Kellogg | Mr. Danish Raised, US Based
GMAT 710, GPA 10.6 out of 12
Darden | Ms. Unicorn Healthcare Tech
GMAT 730, GPA 3.5
Stanford GSB | Mr. Navy Officer
GMAT 770, GPA 4.0
Wharton | Mr. Sr. Systems Engineer
GRE 1280, GPA 3.3
Chicago Booth | Mr. Semiconductor Guy
GMAT 730, GPA 3.3
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBB to PM
GRE 338, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Mr. Sales To Consulting
GMAT 760, GPA 3.49
Harvard | Mr. Polyglot
GMAT 740, GPA 3.65
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Enlisted Undergrad
GRE 315, GPA 3.75
Tuck | Mr. Consulting To Tech
GMAT 750, GPA 3.2
Stanford GSB | Mr. Rocket Scientist Lawyer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.65 Cumulative
Darden | Mr. Stock Up
GMAT 700, GPA 3.3
Stanford GSB | Mr. Classic Candidate
GMAT 760, GPA 3.9
Cambridge Judge Business School | Mr. Social Scientist
GRE 330, GPA 3.5
Darden | Mr. Federal Consultant
GMAT 780, GPA 3.26
INSEAD | Mr. Consulting Fin
GMAT 730, GPA 4.0
INSEAD | Ms. Hope & Goodwill
GMAT 740, GPA 3.5
Harvard | Mr. Milk Before Cereals
GMAT 710, GPA 3.3 (16/20 Portuguese scale)
Chicago Booth | Mr. Guy From Taiwan
GRE 326, GPA 3.3
Darden | Mr. Leading Petty Officer
GRE (MCAT) 501, GPA 4.0
Columbia | Mr. NYC Native
GMAT 710, GPA 3.8
Tepper | Mr. Leadership Developement
GMAT 740, GPA 3.77
Harvard | Ms. Athlete Entrepreneur
GMAT 750, GPA 3.3
Darden | Mr. Education Consulting
GRE 326, GPA 3.58
Harvard | Ms. Ambitious Hippie
GRE 329, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Unrealistic Ambitions
GMAT 710, GPA 2.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. Equal Opportunity
GMAT 760, GPA 4.0

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.


Get Sandy Kriesberg's advice to make handicapping your odds of getting in possible

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)

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.