Rejected By Harvard B-School? Don’t Feel Bad. You’re In Great Company

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

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

If all goes according to plan, Harvard Business School will ultimately turn lifelong dreams into nightmares for more than 8,500 young professionals this year. That’s roughly 89% of the more than 9,600 applicants to its MBA program in the 2015-2016 academic year. No other business school in the world, not even Stanford’s Graduate School of Business where more than 7,300 applicants are turned down, disappoints more would-be MBAs.

For many of those crushed candidates, getting a ding from Harvard is the only letdown they have ever experienced in their young lives. They sailed through high school, gained entry to a selective undergraduate school, earned high grades, landed a couple of great jobs with world class organizations, and scored in the 90% percentile or above on the GMAT.

The vast majority of candidates who will wash out this year were “released,” to use the euphemism employed by Harvard, this month as second round invite decisions were dispatched via email. And they are an incredible bunch. Many scored in the 96th percentile or above on the GMAT. At least one rejected applicant, in fact, told us he had a 760 GMAT (in the 99th percentile), boasted a 3.8 grade point average at Harvard, Yale or Princeton, and was a Rhodes Scholar. What’s more, he worked as a consultant for the World Bank for three years and also did a two-year stint at the prestigious Carlyle Group. Yet, he couldn’t even get an admissions interview.


If that dinged profile doesn’t provide at least some solace to this year’s disappointed, there’s also the 25-year-old Asian-American engineer, with both undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from a Top 10 U.S. university, who has racked up three and one-half years of work experience for a large aerospace/defense contractor (Lockheed/Boeing/Northrop) as a design engineer. More recently, he has been the team lead on a multi-million development efforts, managing some 10 engineers. Despite his 780 GMAT and a 3.9 GPA on his master’s in engineering, he was rejected without an interview.

Or consider the 29-year-old white female who got a 740 on the GMAT, was given a full-ride merit scholarship to a top three public university where she graduated summa cum laude with a 3.98 GPA. She racked up five years of experience at an e-commerce startup, moving up to vice president of marketing, having built two business function teams from scratch and managing teams of eight people in both cases. She was turned down with an interview.

For many of these candidates, of course, there is a silver lining. The Rhodes Scholar, for example, was accepted by three other M7 business schools. Most of these truly exceptional applicants will end up going to world class MBA programs at other highly respected and admired business schools. Still, it’s a rude shock to post nosebleed stats and get tossed out of Harvard’s applicant pool without even a sit-down with an admissions officer.


Sandy Kreisberg, founder of

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of

If you’re scratching your head over these dings, you’re not alone. Once again, we asked Sandy Kreisberg, founder of and a prominent MBA admissions consultant, to analyze why these exceptional candidates were left hanging by Harvard Business School this month. Rejection, he says, often comes down to the failure of an applicant getting out of the pile. “Admission decisions often turn on macro factors, or one big thing,” believes Kreisberg. “You have a  whole bunch of smart kids, all with hyped-up applications but none have anything really driving them in beyond that! While many rejected folks are examining their stats with a tweezer and magnifying glass [“I got a 728.93 GMAT and my GPA is as long as Pi, but in my junior year, I was late for lunch once, well maybe twice”] the reality of adcom thinking is much more big picture.”

Not only does he opine on the three special cases above, he also takes a look at a wide variety of applicants who shared their basic profiles with us after getting released by HBS. By the way, the median GMAT of the candidates was a breathtaking 750, 20 full points above the 730 median for the school. That may not be surprising to those who know that the average GMAT for HBS applicants is above 700, anyway.

And of course the large group of released candidates in the round two will have plenty more company soon enough. Harvard completes its round two interviews on March 4th, after which a whole new set of round two applicants will get an unfortunate ding on March 30th.

Profiles Of Round Two Dings At Harvard Business School


GMAT GPA College Major Employer Gender Age Applicant
780 3.4 Top 10 U.S. Engineering Aerospace/Defense M 25 Asian American
780 3.2 Rutgers Univ. Biomedical engineering Medical devices M 29 Indian
780 3.8 Northwestern NA M/B/B M NA American
770 3.8 MIT NA Consulting M 25 Three jobs
760 3.8 H/Y/P Economics World Bank M NA Rhodes Scholar
750 3.6 Toronto Commerce Major Telecom M 25 Canadian
750 7,8/10 Top 3 Brazil Business Software sales M NA Brazilian
750 3.2 Ivy League NA PE real estate M 27 Asian American
750 3.7 Top Canadian Commerce M/B/B M 26 Canadian
750 NA Regional College in India Chemistry Digital Marketing M 27 Indian male
740 3.98 Top 3 U.S. Religious studies E-commerce marketing F 29 Summa cum laude grad
740 3.59 Public Ivy Computer Engineering Top 4 consulting M 27 White foreign service brat
740 3.0 IIT Material Science Test prep firm M NA Indian
730 8/10 Top-Tier Indian Engineering U.S. High Tech Firm M 25 Indian male
720 3.5 Top 5 U.S. Business Elite consulting firm M NA Columbian American
710 8/10 Mid-Tier British Computer science Digital marketing M NA British
650 3.14 Park University Finance General Dynamics M 30 Muslim priest
168Q/163V 8.52/10 IIT Engineering Indian software M NA UX Designer

Source: Round two ding reports on Poets&Quants

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