Rejected By Harvard Business School? You’ve Got To Be Kidding!

If you were applying to get into Harvard Business School’s prestigious MBA program, how happy would you be with this profile?

You scored a 760 on the GMAT, placing you in the 99th percentile of all test takers and 30 points above Harvard’s median score on that exam. You have a tidy 3.7 grade point average on your undergraduate transcript from an excellent university, though not an Ivy. You have a great job with a well-known and highly respected company, and you are right in the pocket in terms of both age–27–and work experience.

Well, guess what? You would have been turned away, without even an invitation to interview with admissions. Those stats are the average of nearly 30 current applicants–all with GMATs above 700–who were recently notified by HBS that they didn’t make the first round one cut. Those candidates shared with profiles and stats with us to gain some explanation for their outcomes from Sandy Kreisberg, founder of and one of the leading MBA admission consultants who specializes in HBS applications.


The only consolation prize in these dings is that every candidate looks exceptionally well qualified to attend the Harvard Business School and do well in its MBA program. On these profiles at least, rejection seems egalitarian. Among the spurned are Ivy League grads with 3.9 GPAs, analysts at McKinsey, Bain and BCG, Fortune 500 staffers, employees at some of Silicon Valley’s hottest companies, top military candidates who have deployed in the battlefield,  and VC-funded startups.

They’ve received promotions in their jobs, gaining increasing responsibility. They often have stellar recommendations from admiring direct supervisors. In college, they majored in everything from highly rigorous disciplines such as engineering and biology to economics and business. They often have superb extracurricular experiences on their resumes, volunteering to help the disadvantaged all over the world.

And those GMATs? You have a bunch of 780s, 770s, 760s and 740s in the reject pile. In fact, among the group sharing their data, there was a single candidate with a GMAT in the 600s and in most cases, the splits between the quant and the verbal were solid.


There’s the 28-year-old who has spent six years as a military officer on a nuclear submarine. He boasts a 3.8 GPA from a service academy in economics. He wrote his essay on growing up in a poor village in Latin America and then a suburb in the U.S. and how those experiences influenced his decisions and aspirations. He spent eight summers working as a volunteer teacher in a poor Latin American village. You think he had a weak GMAT? Nope. He got a 770, with a 50 quant score and a 44 verbal.

Dinged, without an interview.

Or how about the 24-year-old European Caucasian male who also landed a 770, with a 51 quant and a 44 verbal. He graduated with his undergraduate degree with first class honors and then went on for a mechnical engineering degree, graduating with distinction from either Oxford or Cambridge. He has just under two years of experience as an analyst for McKinsey, Bain or BCG in both the U.S. and Canada. His goal, by the way, wouldn’t cause any adcom pause. He simply wants to return to his consulting firm to specialize in corporate turnarounds.

Rejected, without an invite for an admissions interview.

Then, there is the 29-year-old immigrant who grew up in poverty in rural China until finally arriving in Canada with $100 in his pocket. Now a Canadian citizen, he scored an impressive 740 on the GMAT and got a 3.4 GPA in undergrad and then a 3.3 from pharmacy school. For the past two years, he has been working as a health economist at a Fortune 500 biotech company, after doing a one-year stint at a boutique pharma consulting firm and a two-year run as a marketing manager at a mobile health app startup. He has volunteered at a makeshift health clinic in Africa for two years, raising the money to turn part of it into a free clinic and pharmacy. His dream? To do his own biotech startup.

Turned down.

If you’re scratching your head over these rejections, you need to remember that the 10,000 people who apply to Harvard for one of its 930 seats each year is a self-selecting group of high achievers. Admission officials generally agree that as much as 80% of any elite school’s applicant pool is fully qualified to attend the school and do well academically and in their professional careers. What that essentially means is that schools such as Harvard reject many extraordinary candidates with exceptional credentials and work accomplishments. After all, Harvard  only admits 11% of its applicants.

  • hbsguru

    Not sure what the number is, it used to be Big 8 and was quite volitile for several years with mergers, etc. And sometimes folks separate Big X accounting fr. BigX accounting and consulting.
    If anyone has a complete list, please post.

  • hbsguru

    “almost every Indian at HBS went to an IIT”

    ahem, I believe I said asked how many Indians at HBS who applied from India went to IIT and what are lanes if you did not, and yes, that was in context of saying most Indian males do attend IIT–and I’d sure be interested in hearing from folks who do not, and where they did attend, and what career was like before they got admitted.
    There is a lane for Indians fr. elite non-IITs, and also elite all women schools.

  • hbsguru

    Sounds good, which is often a good sign that you did not wonder, get stuck and more importantly, did not sound scripted–the fact that it was conversational on both sides is good evidence of not sounding scripted, which is reason most people screw up interview.

  • hbsguru

    “My section included two white females who were not MBB . . .”

    what were they, since we are always interested in rounding out the picture, and why did they get admitted, do you think???

    I am assuming you mean to say, two white female CONSULTANTS who were not MBB?
    Where did they work, and were they consultants when they applied, or had they been consultants and then got job 2 when they applied?

  • Sandra Lee

    I recently graduated from HBS and rarely come on this site (bc it is obviously now unnecessary). But I am baffled at the amount of inaccurate information Sandy spews aka “the it is impossible to do x y z unless you are an underrepresented minority” or “almost every Indian at HBS went to an IIT” or “only white engineers from Ivy League schools get accepted at HBS” narrative.

    Folks I am here to tell you that this claim is flat out false. My section included two white females who were not MBB and I know many other consultants (including white men and women) from other sections who were not MBB. Similarly, there were many white male engineers who did not go to Ivy League universities or top engineering schools (MIT, Caltech, etc.). In fact the two people I know who went to “lower tier” state schools are both white men.

    The application process is truly holistic. Please do your own independent research (talk to HBS students) avoid this painfully comical speculation from Sandy.

  • Sandra Lee

    I recently graduated from HBS. I rarely come on this site (bc obviously no longer necessary)

  • apoena

    The comment above is mine, Sandy. I wasn’t logged in.

  • Hopeful


    I got interviewed for HBS a few days ago. How do I know if everything went well? I really felt a connection with the interviewers, I didn’t get stuck at any point, we laughed together and he/she even complimented me on a key claim I made on my application, kind of “you sure are good at that”. Are these traditional informal cues on rapport a good sign like they usually are or are interviews always like that and the analysis is much more cold and rational?

  • Not-Indian-Femal-Auto-Engineer

    “that is an attractive profile”, How can I be an INDIAN FEMALE AUTOMOBILE ENGINEER?!

  • hbsguru

    Most of the adcoms at leading business schools, esp when you are not talking about the director, are “MBA-moms,” e.g. women who got MBA (usually from same school), did some ~2-4 year gig at consulting, banking, etc. Had children, and needed more limited and predictable working hours, while the children were growing up.

  • hbsguru

    thanks for sharing, I think a partial explanation for this could be that some larger percent of female applicants are really “off the grid” in terms of preparation and savvy about the admissions process.
    I get inquiries all the time from people who are older, in non-feeder industries, etc who are interested in B school in some magical, life transforming way. E.g. “40 year-old who worked
    in HR and marketing for 12 years at SMEs and now operates freelance fr. home for past 6 years, wants to go to HBS and Stanf.” Most often those inquiries are from women. There could be a lot of them, in many variants of the above story, who wind up applying.

  • hbsguru

    that is an attractive profile. Esp. if work history is w. Big Auto companies. Just my own two cents, but you see a lot of appplcants from Schlumberger, and not so many from Toyota/Ford/GM etc. and the value of kid from big auto as part of the case discussion mix is just as strong, if not stronger.
    I think the reason is, in part, that Big Auto have in-house training and promotion and value/frequency of MBA could be less.

  • hbsguru

    Well, maybe some quanty type person like the great John Burne could use that info to find out the admit rate for M vs. F applicants.
    e.g. total number of applicants to that class is X (that number is out there someplace)
    Number of F applicants is .35X, M applicants is .65 X
    Number of F and M who enrolled (that number is out there someplace )
    and, drumroll please,
    From those numbers, the M admit rate is ?% and F admit rate is ?%

    John???? We are waiting

  • Snigdha

    what about Indian Female with automobile engineering background?

  • Ratios

    You’ve previously stated that white male PE guys are overrepresented and duke it out for a few spots despite being qualified for admission. Would you say the same about white female PE associates? Would being female make that much of a difference if you are coming from PE or even MBB?

  • Ratios

    Dee actually provided some stats on an earlier P&Q article titled “A Revealing Interview With Harvard Business School’s Dee Leopold”. She states for the Class of 2016 total applicants rose by 2.4% while female applicants rose 5% and male applicants rose 1%. If you do the math this breaks down to approx 35% female applicants and 65% male applicants for the Class of 2016.

    Now I am curious what the average GMAT and GPA is for each cohort.

  • Honesty

    This is clearly a lie and propaganda. The only way you’d work there for 5 years is as the admissions director. Hopefully people are not dumb enough to believe this.

  • Ted

    You reference the “Big 3” several times (note this wasn’t a reference to MBB) when referring to what are traditionally known as the Big 4 accounting / advisory firms. Why do you call them the “Big 3” and not the Big 4?

  • OG

    Thank you for saying this.

  • ha

    No one’s saying schools are admitting less-qualified women. Less competition doesn’t mean no competition. If schools really mean 80% of the candidate pool is qualified, then admitted women should be more than qualified.

    Anyway, I hope you didn’t work in the admissions AFTER you graduated from the GSB, certainly not for five years. I think that would be telling if that’s indeed the case.


    As an MBA student at Stanford, I was frequently told (by my male classmates) that the school was desperate for women and that’s why I’d been admitted. Nice! But when I went to work in MBA admissions at the GSB, I learned that the reverse was true — a higher % of male applicants had been admitted to my class. And in general, during my five years working in admissions, the % of women in the class reflected that of the applicant pool.

    Top schools would be doing a disservice to all to admit less-qualified women. So the next time you assume that a top-tier female MBA was only admitted because of quotas…you might be totally wrong.

  • Phil N.

    Definitely. The top programs are desperate for women, hispanic and black students. It’s good for the stats. It is a arms race and these stats are important for them.

  • hbsguru

    really good topic, I believe males are at a slight disadvantage vs. females, and I believe certain crowded cohorts like Indian male with tech background, or white male in finance (IB, PE, VC) or consulting are also crowded cohorts. When I give people odds of admission that gender, ethnic, industry background is (or should be) a solid part of the analysis.

  • Сергей Плашков

    Caucasion? “3.8 GPA from a service economy in economics”. Which one of you cretins wrote this – a “poet” or a “quant”? This is just like an old joke about Harvard and MIT.

  • Orange1

    The point of course is that even in a room of hyper-achievers, only so many can make it to HBS. And some of it can be that if Person A was reviewing your credentials instead of Person B, you would have been accepted.

  • Based on standardized score testing, we believe the percentage of women applying is roughly a third of the applicant pool. Schools that are 40% and above are often dipping into the pool a bit and stealing those candidates from second-tier schools where the averages have now fallen to 25% to 28% of enrolled students. So that would suggest the acceptance rate for women with the right credentials is above the percentage in the pool.

  • Ratios

    Most of the candidates profiled are men. However, most top b-schools incoming classes are 40%+ women. Does anyone have any insight or has any data been released on the % of applicants that are male and female to an M7? This data set, while small, suggests that many more men apply to HBS and I am curious what the relative acceptance rate is for women and how many candidates are women.