Nobody ever said it is easy to get into Harvard Business School. But many of the candidates who were dinged last week when HBS “released” as many as 2,800 applicants never thought they wouldn’t even get an interview.
Among the disappointed were McKinsey & Co. consultants with 790 GMATs, a 25-year-old Asian American female with a 770 GMAT who worked for a high-flying Silicon Valley firm (think Google, Facebook, or Apple) and now is at a startup, and a 26-year-old male who happens to be a University of Oxford grad and works for Credit Suisse. The Oxford undergrad came in second in the world Bridge championship as part of the England team. There are plenty of Ivy Leaguers in the group as well as graduates of Stanford, MIT, and UC-Berkeley.
There’s the 28-year-old male who has an electrical engineering degree from MIT with a 3.92 grade point average and a 780 GMAT. In his six years at Bechtel Corp., he has handled five project teams in the utilities sector and has won a promotion from an assistant manager to a senior project manager. He reports to a vice president who is an HBS alum who was one of his recommenders. His extras include leading IEEE workshops, webinars and seminars. He has published papers to his credit.
Dinged, without an interview.
‘I’M ADMITTEDLY A BIT BUMMED!’
Or how about the 27-year-old male professional from India with a 3.6 GPA from a Top 10 engineering college in his home country, a master’s in engineering fro MIT with a 3.7 GPA, and a 750 GMAT. He has four years of work experience at Amazon in two roles, supply chain and general management, with two promotions, direct reports and is a peer to MBA graduates. His GMAT? 750.
Dinged, without an interview. Thank goodness he at least has an interview invite from Chicago Booth.
Or what about the 27-year-old white female with a 770 GMAT, a 4.0 GPA from Harvard, Yale or Princeton, who has spent five years as an auction house specialist? By her estimation, her application was “frankly bomb.” She’s a former ballerina, a bodybuilder, and a fitness instructor with a major boutique studio. She’s also on the board of trustees for a New York City charter school.
Dinged, no interview. “I’m admittedly a bit bummed,” she says. Even Sandy seems a bit bummed over this one. “Grrr,” he writes. “I like you and if given this profile over again, I would say again your chances are good. Obviously, they never got over your non-traditional career and work. So it’s not clear if you were DOA (dead on arrival) with that profile or if you failed to connect the dots in your application, recs, and essay.”
THE COMMON REASONS FOR REJECTION
How to explain these and many other exceptional candidates who failed to even get an interview? Truth is, the rule of thumb is that as many as 70% of the applicant pool is fully qualified to attend Harvard Business School and do well. But the school routinely rejected 89 out of every 100 applicants for an acceptance rate of only 11%.
That leaves a low of very capable people on the outside of their dream to get an MBA from Harvard. In general, candidate are rejected because they don’t have the raw scores: the 730 median GMAT or the 3.67 median GPA. But in the case of the nearly 40 dinged round one applicants who shared their info with us (see table below), that was rarely the case. The median GMAT for the group was an astounding 750 which puts people in the 98th percentile of the test, meaning that only 2% of the test takers scored higher.
Often times, it’s a question of pedigree: your undergraduate institution or your company isn’t considered gold. Maybe it’s silver, brass, or completely tarnished. Or you could be competing in a hotly competitive cohort of consultants or investment bankers where the talent is off the charts on every dimension. Or you could have put together a less than compelling application and got tossed aside.
TELLING IT LIKE IT IS
There also are often more subtle reasons for a turndown. If you’re scratching your head over these dings, you’re not alone. Once again, we asked Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com and a prominent MBA admissions consultant, to analyze why these exceptional candidates were left hanging by Harvard Business School last week. He takes a look at a wide variety of applicants who shared their basic profiles with us after getting released by HBS in the first round.
To be honest, some of these dings have Kreisberg stumped as well. In any case, his commentary on these rejections is in his typical tell-it-like-it-is, no-nonsense style. If you’d like Kreisberg to give you a quick assessment, just go to Dinged? Let Sandy Tell You Why Now and leave your profile and details. And for those applicants who won interviews, just know that between 40% and 50% of you will ultimately be turned down for admission by HBS.