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

The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School – Ethan Baron photo

HBS/GSB Dings Who Go To Schools Ranked 11th Through 25th: 10% to 15%

For a good number of applicants, perhaps as large as one in four candidates, an application to HBS and/or Stanford is something of a Hail Mary pass. They’re not expecting to get an admit but since they are in application writing mode, why not complete one at one or two of the best schools in the world?

“For many applicants, HBS and GSB represent the holy grail of MBA programs,” adds Min. “Such individuals feel compelled to apply to those premier schools, if only as a ‘lottery ticket’ or to avoid future regret about not having even tried. They understand that admission is unlikely for them at Harvard and Stanford, so they expand their target list of schools accordingly. Candidates whose qualifications and credentials are within the ‘middle 80%’ for HBS and GSB admits are more likely to cap their target list at top-15 schools. Those with lesser candidacies and/or a more urgent need to start B-school now tend to include some schools ranked 15-25. In any case, the availability of merit-based financial aid from schools in this tier can help ‘soften the blow’ of rejection at Harvard or Stanford.”

Hoff thinks that 3,000 to 4,000 of those dinged were qualified and pretty strong candidates “but not in the hyper competitive bucket and they are probably going to 11-20 because their HBS and/or GSB app was always a shot in the dark and never really the expected outcome – and you still have some powerhouse national schools accounted for in the 11+ range.”

HBS/GSB Dings Who Drop Out Of The MBA Applicant Pool: 10% to 15%

It may surprise many that slightly more than one in ten drop out altogether. But there is a sizable number of candidates every year who are making in excess of $100K and have jobs with more roadway ahead of them. “Many individuals whose careers are already soaring, or whose personal obligations make attending any business school a strongly considered decision, conclude that there are simply no MBA programs except HBS or GSB that ‘make sense’ for them to attend,” believes Min of The MBA Exchange. “Right or wrong, they don’t view the value propositions at other schools as sufficient to justify the six-figure investment or short-term sacrifice. Furthermore, they know that enrolling in a top Executive MBA program 10 or even 20 years later will be an option if/when their current situation or priorities change.”

Shinewald thinks that candidates who completely walk after an HBS/GSB rejection could very well be less than 10%. “We work with several percentage points of every Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB class and there are a small number of ‘Harvard and Stanford or nothing’ applicants – maybe 5%,” he says. “However, these applicants, who take this somewhat risky approach, often back it up. They know that that they are ultra-competitive at these schools and likely won’t end up in the ‘nothing’ pool. If I were to guess, about 80% of the ‘Harvard and Stanford or nothing’ succeed at one or the other, with 10% to 20% of this narrow pool (2 of the total pool), not getting in and simply electing not to pursue an MBA at all. A far more typical approach is ‘Harvard, Stanford or other M7 or LBS/INSEAD.’


“In this case, there is a waterfall, where those who don’t get into HBS or Stanford ending up at other excellent programs,” adds Shinewald. “My guess is that 85% of the Harvard/Stanford dings end up at another top school, with another 10%, who apply to both, ending up outside the top ten.”

There’s also at least a hint of what Harvard MBAs would have done if not accepted by their alma mater in the first place. At the 25th alone reunion of the Class of 1986, HBS alums were asked exactly that question (see Love, Sex & Money: A Revealing Portrait Of A Harvard Business School Class). Eight of ten members of the class (82%) said they would have gotten an MBA from another school. The largest percentage of ’86ers, 27%, said they still would have gone to business school but were uncertain which school they would have attended.

However, about 19% said they would have gone to Stanford, 9% to Wharton, 6% each to Chicago Booth and Dartmouth Tuck, 5% to Northwestern’s Kellogg School, and 4% to MIT Sloan. About 4% of the class said they would have continued to apply to Harvard until accepted. That’s, of course, if they could get into any of those schools these days.


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