The Second Round Ding Report

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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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Air Time - Comments
  • herodotus

    Perhaps that should be .10% !!!

  • herodotus

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

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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