You Won’t Believe Who Harvard Just Rejected

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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-tradional 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

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

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 turn down. 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 has 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.

  • sisiW

    Doesn’t sound like you’ve met many HBS grads. Sounds more like someone who is bitter for whatever reason.

  • SuperMansCat

    Met many HBS grads. Skills sets I observe: a)telling you what they think you want to hear. b)interviewing well. c)testing well. d)probably practicing handshakes in a full length mirror. Areas they fall down in a)actually doing anything. b)obtaining basic, non-autistic, social skills…though what’s the surprise…a 750GMAT =you are a freak by definition.

  • hbsguru

    agree, for the most part about where you work being a KEY issue at H and S.
    Victim story can be a WOW factor and help. As can working for Gates Foundation, etc. I think if you had a powerful overcoming adversity/victim story at Stanford and worked in OK but not typical feeder firm, you’d stand a chance, depending on execution etc.
    sk

  • Intern

    I’m an associate in IB (FIG team), personally I’m doing an MBA to get future access to C-suite level jobs in Fortune 500 companies.

    From my experience, following IB track will get you to PE or MD level in IB. At MD level people transition to Corporates but often in Corp Dev, Capital Mgt or CFO roles in your coverage industry. If you are happy with those tracks or are willing to run the risk of restricting yourself or the risk of burning out of IB before being senior enough to jump ship. Go for it and skip on the MBA.

    Personally I like the idea of having options and getting out of IB, a business model/structure that is restrictive and overflowing with inefficiencies.

  • Intern

    Sandy applied to HBS as what you call a ‘victim who overcame’ with solid stats (+700 GMAT, strong academics, LDS, IB background, strong recs, input from alumni etc) – I think after you’ve ticked all the usual boxes, boils down to where you work. Personally I think I was missing work prestige.

    I think unless you come from MBB, PE Megafund, Unicorn Start-up or Fortune 50 – forget it. As highlighted by someone earlier, I think that your ‘victim extraordinaire’ makes up 95% of other students are your typical cookie cutter candidates from the usual ‘feeder’ companies. Better advice Sandy is to tell people 2-3 years in advance to go work for those ‘feeder companies’!

    I’m not too sad, I’ll be going to one of W/C/B 🙂

  • hbsguru

    have you thought of changing genders and leading support group for others who are similar?
    Mostly WOW factor is leader in org that helps victims or better yet, you are victim of some kind yourself.
    UG engineering, real leadership role in Engineers Without Borders, helping immigrant engineers adapt to working in USA, etc. etc.
    Being URM + engineer is good, being woman engineer is good, coming fr. odd place, e.g. Gaza Strip is good,
    being black woman engineer transexual fr. Gaza Strip is WOW w. a capital W. but not everyone can do that.

  • hernandayoleary2

    I can’t speak for consultants, but having worked in Ibanking, where I was it wasn’t like that. Is this a regional thing?

  • James Lee

    For consultants and IBankers, it’s a requirement of the job. Plus consulting companies will pay for it so all you miss out on is 1-2 years of salary (but in exchange you get to have a bit of fun!).

  • Kundyz Berikbolatova

    The truth is HBS or similar schools are wanting people whom they won’t ever have. Because such people are smart enough to not through their money in the air and are busy doing billions, while others are working “hard” on their GMAT results… You either have that success factor or you don’t; and HBS has nothing to do with it…

  • hernandayoleary2

    There may be a reporting bias.

  • hernandayoleary2

    Why would someone making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as a consultant, senior manager or ib associate want to go and spend hundreds of thousands getting a harvard mba, taking time off work, and going into a bunch of debt to get a job they could have gotten without the mba?

  • Greg

    Most wrote essays about work and other boring topics. The essay is supposed to reveal something about you. Most also have no entrepreneurial experience and many don’t need an MBA. HBS was right to reject these people. They would not add anything to the school and the school wouldn’t add to them.

  • Just put them here in the comment section and I will update the table above. Thanks Giovanni.

  • Duy N Pham

    Ehh&Why : There’s no such thing as free lunch, you purchase a very good product for “almost free” already and still complain ?
    People need to get paid to live, and so do you. Stop complaining or you can just find another valuable sources to read.
    Get a life , please.

  • Gioe

    Hi there,
    how can I submit my application data to be included in the P&Q stats?
    I don’t need advices/comments on the application level, just want to share data to contribute to the statistics.
    Thanks,
    Giovanni

  • CMT

    If they are top performers it means they worked for- and deserve success. Each one of these rejected individuals surely are not responsible for white male privilege and should not be punished for a crime they have not committed. Don’t fight fire with fire! Be constructive!

  • LatinaSpice

    using the GMAT rank: 12 out of the top 15 rejected male….10 were white american males.

    Seems fitting… about time privledge white males get theirs.

  • C. Taylor

    Good point. Doesn’t MIT officially round to the tenth place? If not for the listed hundredth place, I would have assumed that he converted it to a 4.0 scale. With it, I assume he may well have a 2.9 on a 4.0 scale.

  • quest

    I thought grades at MIT are out of 5 !

  • Bofin Babu

    Essentially, people who are qualified for a Harvard MBA are the one’s who don’t really need an MBA. It’s over-rated!

  • my2cents

    Here’s the thing – I know SPECTACULAR people (with blue-chip stats) that DID NOT get an HBS invite. I also know a bunch of people with objectively less spectacular stats that DID get an interview. I bet if you put together an article called “You Won’t Believe Who HBS Just Accepted!” – there would be a bunch that are obviously superstar, but I bet the majority of people are just normal people who did normal things very well that are probably indistinguishable from the profiles in this article.

    My point is that based on my experiences, SHOWING yourself in the application matters *A LOT*. Having a coherent narrative (that is true) is what differentiates two strong applicants. You must show that (i) there’s a reason you made the choices that you did (that is not because they were the prestigious or well-trodden paths) and (ii) you are a real live person with real interests outside of work (particularly in the MBB / PE crowd)

  • Ehh&Why

    I’m not going to bother addressing the article, my only point is the title. In “journalism” now a days you see a lot of posts like this one where the title tells you what to feel, like our title here. You see posts worded like this on the likes of Yahoo, Buzzfeed, and other less savory sites that are simply trying to attract “clicks”. To maintain the integrity of the site, I would say avoiding belittling titles such as this one that tell you how to feel would probably best be avoided, even if you agree with the way it made you feel personally feel.

  • hbsguru

    dunno, if you define qualified as having something like 50/50 percent splits in GMAT, an academic record that shows you can sit still and eat crap and spit it back, or proxy experience that proves the same, e.g., durability at boring job, and you are aged 24-32 or so, and have a history of solid employment for others, e.g. can work in a setting w. a boss, I think that describes A LOT of applicants to many business schools.
    The outliers are folks who cannot speak English, folks w. no college degree, folks with spotty employment records, folks who have no idea what business is or what goes on in business school, etc.
    By those large metrics, MORE than 70 percent of applicants to top 10 schools are “qualified,” could fit in with the culture, could do the work, and probably graduate.

    I am not sure it is a useful metric. Nor does it validate picking a class at random fr. the sub-pool of all qualified applicants. I think kids w. high gmats who have already worked for 2 years in IB and two years in PE are pretty good bets at doing well at B school, and buckling down to do the s. work,
    and being able to thrive in high stress post-grad environments, so those kids get in more often.
    Not sure what I would suggest as an alternative.

  • shy

    Sandy,

    You mentioned that “rule of thumb is that as many as 70% of the applicant pool is fully qualified to attend Harvard Business School.” Do you know if same applies to other Top 10 Schools as well?

    Thank you.

  • hbsguru

    I agree, I just don’t see all that many prima facie A-HOLES posting in the ding report stories.
    The readers of PQ are a TUFF CROWD.

  • hbsguru

    actually, 3.92 is not a WOW factor but it is very good. WoW factors, esp. at Stanford, where WOW often counts are
    1.overcoming adverse upbringing, for real
    2. being victim of race, class, gender, etc. and then forming action group to combat that
    3. helping victims, or poor people, for Stanford, esp. in Africa. Stanford just loves Africa victim stories, but helping any race, class, gender, national origin victim works over there and if what you did is substantial, that is a WOW
    4. Working with ultra PC orgs such as Gates Foundation, etc. and doing any of the above 3 things big time there.
    GET THE IDEA.

  • Seung Yoo

    Sandy,

    You mentioned that “rule of thumb is that as many as 70% of the applicant pool is fully qualified to attend Harvard Business School.” Do you know if same applies to other Top 10 Schools as well?

    Thank you.

  • notthatarrogant

    I think most people who sought Sandy’s feedback are just wondering if they have a shot at their other schools/ what they can do to improve for next year. I could be wrong, but I don’t think they’re all arrogant saying “I can’t believe I didn’t get an interview.” We all know the acceptance rate… not everyone can get an invitation.

  • SBH bound

    Actually why is it hard for them not to get an interview when most of the people applying have similar or better stats? It’s called there are only so many spots!! However, I wonder if the arrogance of the people saying “I can’t believe I didn’t get an interview” somehow comes thru on the application?

  • sam

    Hello Sandy and John !
    What is the WOW factor that you guys keep talking about ? I am an undergrad engineering student.Would really help me.

    Thanks 🙂

  • Click bait title? That’s what we would call a good headline that is totally in keeping with the story. It IS hard to believe that many of these people couldn’t even get an admissions interview. That is not overselling the story at all.

  • tamin

    3.92 from MIT !!!

  • Ehh&Why

    What’s with the click bait titles? Come on P&Q, don’t stoop to that level.