internet MBA admissions echo chamber at its finest imo.

  • Orange1

    Good point that gets lost on the multitudes. Even with a Harvard MBA, there are only so many top jobs available. It isn’t some guarantee that you will be at a high level or never unemployed. Companies are not as willing as they use to be to have a big strategy and planning group. So where do people with these skills go?

  • realistic

    you are just good for insead, HEC, or IMD! why you targeting US schools?!

  • Thomas

    The “Public Ivy”, “Mid-Tier Ivy, and “Little Ivy” descriptions are bogus. There are only 8 Ivy League schools and no more. Get the descriptions straight…

  • There’s more than just hbs

    The key is that HBS (or Stanford, or really any of the top schools, for that matter) is not going to be the reason they are successful. The majority of people who are ambitious enough to aim for the top b-schools possess the drive to succeed in anything they put their mind to. No matter what school you earn your MBA from, you will do just fine in life if you put in the work to succeed and make things happen. Admissions officers will never get it right 100% of the time, they are far from perfect either, and that’s just how it is.

    Any of the Top 15-20 will help someone succeed in whatever they want to do in their career, if they continue moving forward with the same ambition and drive they used to propel themselves to gain admission to a top school. Point being, the name brand can make some very subtle differences in the beginning, but years down the line it won’t matter where you earned your degree from. If you’re good, you’re good, and you don’t need HBS to be good.

  • StateSchool

    After looking at the gmat club blog, I noticed that most of the people that applied rd1 and were waitlisted/FCd seemed to get the interview invites – check it out. They say round 2 is almost the same as Rd1 by invites but I am guessing those invites that are counted for round 2 are a lot of round 1ers. I am thinking rd2 is considerably harder than round 1. I know this is an age old argument but my opinion has now changed.

  • Consultant/Engineer

    Here’s another to add to the list: 760, 3.8 in engineering from Top 5 public university, 4 years at M/B/B. Male, 25 HBS R1

  • African Wizard

    If I was just good for, INSEAD HEC or IMD, I would not have been invited to interview at Wharton, Columbia, and Chicago Booth. You can’t tell me where I belong bro, you are not an adcom nor do you even have that expertise!

  • confused

    I think you misunderstood his grammar mistakes. I think he is saying you can get into INSEAD and IMD, so why are you aiming for the US. I don’t think it was a comment on your ability or chances at the other programs you mentioned.

  • African Wizard

    My bad for not understanding his comment, well the answer to his question why I chose the U.S is simply because I grew up in Europe, and Asia before returning to Africa. America is the only continent I have not experienced as a student and I wanted an experience in the American culture. Sorry for the misunderstanding of the comment above

  • simon

    gmat and gpa are not important for admission at insead and other european schools, unlike US..if i understand..

  • holyCra

    rest assured they will ask you to re take the test.

  • Danny

    Hi John

    I’m a huge fan of the site. I would estimate that I check it several times a week and I often find articles I enjoy. But seriously you really need to hire someone to update some of the material. The rankings pages at the bottom of the home page (including your own rankings) are mostly from 2012 (this is an easy fix) and the ‘smackdowns’ (which I think are one of the best features you have) are now mostly 5 or 6 years old rendering their descriptions of the bleak job market and the rankings comparisons quite outdated. I don’t think it would take a huge amount of work to update this content and I think it would improve the quality of the site tremendously. Best of luck.

  • Roselita Hernandez

    I have never had good luck with Harvard grads. They are too academic; not good in the real world.

  • SRR

    Sorry guys but you could not be more wrong. I am a Harvard MBA and the last thing I or MOST of my fellow HBSers want to be is a Fortune XXXX anything. That is no way to change the world and the Mission of HBS is to Educate Leaders who Make a Difference in the World. I happen to be in Africa investing in private education but that is chicken feed relative to what some of the Harvard MBAs I know are doing. The last thing HBS wants is someone who wants to go off and be a consultant or banker the rest of his or her life. The fact that some do says more about those people than about the institution. I played that game for a number of years but then set on a path to pursue my true passion to create change. On a purely objective level I was not qualified to attend HBS but they obviously saw beyond my grades and GMAT scores and felt that I might one day live up to the Mission, which is something I try t do every single day of my life.

  • ivybe5

    O really? please look at the career reports
    more than 50% of the class went into consulting
    rest into finance
    there are a few outliers who do good which is honorable
    but most are middle management in large companies or consulting firms

    look at the hbs alumni reports on linkedin – most are middle management types , few pe vc guys

  • SRR

    Is that right out of School or 10-20 years out which is more of what I was focused on…

  • harry

    I think they are not exclusively distinctive from each other. I also see the name harvard there and cornell with engineering that could count more than other ivy engineering. little ivies are smarthmore, williams, etc. and mid-tier i guess are columbia / upenn based on recent us news rankings.

  • Jimmy

    Oh yeah, HBS does not want you to be a consultant or a banker, that’s why they bring tons of consulting and finance firms on campus to recruit and have so many activities (clubs, courses, trainings) to help you become one. HBSers don’t want to be a Fortune XXXX anything, that’s why most of applicants write exactly the opposite in their essays and join those firms upon graduation. Lots of senior executives of Fortune XXXX companies (and primarily of Fortune XXXX) are invited to speak on campus to tell you that you should not join their firms because you should pursue your goal of much higher order and because it is much more important for the planet.
    Well, I got a news for you – you are delusional. Most likely you are in your first year and everything looks so rosy to you. Everybody tells you how great you are all the time, professors and careers office go out their way to make you believe that you are there to learn how to change the worldmake a difference in the world, blah, blah, blah. You are trying to defend HBS because of that and because they gave you a chance to attend it even though you were not qualified in comparison to most others, but let me tell you this. Once you fail to get a decent internship or a full time job, unless you have rich parents, you will join the numerous army of very disappointed and disheartened HBS grads and likely become a freelance bullshittermotivational writeran admission consultant or alike. That’s what the facts are, that’s what ivebe found out by just googling for a few minutes and that’s what you will find out very soon.

  • jasper

    You realize that they aren’t all at the same level right? HYP are the best. Columbia comes in at number 4. Then you have Penn. Dartmouth, Brown and Cornell bring up the rear.

  • U

    Because the top US schools are better – only INSEAD is on par with them.

  • Matt

    Yes I am still waiting (patiently and excitedly) for the school profiles to be updated for 2014.

  • jack

    Actually 50% went into consulting and finance combined

  • Balanced View

    You have a blog about people who were rejected from Harvard and Stanford. Why don’t you ask people to post their profiles who were accepted to Harvard and Stanford after Round 2.? Then the readers could be compare and see what different candidates bring to the table.

  • UpVote

    Jimmy, you might be top-to-bottom the smartest person on this thread

  • Renault

    Aaaaaand here’s a guy who went to UPenn.

  • Totally Not A Whartonite

    Caveat: Wharton pretty much sits on top of the heap when it comes to going into finance and consulting, arguably even in front of HYP.

  • sosoma

    There are lots of accepted people here, but most likely they are who replying and commenting ;)

  • Anonymous

    This article should be an embarrassment to graduate students and potential students alike. Anyone that seriously believes that scores and name brands alone get candidates into MBA programs is delusional and most likely has a distorted sense of the world. The sheer fact that these students felt that they were “exceptional” enough to be included in this article seems to me like reason enough why they wouldn’t pass an admissions interview. Further, I see very few successful alumni that have not followed traditional paths. Almost everyone on this list is “typical” and cannot seriously be surprised that they were denied separation. However. if these individuals take the road most traveled, there is little doubt they will never change the world.

  • Girl being discussed

    Sorry I missed this conversation while it was happening.

    Why do I even want an MBA?
    1) I largely agree with you, Jimmy, that I can absolutely do what I want to do without an MBA (and I should have mentioned that that job goal you quoted is short-term, and I wrote in my essays about longer term goals in urban governance/public management), but when I look up people whose jobs I want to have in 20 years, they tend to have MBAs. And perhaps more importantly (not just correlation), job descriptions for the sorts of positions I’d like to get right after graduating state a preference for MBA or MPA, and I doubt they’re truly agnostic between the two.

    2) I’m planning on doing a dual degree, either MPA or MUP (urban planning), where I can spend plenty of time studying the urban econ/spatial modeling/infrastructure development side of things, but I believe the leadership/finance/accounting/economic analysis coursework in an MBA program will be equally useful, especially as someone with such a fluffy work history. Add in the value of working with some badass classmates who will go on to be both badass and powerful, and the prestige, and I really do think it makes sense, but feel free to convince me that I’ve bought into the mass MBA-hype–I’m open to it. I’ve got to admit I also just really enjoy challenging quant stuff, and would love to learn more about other industries and get outside of my do-gooder comfort zone, and fear that the MPA/MUP degrees I’m considering will be unfulfilling in these regards.

    3) I’ve talked with some people doing dual MBA degrees with HKS who have similar career goals, and they agree with my rationale above. I’ve also talked with some urban planning graduates who feel like they lack the management education/pedigree to get jobs where they could do something about the urban issues they learned about in school, and are instead stuck in entry-level positions.

    Why didn’t I get an interview?
    1) Agree with John that nonprofit #1 definitely wasn’t the best role for showcasing talent; having started a nonprofit afterwards makes me more interesting and demonstrates leadership potential, but also makes it somewhat difficult to judge my performance relative to others.

    2) Execution of essay or letters of rec is a strong possibility. I didn’t have anyone read the essays, and I didn’t ask to read/definitely didn’t help write the letters. I’m pretty overwhelmed with the day-to-day of my job, and chose to prioritize it/sanity over this process, especially since as a dual degree student I can reapply during my first year if this year doesn’t pan out. I did get interviews at MIT and Stanford with somewhat similar essays/identical letters (though MIT was of course subjected to less blather about my future goals, if that really was the cause of the HBS ding, and I assume that Stanford is less turned off by slightly irrelevant blather since their question kinda encourages it), but perhaps they cared less, or they sensed that I’m a better fit for their programs (I didn’t go out of my way to fawn over HBS’s culture or teaching methods).

    3) Really not too surprised by the ding–I hardly suffer from overconfidence–though it’s sort of heartening to read that internet strangers are surprised on my behalf. ;) Thanks, guys.

  • Coby/Girl Being Discussed

    I just posted above. You might be right in the assumption that it’s the essay that killed me, but it could also be the other way around–they may now be paying more attention to work experience than essays, and found mine underwhelming.

  • hbsguru

    “Anyone that seriously believes that scores and name brands alone get
    candidates into MBA programs is delusional and most likely has a
    distorted sense of the world.” Huh? Who has a distorted view of the world? As I often note in doing a post-mortem on cases below, freq. dinged applicants LACKED scores and name brands, and those who had them, often had some other boo-boo, e.g. odd goals or something that did not compute. There were a few head-scratchers for sure, but sometimes those become clear if you know more than poster has revealed (I often correspond with people below and get more info). There is some final “icepack” of dinged kids whose outcomes I cannot understand, but man, that set is way smaller than popular belief. This is not a crap shoot, it is a logical process with some outliers and oddballs, but damn few.

  • Herodotus

    No one in their right mind should apply to Harvard or Stanford if their GMAT or GPA is more than 10% below their average – it is a waste of $250, time and energy. If you don’t have those creds forget about it. Those schools talk the talk about there is no minimum GMAT etc., and they might claim they like non-traditional candidates (whatever that means), but they are full of manure. They have their profile, the consultants here have pretty much set that out; those that don’t fit that profile (or a legacy for the spots reserved for them, or the daughter of a President) should seek their fortunes elsewhere – if you don’t, you are naive.

  • Herodotus

    If people have odd goals, the odd goal is as defined by HBS and Stanford – which means perhaps they really lack imagination and creativity. Perhaps the better way of stating it is not to diss the applicant by saying his/her goals are odd, but to say that they are not within the school’s definition of what a candidate’s goal should be.,

  • herodotus

    You can always tell a Harvard man/woman, but not much.

  • herodotus

    Perhaps that should be .10% !!!

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