The Ultimate Ranking: School Rejection Rates

Now that most of this year’s pool of MBA candidates have completed their applications are are axiously awaiting a verdict, it may provide some comfort to know that business schools get rejected, too–by applicants. In fact, it may surprise you to know that more than half the applicants accepted to such prestige schools such as Duke, Yale, UCLA and many other programs turn down their offers of admission.

Of course, that’s because they were accepted by other schools they preferred or decided not to go to business school after all. On one level, the list of schools that end up with the fewest rejections by accepted applicants is the ultimate ranking of the best MBA programs. After all, it shows you where the “smart money” applicants most want to go.

While there are a few head-turning exceptions, the list shows all the obvious schools at the top: Only 11% of the applicants accepted by Harvard Business School are no shows, the lowest percentage of any top U.S. business school. Last year, some 120 people accepted into HBS actually turned Harvard down. In fact, Harvard is the only school whose acceptance rate–12%–is actually higher than the percentage of accepted candidates who reject Harvard.

Stanford was next, having been spurned by 13% of its accepted applicants. Wharton, MIT and Chicago Booth follow, all with rejection rates of 30% and up. (see table of the top 20 schools and how they fared on the next page).

What we’ve done for this exercise is to simply reverse the numbers. Instead of reporting yield, the percentage of accepted applicants who enroll at a school, we’re reporting the percentage of accepted applicants who decide to say no to a school invitation.

Of the top 20 U.S. business schools, Yale has the largest percentage of students who turn down an offer of admission–58%, or some 311 applicants out of 536 applicants who were accepted last year. Duke, meantime, has the largest actual number of accepted applicants who walk away from the school: roughly 467 of the estimated 898 applicants accepted last year passed on the school.

It’s worth noting that few of the European schools provide this data. INSEAD and London Business School, generally regarded as the best MBA programs in Europe, for example, decline to report the number of applications they receive, the percentage of applicants accepted, and the yield for their schools. Obviously, one likely reason for this is that those numbers do not compare favorably to the best U.S. schools.

The table on the following page shows the percentage of accepted applicants and the estimated number of them who declined to take up a school’s invitation to enroll as an MBA student in the latest entering class. The table also shows the estimated number of applicants accepted as well as the total number of applications received by each top 20 business school.