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 HBSGuru.com and one of the leading MBA admission consultants who specializes in HBS applications.

REJECTION WITHOUT AN INTERVIEW IN HARVARD’S FIRST ROUND SEEMS EGALITARIAN

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.

BRILLIANT CASE STUDIES IN FAILURE–AT HBS AT LEAST

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.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.