You’d Never Believe These MBA Applicants Were Just Rejected By Harvard Business School

Only 1% of the world’s GMAT test takers could claim an equal score. With a 780 on the test–50 points above the current 730 median score at Harvard Business School and 170 points higher than the newest MBA student enrolled with the lowest score–he’s solidly inside the 99th percentile of everyone who has taken the exam. This 25-year-old South African also works at a globally recognized financial service firm that is even the basis of Harvard case study. He’s also the co-founder of a successful plastics recycling company and a volunteer consultant on a higher education funding project for the past two years.

Yet, when he applied to Harvard’s round one deadline this year, he couldn’t even win n interview at Harvard and was immediately dinged.

Or consider the 30-year-old woman who graduated Phi Beta Kappa with an English and French degree from a top U.S. liberal arts school. On the GRE exam, she scored a 169 on the verbal section of the test (four points above Harvard’s median) and 164 on the quant (a point higher than the median), the equivalent of a 740 GMAT. After a five-year career as a professional athlete, she spent two years in journalism and the past year in marketing at a digital services field.

Rejected, too, without an interview.

Or how about the 24-year-old Asian American who in three years climbed the ranks to become the youngest product manager ever at a high growth tech company that has gone public. In fact, newly minted MBAs from top schools would start off in his current role. He has 770 GMAT and an undergraduate degree in computer engineering from one of the top four engineering schools in the U.S. He also mentors under-privileged children, and his photography has been published in newspapers and magazines.

Dinged. No interview as well.

Or how about the professional soccer player in Europe, who has played highly competitive soccer for the past seven years and has also started his own sports consulting firm. This 27-year-old athlete and entrepreneur has lived and played in several European countries and cultures, speaks seven languages, boasts a 770 GMAT and an impressive 3.8 grade point average in his undergraduate studies.

Turned down, without an invite to interview.

Every highly selective business schools disappoints thousands of MBA applicants each year. At Harvard Business School, the extraordinary candidates above were among a couple of thousand people rejected in the first of Harvard’s two admission rounds. If anything, their rejections–without even an admissions interview–demonstrate the remarkable depth in Harvard’s highly competitive applicant pool.


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Sandy Kreisberg, founder of

After all, Harvard gets slightly more than 10.6 applicants for each of its 930 classroom seats in an entering cohort. Last year, roughly 1,085 candidates were admitted out of a total applicant pool of 9,866 people, an acceptance rate of 11% (see HBS Apps Down 4.5%, But Few Changes In Class Profile). Among the estimated 8,781 who were rejected last year were thousands of candidates fully qualified to get into HBS and successfully complete its MBA program. In fact, many of them would be indistinguishable from the majority of the 1,085 who actually got into the school.

That’s why it’s often hard to explain why a person gets turned down at Harvard Business School.

After all, of the two dozen rejected round one candidates who shared their profiles with us, the median GMAT score was a 750, a score achieved by only the top 2% of test takers in the world.

They graduated from universities in the Ivy League, elite liberal arts colleges, top UC schools such as Berkeley and UCLA, and one of the leading Indian Institutes of Technology. Their undergraduate transcripts boast GPAs that equal or exceed the 3.71 average at Harvard.

They work for such prestige firms as McKinsey, General Electric, the Big Four accounting firms, high growth Silicon Valley tech firms or a country’s central bank. They are consultants, hedge fund analysts, financial regulators, and product managers. One entrepreneur founded and built a multi-million-dollar retail tech business from scratch.


How could these already successful young professionals get the boot?

For some, rejection could mean that Harvard likes someone in your bucket–whether you are a consultant, a banker, an engineer or a non-traditional applicant–better than you. A decision could turn on a compelling story in the essay, a higher GMAT or GRE score, better GPA at a more prestigious undergraduate university, or a track record of success at a globally known organization that is just as selective as HBS. Sometimes, there’s just no reasonable answer that could explain a rejection.

As one re-applicant, dinged for the third time this year after getting to the interview stage last year and flunking out, found out: “A certain outgoing admissions director after the decision that time around, but I didn’t get much concrete feedback. She essentially said, ‘Sometimes we take candidates like you, sometimes we don’t.'” A corporate finance analyst for a major semiconductor manufacturer in California, he had applied in 2016, 2017, and finally 2018 with a 780 GMAT, a 3.7 GPA from a top three Ivy League university, and a 4.0 GPA in a master’s in industrial engineering from a prestige public engineering school. Last year, he was told by HBS that his interview was “not a home run, but certainly not a strikeout.”

Nonetheless, there often are revealing clues–however subtle–in every dinged profile. That why we again turned to Sandy Kreisberg, the leading reader of admission tea leaves at Harvard Business School. Kreisberg, founder of, dissects each aspect of a candidacy to suggest why an applicant failed to pass muster with the admissions team in Harvard’s Dillon House, where all ‘admit,’ ‘release’ and ‘further consideration’ decisions are made.

(See following pages for rejected candidate profiles and Sandy’s analysis)

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