Share Your Ding Or Admit, Get Answers

Applicants who want to get into an elite MBA program face daunting odds

There was good and bad news today (Feb. 1) for thousands of applicants to the Harvard Business School. For round two, its largest MBA application round, the school sent out its second batch of interview invites along with all of its dings for the round. For HBS, which boasts an 89% rejection rate, the turn downs greatly outnumbered the invites to interview and get to the next admissions phase.

All this means a good number of highly qualified applicants were, in the parlance of the HBS admissions office, “released.” If there’s any solace in getting dinged from any one of these elite MBA programs, it’s this: In all probability, you are among the most highly qualified candidates in this year’s applicant pool, and you have plenty of company. After all, even if you don’t get a ‘yes’ from your number one choice, your chance of admission to a rival prestige school could be pretty good.

Regardless of your ultimate HBS fate, let us know how the story turned out for you. Your stories are extremely helpful to other applicants, including those who have not applied to HBS. So pay it forward, whether you’ve had good or bad news today.


If you’ve been accepted, it would help others determine trends or patterns in this year’s admission decisions. And besides, if you’re like most dinged candidates, you are probably perplexed by the turn down. Often times, prospective students who have great stats and careers are turned down for subtle and not easily understood reasons. In the first round, for example, several dinged candidates boasted GMAT scores as high as 780 or GPAs as high as 4.0 from the very best Ivy League schools. They worked for Fortune 100 companies and major global consulting firms, investment banks, and startups. We’re talking Goldman Sachs, Google, Procter & Gamble, and McKinsey, Bain or BCG. And they didn’t even get an interview.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

So, as we have in the past, we’ve asked Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, a leading MBA admissions consultant and an astute reader of all tea leaves, Harvard in particular, to take a look at the profiles of both admitted and “released” applicants and explain why they did or did not make the first cut.

If you would like Sandy to explain your decision, just post below in the comment section your profile, your GPA, GMAT, company information, and any other facts you think made your application different. The more detail you provide, including what you wrote in your essay, the easier it will be for Sandy to provide helpful feedback. And if you were admitted, you might even share why you think you made it.

Here’s a simple way to report your story:

Outcome/Industry/Gender/Race/Age/ GPA/GMAT or GRE/College/Interview Report (with whom, where & how did it go)
Outcome: Admitted to Kellogg, Dinged at HBS
Industry: Consulting, IB, PE, Tech, Consumer Products, Manufacturing, NonProfit, Family, other

College: Ivy, Near Ivy, Big 10, Top-tier State, Oxbridge, IIT, Classy small, other
Interview: On campus w with Sarah Lucas, ‘went OK but not great.’

And if you’re still a bit shaken by some bad news, just take a look at who HBS turned down, WITHOUT an interview in the first round.


  • Kellian

    Hey Sandy,
    Wondering where I went wrong! Could have been my focus on entrepreneurship or seemingly bad title at my current job? Or maybe my application just didn’t stand out enough?

    Dinged, no interview (Harvard, Wharton)
    Dinged w/ interview (Columbia, thought it went well)
    Accepted (UCLA $$)

    Background: 27 year old while female
    Education: 3.6 GPA from mid-tier college
    GMAT: 750 (44V/49Q)

    Work: 4 years at a top financial firm as an investment risk analyst (fastest growing group at the firm), help build and maintain multi-manager and factor portfolios
    EC: – On the board of a non-profit organization (founded youth engagement group, on finance committee, fundraising committee and gala committee)
    – founded a voiceover/vocals company (I voice children/characters for video games, movies etc.) and up for potential Broadway performance in March, have been doing so for 7 years
    – president of Toastmasters (public speaking group at my firm). Have doubled membership as president and gotten partners and thought leaders at the firm involved

    Recs: Strong, from my direct manager and head of the team

    Goals: Start a tech/media company post MBA


  • hbsguru

    dunno, this was possible, my guess, that’s a good outlier story (Canada, retail, etc). Might have been execution or they filled their small bucket of guys like you R1, or bad luck.
    Reapply Round 1 and really execute on your story and make sure those Canadian rec writers lose their typical moderation.

  • CT

    Hi Sandy,

    Thanks for your analysis. I actually am with Walmart. 🙁 The rotational program is pretty selective in Canada. (8 spots, ~1000 applicants). I was a buyer for a year and now work on a strategic project (analytics/big data stuff….blah blah).

    Do you think I just sold myself wrong? I tried to play up P&L management, negotiations and leadership for buying role as opposed to fluffy buying stuff.

    If I stay the course on my strategic project, do you think it’s worth reapplying?

  • hbsguru

    grrrrr. low GPA and retailer not on HBS’ friends and family list (a short one) could have done this, retail not a favored feeder industry, my guess is, number of ‘buyers’ admitted to HBS each year could be 0-2, w. weight towards 0.
    So this was a narrow window to begin with. Size and rep of company (in their mind) plays huge role here And even then . . . .My guess is, kind of retailer HBS likes is WalMart, Target etc. huge places w. big footprint.

  • CT

    Hi Sandy,

    Background: 24 y/o Canadian female
    Education: 3.2 from top Canadian Bcomm program (think Queen’s/Ivey)
    GMAT: 740 (49Q/44V)
    Work: 3 years (at matriculation) @ major retailer. Rotational leadership program for 1 year, promoted to buying position, promoted second time to manager on strategic project.
    ECs: very strong I think. Good EC’s in undergrad. Started a networking organization for women that has gained press attention and won an award for it.
    Recs: good I guess? Good recs from current boss and awesome recs from former boss who is also a good friend – so very, very nicely written and complimentary.
    Goals: retail consulting (love retail industry, want to get more broad exposure)

    R2: dinged no interview from HBS.

  • hbsguru

    YEAH, but how many traders do you know who applied to HSW and got in, esp. H+S, I don’t care what happens to admits after they get MBA, I care about how they presented themselves. “Ton of PE . . .managers.” Sure, but that is not ‘trading’ and esp. not bond trading, of the Bonfire of the Vanities type. which I believe is not a favored feeding job to H+S.
    I’m eager to learn more and tweak my model, just tell me if you know any other bond traders like you who applied to B schools and what happened.

  • hbsguru

    Stan. alum interviews mostly weed out un-PC oddballs, so don’t appear to be one. After you pass the “VD check” at that station, it is adcom director figuring out

    compo of class and how badly he wants a big number like you vs. someone who is more “interesting” but stupid.

  • Phillip

    No it’s not a prank, honestly from reading this blog and gmatclub I was worried about getting into a good program but almost all my friends who applied with similar scores and GPA as me and lesser work experience have gotten into top 10 programs as well. Either the GPA/GMAT averages that schools are throwing out is BS or Asian/Indians are so over represented on forums/blogs like this that they’ve created an auora of having to be a rockstar to get into a great school. I am no rockstar, I’m just above average.

    Also, out of curiosity, where did the notion of mba programs being anti traders come from? Everyone in admissions that I talked to at the Ivy’s was super positive. Is there one school that is more positive trading versus another? I couldn’t find any such statistics when I was researching schools.

    Nope, almost everyone at my my current shop, +/-20 employees, doesn’t have an MBA, mostly undergrad business degrees, but I know a ton of PE and quant fund managers who are involved with trading that have MBAs, it’s basically become a prerequisite to being partner/c-level.

    I’m not a UMR, I’m white and from Philly.

  • Ski_Avo

    Figured GMAT was it. Anything I can do now in my interview or am I just their way to shore up that average if it’s looking low?

    No to H, yes to MIT interviews. Ha @ the “mid-market curse”, pretty true. But, I’m happy with W (and $!). Felt that was my likely ceiling.

  • hbsguru

    Stanford loves HUGE GMAT scores.
    did you get interview invites fr. H or MIT?
    how did inter go?
    If not, curse of the mid-market PE strikes again.