8,653. 7,414. 5,288. 3,631.
Random numbers? Not really. Those figures reflect the number of MBA applicants that were rejected last year by Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and MIT Sloan, respectively.
In fact, 22 out of the Top 25 highest ranked U.S. MBA programs each turned down for admission more than 1,000 candidates last year, 14 of them dinged more than 2,000 applicants each. Those Top 25 MBA programs sent out 67,628 ding letters in 2015.
More astounding than the number of rejected candidates is the remarkable quality of those applicants. Many have GMATs above 700, putting them in the top 11% of all test takers. Many have GPAs of 3.5 plus, often from some of the world’s best universities. And many boast already lucrative jobs, leadership experience in nonprofits and clubs, and track records of success.
APPLICANTS OFTEN FAIL DUE TO SUBTLE & RANDOM REASONS
Why the turndown? The easy answer is that applicant pools at top business schools are so rich and deep that candidates are often rejected for subtle and random reasons. Sometimes the reason for a rejection is obvious, especially to an admissions expert. Sometimes it’s virtually impossible to say with any confidence why one person got in and another was turned away.
Still, every year we invite the candidates who have been disappointed to provide their raw stats and profiles, and every year we ask Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, a leading MBA admissions counselor, to take a stab at evaluating the weaknesses of those candidacies. More than once or twice, the applicants have such near-perfect backgrounds that Sandy admits to being stumped by the decisions of an admissions committee.
Before you allow an MBA rejection to harm your self-esteem, you need to understand that many truly amazing candidates to highly selective MBA programs are almost always turned down. Admission officials generally believe that as much as 80% of their applicant pools are fully qualified to attend their schools and do well, yet they can accept only a small fraction of the pool.
IVY LEAGUERS, GOOGLE, M/B/B, FORTUNE 500 & 780 GMATS–ALL REJECTED
Consider the 28-year-old American male who scored a 730 GMAT on his first try and has an Ivy League degree plus Google on his resume, along with a VC-funded startup. He was turned down by Harvard, Stanford, UC-Berkeley and MIT Sloan. Or how about the recently promoted senior associate consultant who boasts a 770 GMAT and a 3.65 undergraduate GPA in electrical engineering. The 25-year-old was rejected without interviews by both Harvard and Stanford.
Worse, there’s the applicant with five years in management consulting in the pharma industry for Fortune 500 companies who took the GRE and has the equivalent of a 780 GMAT score. The 29-year-old Indian male was rejected from seven different schools, including Virginia, Dartmouth, MIT Sloan, Duke, UCLA, and Northwestern Kellogg.
And then there’s the guy who just keeps trying. He has applied to Harvard Business School for the past three years. Twice rejected without an interview, he finally got one, only to be put on the waitlist for a month before getting his third ding in a row. He’s now 31-year-old, with a master’s degree from H/Y/P (Harvard/Yale/Princeton) in public health and a year and one half at one of the top three global consulting firms M/B/B (McKinsey, Bain, BCG).
Should he try one more time? It’s not as farfetched as you might think. One in ten students in last year’s incoming class had been rejected by Harvard when they first applied. The school has revealed that 94 of the 937 first year students in the Class of 2017 had been turned down for admission.
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