The 2016 Ding Report: Why Great Applicants Are Often Rejected

Geeky Guy

Mr. College Senior


  • 740 GMAT
  • 3.6 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in engineering from a top public (UVA/Berkeley/Michigan)
  • College senior who interned at a major consulting firm M/B/B who will return full-time
  • Extracurricular invovement shows solid leadership experience
  • “Recently interviewed with HBS 2+2 in Round 2, but was ultimately denied. Their feedback was mostly positive, the only mention was a) I seemed a little nervous and b) the pool I was coming from was pretty competitive for 2+2”


Harvard 2+2-Denied after interview

Stanford GSB Deferred-Denied without interview

Sandy’s Analysis: “Seemed a bit nervous” is code for screwing the interview, something that is easy to do at HBS, and a couple of hiccups can make a lifetime of accomplishments go out the window. They have this Platonic Ideal: Would this kid be able to feel comfy in a case method environment.

Two types of people fail the test:

Actual nervous people like you, who probably would do just fine after five minutes. But hey, they gotta ding x number of people, so nervousness is as good a reason as any other;

2. Quite well-spoken people who appear “scripted,” another one of their favorite words, which can mean, 1. scripted (for real, e.g. a bit robotic and cliched), 2. annoying as judged by their inner tastes and culture, but they don’t want to (or cannot because they are not articlulate enough, but they know what they don’t like!) say why.

The rest of your story was in the pack, with engineering background a small plus, but nothing super duper to get you into Stanford. This is a classic case of solid (so HBS is OK) but no X factor (so Stanford would be real hard).

What kind of X factors is Stanford looking for?

Leadership roles in helping lepers, other disadvantaged groups, etc. Impact beyond yourself, winning Nobel Junior Prize, being FOD (Friend of Derrick, or working for any company or organization on Stanford’s super secret insider list, viz. Apple). Change genders (well, depends a bit on birth gender, but mostly a positive.)

As I am sure they told you, and is true, lots of 2+2 dings get admitted three to five years later as regular applicants and you seem Teed up for that.

As for advice on the best route for the next three to five years to get admitted down the road? Stay healthy, do not get arrested, stay employed, cultivate recs, get promoted, work for McKinsey for two years and then get your next job at a feeder PE firm or Apple. Do not leave any blue chip job to become an entrepreneur of any kind. That is actual risk taking and shows leadership, innovation, impact and guts—all of which adcoms do not value, and in fact, are suspicious of and will punish you for.

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