You Won’t Believe Who Harvard Just Rejected


Nobody ever said it is easy to get into Harvard Business School. But many of the candidates who were dinged last week when HBS “released” as many as 2,800 applicants never thought they wouldn’t even get an interview.

Among the disappointed were McKinsey & Co. consultants with 790 GMATs, a 25-year-old Asian American female with a 770 GMAT who worked for a high-flying Silicon Valley firm (think Google, Facebook, or Apple) and now is at a startup, and a 26-year-old male who happens to be a University of Oxford grad and works for Credit Suisse. The Oxford undergrad came in second in the world Bridge championship as part of the England team. There are plenty of Ivy Leaguers in the group as well as graduates of Stanford, MIT, and UC-Berkeley.

There’s the 28-year-old male who has an electrical engineering degree from MIT with a 3.92 grade point average and a 780 GMAT. In his six years at Bechtel Corp., he has handled five project teams in the utilities sector and has won a promotion from an assistant manager to a senior project manager. He reports to a vice president who is an HBS alum who was one of his recommenders. His extras include leading IEEE workshops, webinars and seminars. He has published papers to his credit.

Dinged, without an interview.


Or how about the 27-year-old male professional from India with a 3.6 GPA from a Top 10 engineering college in his home country, a master’s in engineering fro MIT with a 3.7 GPA, and a 750 GMAT. He has four years of work experience at Amazon in two roles, supply chain and general management, with two promotions, direct reports and is a peer to MBA graduates. His GMAT? 750.

Dinged, without an interview. Thank goodness he at least has an interview invite from Chicago Booth.

Or what about the 27-year-old white female with a 770 GMAT, a 4.0 GPA from Harvard, Yale or Princeton, who has spent five years as an auction house specialist? By her estimation, her application was “frankly bomb.” She’s a former ballerina, a bodybuilder, and a fitness instructor with a major boutique studio. She’s also on the board of trustees for a New York City charter school.

Dinged, no interview. “I’m admittedly a bit bummed,” she says. Even Sandy seems a bit bummed over this one. “Grrr,” he writes. “I like you and if given this profile over again, I would say again your chances are good. Obviously they never got over your non-tradional career and work. So it’s not clear if you were DOA (dead on arrival) with that profile or if you failed to connect the dots in your application, recs, and essay.”


Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

How to explain these and many other exceptional candidates who failed to even get an interview? Truth is, the rule of thumb is that as many as 70% of the applicant pool is fully qualified to attend Harvard Business School and do well. But the school routinely rejected 89 out of every 100 applicants for an acceptance rate of only 11%.

That leaves a low of very capable people on the outside of their dream to get an MBA from Harvard. In general, candidate are rejected because they don’t have the raw scores: the 730 median GMAT or the 3.67 median GPA. But in the case of the nearly 40 dinged round one applicants who shared their info with us (see table below), that was rarely the case. The median GMAT for the group was an astounding 750 which puts people in the 98th percentile of the test, meaning that only 2% of the test takers scored higher.

Often times, it’s a question of pedigree: your undergraduate institution or your company isn’t considered gold. Maybe it’s silver, brass, or completely tarnished. Or you could be competing in a hotly competitive cohort of consultants or investment bankers where the talent is off the charts on every dimension. Or you could have put together a less than compelling application and got tossed aside.


There also are often more subtle reasons for a turn down. If you’re scratching your head over these dings, you’re not alone. Once again, we asked Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com and a prominent MBA admissions consultant, to analyze why these exceptional candidates were left hanging by Harvard Business School last week. He takes a look at a wide variety of applicants who shared their basic profiles with us after getting released by HBS in the first round.

To be honest, some of these dings has Kreisberg stumped as well. In any case, his commentary on these rejections is in his typical tell-it-like-it-is, no-nonsense style. If you’d like Kreisberg to give you a quick assessment, just go to Dinged? Let Sandy Tell You Why Now and leave your profile and details. And for those applicants who won interviews, just know that between 40% and 50% of you will ultimately be turned down for admission by HBS.

  • Intern

    I’m an associate in IB (FIG team), personally I’m doing an MBA to get future access to C-suite level jobs in Fortune 500 companies.

    From my experience, following IB track will get you to PE or MD level in IB. At MD level people transition to Corporates but often in Corp Dev, Capital Mgt or CFO roles in your coverage industry. If you are happy with those tracks or are willing to run the risk of restricting yourself or the risk of burning out of IB before being senior enough to jump ship. Go for it and skip on the MBA.

    Personally I like the idea of having options and getting out of IB, a business model/structure that is restrictive and overflowing with inefficiencies.

  • Intern

    Sandy applied to HBS as what you call a ‘victim who overcame’ with solid stats (+700 GMAT, strong academics, LDS, IB background, strong recs, input from alumni etc) – I think after you’ve ticked all the usual boxes, boils down to where you work. Personally I think I was missing work prestige.

    I think unless you come from MBB, PE Megafund, Unicorn Start-up or Fortune 50 – forget it. As highlighted by someone earlier, I think that your ‘victim extraordinaire’ makes up 95% of other students are your typical cookie cutter candidates from the usual ‘feeder’ companies. Better advice Sandy is to tell people 2-3 years in advance to go work for those ‘feeder companies’!

    I’m not too sad, I’ll be going to one of W/C/B 🙂

  • hbsguru

    have you thought of changing genders and leading support group for others who are similar?
    Mostly WOW factor is leader in org that helps victims or better yet, you are victim of some kind yourself.
    UG engineering, real leadership role in Engineers Without Borders, helping immigrant engineers adapt to working in USA, etc. etc.
    Being URM + engineer is good, being woman engineer is good, coming fr. odd place, e.g. Gaza Strip is good,
    being black woman engineer transexual fr. Gaza Strip is WOW w. a capital W. but not everyone can do that.

  • hernandayoleary2

    I can’t speak for consultants, but having worked in Ibanking, where I was it wasn’t like that. Is this a regional thing?

  • James Lee

    For consultants and IBankers, it’s a requirement of the job. Plus consulting companies will pay for it so all you miss out on is 1-2 years of salary (but in exchange you get to have a bit of fun!).

  • Kundyz Berikbolatova

    The truth is HBS or similar schools are wanting people whom they won’t ever have. Because such people are smart enough to not through their money in the air and are busy doing billions, while others are working “hard” on their GMAT results… You either have that success factor or you don’t; and HBS has nothing to do with it…

  • hernandayoleary2

    There may be a reporting bias.

  • hernandayoleary2

    Why would someone making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as a consultant, senior manager or ib associate want to go and spend hundreds of thousands getting a harvard mba, taking time off work, and going into a bunch of debt to get a job they could have gotten without the mba?

  • Greg

    Most wrote essays about work and other boring topics. The essay is supposed to reveal something about you. Most also have no entrepreneurial experience and many don’t need an MBA. HBS was right to reject these people. They would not add anything to the school and the school wouldn’t add to them.

  • Just put them here in the comment section and I will update the table above. Thanks Giovanni.