The Sting Of The Ding: What It’s Like To Get Rejected By Five Schools

Instead, he made a bigger mistake. The previous year, while anxiously awaiting an answer from Tuck, he’d remained diligent: he’d followed up his interview by getting in touch with the interviewers, and emailing them once a month – demonstrating his strong interest and qualities of perseverance, and keeping himself on their radar. He should’ve done the same this time after interviews with Kellogg and Tuck, but he was trying to prevent the waiting game from consuming him as it had the time before, he says.


“This year I didn’t follow up on those interviews,” he says. “I didn’t email the interviewers. That was really stupid and lazy of me. I just kept putting it off. Really dumb.”

Generally speaking, Grant (who asked that his last name not be revealed because he hasn’t told his employer he’s planning an MBA), is no dummy. Although he went to a middling California state university for college, he was a full-ride President’s Scholar, led his school’s team in the International Collegiate Business Strategy Competition, earned a 3.7 GPA and graduated Cum Laude with a BS in accounting.

Grant had dreamed for years of an MBA. “It was even before I went to college, to my undergrad,” he says. “That’s always been there.”

Before college, he hadn’t refined his B-school ambitions to a particular tier. But after graduation, he arrived at the conclusion that he wanted to get his MBA from a top-10 school, “but if that’s outside the realm of possibility, then top-20,” he says. “If you’re not in the top 20, I can’t even look at you because I’m not going to invest that kind of money without any kind of demonstrated value from the degree.”

Applying to Tuck, and only Tuck, two years ago was “kind of like my trial thing,” Grant says.


He had, however, put a lot of effort into the application. He spent almost 200 hours studying for the GMAT, and scored 710. To prepare for writing his application and the interview, he met with five Tuck students, and interviewed another eight by phone. He reckons he spent 50 hours studying Tuck’s programs, facilities, and professors, reading books, speaking with MBA program experts. He organized the fruits of all that research into a “crazy document on Tuck,” containing facts, school intricacies, details of programs that interested him, and information gathered from Poets&Quants, internet forums, articles, and interviews. He visited the school twice, and doesn’t include in the 50-hour total the time spent on those trips.”I really knew the school and what the story was all about,” Grant says.

Going back over Grant’s enthusiastic posts written during his application process is like reading a diary entry by Edward Smith, captain of the Titanic, rhapsodizing over the lovely weather and smooth sailing that came before the unfortunate incident with the iceberg.

After his interview with Tuck – when he had applied there and at the four other schools – he came to a conclusion while driving home from Hanover, N.H.: “I have fallen in love with Tuck again,” he writes. “I was scared this was going to happen again. The first time I applied, I KNEW that Tuck was the place for me… And here we are again.”

Then Kellogg usurped Tuck, after Grant visited the school in Evanston, Ill., and had his interview.


“Kellogg is amazing and totally synonymous with who I am and where I want to end up in my career,” Grant gushes, going on to use the word “amazing” three more times in his post about his visit and interview.

Add in the two “fantastics” he used, and you know that when that Kellogg ding came, it stung. But it turned out to be less painful than the one from Tuck. After all, he’d made the wait list when he’d applied there the year before, and a school official had later told him they hadn’t let in anyone from the list. For his second chance at Tuck, Grant felt he was an even better candidate.

And the school had turned into his last hope.

Harvard had been the first to turn him away, without an interview, but that didn’t concern Grant too much. “It’s Harvard Business School, the best business school in the world – denied, big deal.”

“When I didn’t get an interview at HBS, I was not surprised. When I didn’t get an interview at Wharton, I was a little scared.”


With every rejection, he’d beat himself up a little more over the mistakes he’d made during the process of preparing for the GMAT and applying to schools.

He’d been determined to far surpass his first GMAT score of 710, writing on his blog that “most likely will be taking it again for a ~750.” But when it came to studying for the test his second time around, he let the rest of his life get in the way.

“I got promoted, and then I got an additional leadership responsibility. Another opportunity came up at work for a special project to lead. I started blogging. I’m really heavily involved in non-profits,” he says. He would wake up at 4:30 a.m., start studying at 5, keep it up for an hour or two, go to work, then go to his non-profit assignment. Each night, he’d resume studying at 8, and put in another couple hours. If he wasn’t doing volunteer work on the weekend, he’d work through his Saturdays and Sundays.

“I was operating on four hours of sleep for six months.”

All told, he put in 150 GMAT-prep hours over eight weeks. “It wasn’t good quality studying time,” he says. “My mind was racing on a million different things and the GMAT was just one of them.” Not only was he “completely stressed out,” he hadn’t even come close to hitting his 200-hour goal, or even matching the 190 hours he’d put in when studying for the GMAT the first time.


While he’d spent 50 hours preparing for his first Tuck application and interview, he fell far short of that when applying to the five schools, not even hitting the same number for all the schools combined. “This is so embarrassing,” he says. “I think I spent maybe 60 hours. Maybe. That’s being pretty generous with myself. It might’ve been less, it might’ve been closer to 40. It was really bad,” he says, before muttering to himself: “Damn it.”

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