The Sting of the Ding

Champion cyclist Lance Armstrong put it succinctly: “A boo is a lot louder than a cheer.” And when it comes to the swarm of applicants hoping to get an invite to a top business school, those boos vastly outnumber the cheers.

Each year, Harvard Business School turns down more than 8,000 of its applicants for admission. Wharton and Columbia Business School each ding well over 5,000 MBA candidates. And Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the school whose acceptance rate is a super low 7%, sends out rejection notices to more than 6,000 people.

Put another way, Harvard rejects more applicants in a single year than the entire applicant pool of any other U.S. or European business school. Last year, for instance, Harvard turned down 1,420 more candidates than Stanford’s pool of 6,618 applicants. It’s especially difficult for applicants who are at a loss to understand why they were rejected.

But a yes or a no can hinge on incredibly small nuances in an application. Wharton has said that 80% of its pool of some 6,450 applicants is fully qualified to attend its full-time MBA program. But the school only accepts 19% of its candidates to fill just 845 seats in an entering class.

A new PoetsandQuants analysis finds that 20 of the top 25 full-time MBA programs in the U.S. turn away more than 1,000 applicants each year (see table on next page). But rejection goes two ways. Admission officials aren’t the only ones who ding people in the MBA application game. Highly qualified candidates who receive multiple offers from MBA programs also turn down schools that have invited them to attend.

Last year, for example, more than 400 candidates accepted into Kellogg, Duke, Michigan and UCLA’s MBA programs spurned their offers to go elsewhere. At Harvard Business School, an estimated 121 applicants accepted into the MBA program were no shows.

In any case, rejection stings–and there are a lot of them at the best schools. As one Kellogg applicant recently explained in a GMAT Club forum, “It’s just like being in a line watching dying friends and living friends one by one.” The candidate was describing the torturous process of watching the forum boards as one poster after another remarked on the outcome of their applications in round one.

It’s not all that different from some of the admission directors who dislike saying no to the vast majority of their applicants. Says Ankur Kumar, Wharton’s admissions director, “There are so many amazingly talented applicants that you unfortunately can’t take. You get to know these people from their applications. You spend weeks and months reading about them. Often times, You get to meet them. It becomes incredibly personal. You wish you had a spot for them in the class.”

A small percentage of the people who apply every year are also reapplying. Typically, between 4% to 10% of applicants are those who try again after failing to get into their favorite program a year earlier. Last year, 4% of the applicants at Yale School of Management had reapplied and 14% of them got a yes–compared to the overall acceptance rate of 19%. At Columbia Business School, one out of every ten candidates was an applicant who had applied earlier and was rejected. Columbia accepted 20% of its re-applicants, compared to an acceptance rate of 16% overall.

(See next page for a list of 25 business schools that ding more than 1,000 applicants a year)

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.