You Won’t Believe Who Harvard Business School Just Rejected



At the most elite levels, admissions can be remarkably cruel and impersonal process. The talent pool for any top MBA program is so deep and rich in outstanding candidates who at first glance seem like shoo-in. Yet, they get unceremoniously dinged, often without an admissions interview.

They come from Ivy League schools, boast near 4.0 grade point averages and GMATs that are in the top 5% of all test takers. They work for gold-plated firms and have stellar extracurriculars demonstrating clear leadership potential.

Their carefully crafted applications are submitted. They get the typical auto-response thanking them for their interest in a school. They anxiously wait months for an answer. And then, in a brief, punishing email, they are, in the euphemistic words of Harvard Business School’s admissions director, “released.”


Consider this 22-year-old young professional who was a 2+2 applicant to HBS and just received his round two rejection. He is currently enrolled at Brown University where he majors in economics and political science. He has a 3.96 GPA and a 760 GMAT score, which puts him in the 99th percentile of test takers. He has interned during the summer at Goldman Sachs, working in both investment banking and debt capital markets. At Brown, he founded a finance journal that now boasts more than 150 members. His recommendation letters were written by a Goldman Sachs managing director and a Brown administrator who has worked with the candidate in student government.

Or how about this 28-yer-old Japanese American applicant who went to a Southern Ivy (think Duke or Emory), scored a 760 on the GMAT, and offset his 3.1 GPA with a 4.0 alternative transcript in five courses. For the past four and one-half years, he has worked at a boutique economic consulting firm. He runs a Tsunami relief effort in Japan annually, and his essay focused on how entrepreneurship in Japan can bring great societal value to the country. His recommendations were penned by a Harvard Business School professor and a partner at his firm who is an HBS alum.

Or consider a completely puzzled Teach for America alum who scored 780 on the GMAT and has a 4.03 GPA from a top 20 university in a highly demanding major–engineering. He plays a leadership role at his local church, devoting five to eight hours a week in volunteer work there. In his Harvard admissions essay, he wrote about why he is so deeply passionate about education and yearns to dedicate his professional life to erasing educational inequality.


All three and more were turned down by Harvard Business School in its second round decisions that went out Feb. 4. They are all exceptional candidates, yet what they share in common is an HBS rejection. 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 dinged by HBS this month.

In fact, some had GMAT scores as high as 780. Or GPAs as high as 4.0 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. We’re talking Goldman Sachs, Google, Procter & Gamble, and McKinsey, Bain or BCG. 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.

Among the 32 dinged candidates who provided stats, the median GMAT was an astonishing 750. It goes to show that high scores are no assurance of an admit at Harvard Business School.


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. Their brief profiles and stats, however, demonstrate how random success can be when the applicant pool is filled with so many exceptional candidates.

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

We asked Sandy Kreisberg, founder of, 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.

Of course, it’s no small hurdle to get into HBS. The average GMAT score for the latest class enrolled at HBS is 727, while the undergraduate grade point average is in nose bleed territory as well: 3.67. HBS rejects 88% of the people who apply to its full-time MBA program, and that’s from a pool where there is a lot of self-selection going on. Most applicants who simply don’t have the basic stats won’t even bother to apply. And for the record, some of these dings even stumped Kreisberg.

If you also were rejected by Harvard or Stanford and would like an assessment from Sandy, go to Let Sandy Tell You Why You Were Dinged and provide your profile and stats in the comment section.

These Harvard MBA Applicants Were Dinged In Round Two


GMAT GPA College Major Employer Gender Age Applicant
780 3.80 Top public in south Chemical engineering Founder of fashion importer M 34 Caucasian
780 4.03 Top 20 Engineering Teach for America M 25 Caucasian
770 3.58 Top 5 engineering university Engineering Oilfield Services M 29 Indian American
770 3.90 Oberlin/Car NA World Bank/UN & top bank M 26 Caucasian from midwest
760 3.96 Brown Econ Goldman Sachs M 22 2+2
760 3.50 SEC university NA Big 4 & major bank M 28 Caucasian
760 3.10 Duke/Emory NA Economics consulting firm M 28 Japanese American
760 3.70 Oxford Math Small VC in London M 27 British
760 3.00 Canadian University Psych Marketing at mobile app startup M 25 Chinese
760 3.8 Top 15 U.S. University Mechanical engineering McKinsey & major gaming company M 25 Caucasian
760 3.70 Top Local University NA M/B/B M 25 Asian
760 3.70 Harvard/Stanford NA Major consulting firm F 24 Caucasian
750 4.00 Top 15 public university STEM Bulge-Bracket Intern M 22 2+2
750 3.70 Top 3 U.K. university Computer science Goldman Sachs & top impact investing firm in India F 25 Indian
750 3.50 Indian university in Mumbai Econ P&G M 26 Indian
750 3.92 Columbia/Dartmouth Econ Intern at Goldman, MS, Blackstone M 21 2+2
740 3.75 Top 25 College NA Founded e- commerce company M 29 Caucasian
740 3.20 Top 10 Engineering in India Engineering Niche analytics firm M NA Indian
740 3.21 IIT Guwahati Biotechnology Finance & Ag internships M 22 Indian 2+2
730 3.60 H/Y/P Mechanical engineering Founder of social venture F 22 2+2 Indian
730 3.70 BYU Electrical engineering Economic consulting firm M 26 Caucasian EU/US citizen
730 3.70 Indian Institute of Technology Psych Marketing at mobile app startup M 25 Indian
730 3.53 Top 10 public university Finance Goldman Sachs & microfinance M 27 First gen Hispanic
720 3.40 Ivy League Economics U.S. Army & regional bank M 29 First gen Caucasian
710 3.55 Haas/Ross Finance Goldman Sachs M 24 Asian American
710 3.00 NA Engineer Oil & gas construction management M NA Lebanese
700 3.70 University of Illinois Electrical engineering Intel R&D M 27 Indian
700 3.70 Top Canadian university Business Big 4 auditor & top  i-bank in Canada M 26 Asian
GRE: 161V (87%)/159Q (74%) 3.50 Public Ivy Double major CTO of EdTech startup M 30 Hispanic
GRE 169V (99th percentile) 164 Q (88th percentile) 3.76 Ivy League Liberal Arts Brand marketing consultancy F 26 Caucasian
GRE: 161V/159Q (85%V/74%Q) 3.49 BYU Poli Sci Google M 26 Gay Mormon
GRE: 168Q/166V 3.75 University of Chicago Econ McKinsey & Google M 27 Asian

Source: Poets&Quants