Dinged In Round One? What’s Next?

reject ding

Nobody likes to get the ding email. But it is not only painful for the candidate; as Admissions Directors, having to send the “thank you but no thank you” letters or emails was always with a heavy heart. We were all too aware how much candidates had invested – time, heart and soul – as well as the dreams that were pinned on admission – and how crushing the rejection could be. We may have even loved the candidate’s profile, but been obliged to drop the file into the reject pile simply because it had come down to an extremely tight numbers game.

To add insult to injury for the candidate, schools generally don’t give feedback. They just don’t have the capacity to deal with the volume of rejected candidates that would solicit such discussions, and on the very rare occasion when they do offer such calls, it can be virtually impossible to give transparent feedback. As Admissions Director, when giving feedback to a rejected candidate, you can’t point the finger at a particular interviewer whose withering criticism sunk an application.

Nor can you tell a candidate that one of their recommenders submitted a half-hearted letter of support. Recommendations are confidential. We remember having very awkward and difficult conversations with candidates when we would be trying to tell them obliquely what had gone wrong, without actually being able to name the elephant in the room.


In Wharton MBA Admissions, early on, there was a very full schedule of discussions each summer with rejected applicants. However, we found that rarely was there a single thing that we could state was an issue – and frequently the discussion did not yield much helpful information for the candidate. So we stopped offering these calls and instead decided to invest our resources in educating applicants on the front end, to ensure candidates coming into the process were well informed.

One of the things we now enjoy about being admissions coaches is that we don’t have to pull the school’s party line; we review a candidate’s application and can often tell them straight up where they went wrong. We hear a huge sigh of relief on the other end of the phone – removing the guess-work for the candidate also removes much of the stress.

In the absence of such direct feedback, rejected applicants are left wondering what on earth went wrong? It can be difficult to figure out what to do next if you don’t know why you have failed in the first place. You need to move on and make plans for next steps, but first, you need to figure out what you can learn from this failure.


Here are our tips for conducting your own ding analysis:

1) Review again the school’s admissions criteria. Do an honest assessment of how you shape up – you could draw up a table and rate yourself (eg GMAT, GPA, professional credentials, extra curriculars, etc). Try to look at your own profile as objectively as you can. Sometimes candidates assume for example that a stellar undergrad track record will excuse them from having a great GMAT. It is not always the case. Give yourself a no-holds-barred critical review.

2) Get someone who knows the school well and who hasn’t read your application previously to review it. Ask them to be very honest with you, even if it’s hard for them to do.

3) Talk to your recommenders – face to face is best. If they haven’t been 100% supportive, you might learn more from their body language than from their words.

4) If you went through the interview stage – ask your interviewers for feedback and their thoughts on why you might have been rejected. It might not have been their feedback that sunk you, but they might have a useful opinion about what did. Such input can be very revealing. Alumni interviewers are likely to be more forthcoming than admissions staff interviewers.

5) Also evaluate your fit with and motivation for the school. Did you choose the school on a whim, or based simply on rankings, or did you really do a lot of in depth research and have a strong sense of affinity with the school? How much interaction did you have with the school and how well did you connect with the student body? You’d be surprised at how well file readers can read between the lines and get a sense for how badly you want admission, even in essays that don’t explicitly ask about this topic.


Remember that a lot of candidates go through more than one admissions cycle before they get into their dream school (10% of HBS’ class applied more than once) so don’t assume that just because you have been rejected, the school is not interested in your profile. We have seen lots of candidates benefit hugely from having been rejected. It can truly make you a better candidate. Rejection makes good candidates reflect, and often that reflection is very fruitful. Furthermore, there is a big learning curve when you apply to business school. Once you’ve been through the process once, you have a much better idea of what schools are looking for and the hoops you need to jump through. You’ll be better prepared for a polished performance next time around.

As Admissions Directors, we saw rejected candidates go away and vastly improve their profiles (for example through getting more leadership experience or a secondment abroad); when they reapplied and finally joined the school, they actually got much more out of the MBA experience than they would have if they had been admitted first time round. Some of them were even ultimately glad they had been dinged because they realized that thanks to the increased experience and maturity they brought to their MBA program, they had reaped much greater rewards.

Rejection is a bitter pill to swallow, and for many high achieving MBA candidates, it is the first time they have ever failed at something they have really set their heart on. It can be a genuine shock. So allow yourself some time to digest what has happened. Then take a big step back, and give yourself the benefit of an honest and through reflection process; draw on your network to help you with this. If you do embrace the failure and identify the lessons, you’ll be much better equipped to bounce back in round two, or in the next admissions season, or to succeed in whatever endeavor you set your sights on next.


Judith Silverman Hodara and Caroline Diarte Edwards, Co-Directors at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Directors of MBA Admissions at Wharton and INSEAD respectively. Fortuna is composed of former Directors and Associate Directors of Admissions at many of the world’s best business schools, including Wharton, INSEAD, Harvard Business School, London Business School, Chicago Booth, NYU Stern, IE Business School, Northwestern Kellogg, and UC Berkeley Haas. This is the sixth in a series of myth buster articles on admissions.

  • AP

    I did get interviewed at Kellogg, but then again, so does everyone!

  • Yaman Wadhwani

    Hi Dan,

    Many congratulations and good luck!


  • Yaman Wadhwani

    Hi Paul, thank you very much for the advice.

  • Congrats!

  • Zeeba

    Curious, did you get interviews at those schools the first time around?

  • Dan

    Just accepted an offer from Cambridge.

    My advice is to apply to the school you like – as long as it is decently ranked (say, top 30 in ft), you can’t go wrong and you will find more similarities than differences. Faculty will be great, salaries more or less comparable (see ft salary data 2016) and facilities as good as they need to be.

    In my opinion, they aren’t all that different and the bashing seems to be based on personal opinion.

  • Yaman Wadhwani

    I thought that other Indian applicants might have higher score but their average is 690 so I made an assumption that my applicant pool would be around 710-720 range. Also, the international work experience and extracurricular from a leading Indian university should compensate for a +/- 10/20 GMAT score? I have average percentage(GPA-in top 35% of the class) which I think is OK but may be not?

    When I met an admissions coordinator in London, she was keen that I make an early application, which I now find misleading as I feel they were less than honest.


  • HBS’15

    Perhaps. Or one other possible explanation could be that other Indian applicants had stronger scores than you (730+ on GMAT). What was your GPA?

  • Paul

    Good and well informed advice. Good idea is to seriously consider IESE, fewer indians and highly regarded business school with internship and superb connections with businesses. Their employment report is very impressive.

  • Yaman Wadhwani

    That’s very helpful! Thank you … Thank you.. Thank you.


  • MBA-Recruiter

    Ok, if it s europe and canada, here is the schools worth applying for and good for your profile:

    INSEAD and LBS are the best, as an indian, yes, it is difficult, but you can use some tricks, for example, apply for September intake in INSEAD, it is relatively less competitive because large number of indian applying for insead apply for Jan intake because of the internship and because most of them are Harvard, Stanford, Wharton round one rejects (I know this would spark backfire 🙂 ) but it has some truth in it. Try to apply for the first round for LBS and INSEAD September intake. Beside those schools, and slightly behind them, IMD, IE, IESE, and HEC Paris, you will have no big problem in getting into any of them. IMD experienced some decline in application volume in the last couple of years, so, it is easier than before to get in there. IE, HEC, and IESE are all good schools and offer excellent international exchange programs and offer pretty much what all the top tier MBAs offer. and recruiters regard them quite high. Behind this group, you got Oxbridge, followed by ESMT, Erasmus and SDA Bocconi. Nice schools but why on earth would you go there if you are able to get into much better schools? ESMT in particular is new and enjoy good support from the german corporation world. I would put it just behind the IE, IESE, HEC, and IMD. There is another excellent school, although expensive, it is the best in the german business world, St Gallen.
    In term of cost, you can get some money from here and there, try to negotiate schools that accept you that you have got scholarship from their rivals..just some thoughts.. and consider Prodigy Finance loan, it is good option without co singer.
    Yes, Queens MBA in Canada is very good program especially in finance and banking, it is the best in canada in this field. and some times they give some money.
    One thing very important to consider: a top MBA is once in a life time and the cost may seem high today but it is good for the long term. Also, if you are targeting the MBB or big banks, it is important to have high gmat, in fact, with 720 and HEC MBA, you would have better chance getting into MBB than 650 with INSEAD or LBS MBA.
    Good luck..

  • Yaman Wadhwani


    Thank you very much for your message. You seem to have a lot of information.

    Personally, I would love to go to the US but because of personal reasons I don’t intend to lodge any applications for the US schools.

    I have shortlisted schools based on my profile and where I believe I have a reasonable chance.

    In Canada, I do intend to apply for Ivey. You recommend Queen’s as well?

    I would love to apply to IMD as well but I doubt I would be able to afford the school without any scholarship even if I get an offer. Also the class size in IMD is small, making the school highly competitive for Indian applicants and their application fee is high.

    Which other schools would you recommend in Europe? Would you recommend Mannheim, ESMT, Copenhagen?

    Many thanks,


  • MBA-Recruiter

    Don’t be fooled by the mother university name and prestige. Judge school isn’t that regarded by the mainstream MBA recruiters such as MBB or Rotational leadership programs, although you would find number of Cambridge MBA grads join Mckinsey or Amazon pathways..it is largely because of their pre-mba credits. When it comes to MBA and business education, in europe, it is INSEAD, LBS, IE, IMD, and IESE. Those schools are the core feeder for top MBA recruiters. In Canada, Rotman, Ivey, and Queens are the best. Sauder is good but it is in decline in recent years, don’t know why? Here is my advise, as an Indian, it is very tough to get in the M7 schools in US, for obvious reason, the overwhelmingly large number of indians apply there, but there is a set of really top and very prestigious schools in US that are looking for international students and can offer very good scholarship, sometimes full ride. for example, Tuck, Darden, UCLA, and maybe Michigan. I know personally one indian with 750 GMAT got full ride from UCLA, and other with 710 got half from Darden. Those schools although they are not seen as Oxford or Cambridge in the eye of laymen, but they are miles ahead when it comes to business education and MBA. Darden for example is extremely prestigious in american corporations eyes. Tuck is an ivy and very well known. If I were you I would also consider lower ranked schools, yet prestigious, with high potential of scholarship such as UNC, Tepper, Emory, and Vanderbilt (Vandy in particular is hidden treasure, it is rich school, southern, loyal alumni, and low percent of international students)
    last point: do look at the latest employment reports of Oxford and cambridge MBAs, they are literally desperate and disappointing. Especially Oxford, this year report is so gloomy. look at it. Top recruiters come to Oxbridge mainly for undergrads and other postgraduate degrees such MPHil, MRes, and PhDs and DPhil, these are the most prestigious degrees there, MBA is not, in the far future, maybe, but absolutely not in the near future. (both Oxford Said and Cambridge Judge are not accredited by the AACSB)

  • Yaman Wadhwani

    Thank you very much for your feedback. I doubt if they thought Cambridge wasn’t my choice.

    I love the university and have been there once when I visited Cambridge. I think something is missing in my application which Cambridge wanted to see.


  • Yaman Wadhwani

    Thank you very much for your feedback. I suspect something is missing in my application which Cambridge wanted to have a look at.

    It is a shame because I liked the school.

    I am applying at LBS, Oxford, Rotman & Sauder.


  • AP

    When I got dinged, I figured it was in large part due to the GMAT. I had a pretty good track record and had 4 promotions at work. However, my GMAT score was 690 and I got dinged from my top schools – Kellogg, Columbia, Tuck and was wait listed at Duke. Last year, I applied with a 760 (Got there after three attempts!) and got into four M7 schools. The key takeaway is this – the key stats (not your story) have to align with where you come from. I will not be politically correct on this one – if you are an Indian applicant, you better have a GMAT score above 730 or you’re essentially already dinged. A large part about understanding why you were dinged involved analysis of your track record, your accomplishments, the narrative you’ve presented, etc. However, please understand that schools have become very very stats oriented; almost like law schools. So what have I done differently this time? Nothing apart from getting a better GMAT score.

    The only reason I posted this is because I have seen many folks draw almost philosophical conclusions as to why they were dinged. You need to ask yourself two basic questions – one, is having a person with your stats beneficial to the school and two, can you get a job after two years. Everything else pales in comparison to your stats and how you elevate the schools standing in this regard.

    The GMAT arms race is real folks. Buckle up.

  • E

    Applying round 2 HBS –
    Oil and gas engineer- responsible lots of capital .
    770 gmat. 3.7 gpa in engineering from state school.
    excellent work experience though not international.
    At a crossroads on extracurricular- most are academic or work based- will I look too much like a nerd? I am not, but it doesn’t show on paper- even my awards include company recognition for taking work step further by coding. Hesitant to list something like multiple marathons/athletic events/ club soccer captain as they may laugh. In addition, in college I worked so no frat or solid fluff like most people- can I leave off resume ( 1 activity making it to top 3)? Being out of school almost 6 years it is not natural to list college activities on my resume anymore, but I keep seeing college activities being a priority. Any info on top 3 for extracurricular and/ or resume is helpful!

  • MBA-Recruiting

    You are a good candidate for much better schools than Cambridge. You should target schools such as INSEAD, LBS, IE, IMD. all are much better than Cambridge.

  • HBS’15

    Your stats are too good for Cambridge so maybe they dinged you because they assumed that Cambridge was your safety school and accepted someone who showed more interest in their applications? What other schools are you applying to?

  • Yaman Wadhwani

    I have been rejected by Cambridge and can’t figure what went wrong.

    GMAT: 720 (v50, Q37, IR: 6)
    Nationality: Indian
    Work Experience:

    First two and half years as a Business Development Manager for a software firm in Seoul, South Korea. In my second job for two and half years, I have been working as an Account Manager for an engineering software company in London, UK. I though statistics are in my favour.

    I have also worked hard on my application but have no clue what went wrong.

    My future goal is to become a Product Marketing Manager for a technology firm.