Here’s What Happens To The 17,034 MBA Applicants Rejected By Harvard & Stanford

Last year Harvard and Stanford rejected more than 17,000 applicants to their MBA programs

Last year 17,034 MBA applicants were rejected by Harvard Business School and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. At HBS, 9,330 candidates out of a total 10,351 were turned away. At Stanford, 7,704 applicants were dinged out of a total of 8,173.

That’s not a new rejection story. It’s an old one. If application volume remained roughly the same this year, you can pretty much expect another 17,000 people who will ultimately get dinged as well.

What happens to candidates who are turned down by the two most desirable MBA programs in the world? After all, each year Harvard and Stanford reject more applicants than the size of any other business school’s entire applicant pool.

What happens to these 17,000 candidates is  a good question, one nearly impossible to fully answer. After all, many of those 17,034 dings are received by the same people because many people apply to both schools so the bulk of the GSB dings are accounted for in the HBS total. Yet,
a large group of ambitious hopefuls are known to drop out of the MBA pool altogether when turned down for admission to these two schools. Some of them reapply the following year, as evidenced by the roughly 10% of the students in every incoming class at Harvard had been rejected by the school earlier. But a good number walk away forever.


“A few (maybe 5%), card-carrying members of the H/S or Bust Club, reapply in one to two years,” agrees Linda Abraham, founder of  “And the rest start their own businesses, which quickly morph into unicorns. The formerly Rejected/now Unicorn CEOs become multi-millionaire celebrities to spite Harvard and Stanford,” she jokes.

And, of course, Harvard and Stanford don’t win over all their admits. Some nine percent of admitted candidates at Harvard and TK% at Stanford turn their MBA programs down. “A small number get into one of HBS or Stanford and just get a better job offer, get huge scholarship money from another top-school or choose not to get their MBA for personal/family reasons,” explains Jeremy Shinewald, founder and CEO of mbaMission, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm.

He recently had one applicant who got into both Harvard and Stanford and chose not to go because her partner got into neither and she wanted to be near him. “We had a headstrong applicant years ago who turned down Stanford for a full ride at Michigan Ross – he just felt that being unencumbered financially was important to him,” adds Shinewald. “We had yet another applicant who turned down Stanford and HBS for a VC position that she had coveted and then applied two years later and got into Stanford again. It happens! Not all that don’t go are dings!”


Some candidates who apply aren’t quite ready. Adam Hoff, a principal of Amerasia Consulting Group, estimates that “about 2,000 to 3,000 people are not really at the right stage of their career or fully understanding of their own credentials to be serious about an MBA or they can’t afford to attend (especially if the job prospects are not strong enough) or their family or work situation changes.  So unlike the ‘or bust’ people, these are folks who intend to go, but then reality gets in the way by the time the process is over. ”

So what do all those dings do? We asked leading MBA admission consulting firms which handle thousands of applications a year for their opinions. While there are some slight variations in their estimates, there is something of a consensus that emerged:

HBS/GSB Dings Who Go To Other Top Ten Business Schools: 65% to 75%

The most obvious place rejected candidates do is to go other top ten schools with world class MBA programs. At the eight other schools in the top ten, there are 6,599 classroom seats available–yet that’s room for little more than a third of the rejected applicants, assuming their applications are strong enough to get into one of those schools (and yes there is overlap with these schools as well with multiple applications). Consultants estimate that roughly 65% to 75% of the HBS/GSB dings go to rival top ten schools.

“As the acceptance rates at these two elite schools remain daunting, even the most qualified MBA applicants see the wisdom of considering other top-ten programs,” says Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. “Then, as they really get to know and appreciate those other programs during the application and interviewing process, most candidates realize that, if denied by HBS and/or GSB, they can acquire the knowledge and network they want by attending another great school. In other words, they conclude that if admitted by either MIT Sloan, Wharton, Columbia, Booth and/or Kellogg, enrolling there for the upcoming fall makes far greater sense for them than reapplying to HBS and GSB in hopes of somehow gaining admission a year later. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) can be a powerful motivator for many Millennials.”